Kennedy Birley, Guest Writer
In an attempt to be more environmentally friendly, the coffee stands and cafeteria at Saint Martin’s University no longer provide straws when serving cold drinks unless requested. Starbucks has created new cold cup lids that are modeled after the shape of hot cup lids to reduce the number of straws contributing to landfills. Switching to low carbon-emission cars has become a trend. People are trying to reduce their carbon footprint in a variety of ways–carpooling, converting to solar, or using bamboo toothbrushes, to name a few. But is any of this really helping? Can the individual truly impact climate change?
In 2017, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) released the Carbon Majors Report (CMR), which details the 100 companies responsible for over 70 percent of carbon emissions. The report “pinpoints how a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions,” says Pedro Faria in an interview with The Guardian. Faria is the technical director at environmental non-profit CDP. The CDP published the Carbon Majors Report in conjunction with the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI).
Over half of global industrial emissions can be traced back to 25 corporate and state actors. The companies responsible for the most emissions since 1988 are ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Peabody, Total, and BHP Billiton. All these companies are publicly traded. Key state-owned companies include Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, Coal India, Pemex, and CNPC. The CMR was released to create transparency for investors of companies so they may better understand the environmental impact of their investment dollars. Oil sands, tight oils, and heavy oil extractions carry a much larger environmental impact than crude oil extraction; companies such as Suncor, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips have invested in these forms of oil extraction.
However, historically, human-induced climate change has been widely accepted. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established, officially recognizing human-induced climate change. Since 1988, the fossil fuel industry has emitted as much greenhouse gases (GHG) in the 28 years since 1988 as was released in the 237 years between 1988 and the beginning of the industrial revolution: doubling the amount of GHG in the environment.
Right now, tension comes from the battle between long-term environmental effects and short-term gratification of profit for companies contributing GHG to the environment. On his last day in office, former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, granted companies producing “glider” trucks a loophole to a newly instated regulation. The regulation requires companies building glider trucks to use new transmissions that adhere to modern emission control regulations. Glider trucks are made from remanufactured engines and transmissions salvaged from old trucks that do not meet the standards for modern clean engines. The loophole grants companies creating these high pollutant trucks the ability to keep producing them. These companies will not be required to contain their glider truck production to 300 units a year until, at soonest, the end of 2019, giving them the opportunity to put thousands more on the road prior to then. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has said that these super-polluting trucks could produce up to 40 times more pollutants than the average truck. Due to this loophole, states that had no say in creating the loophole may have a difficult time meeting air quality requirements.
This loophole was highly opposed by the EDF, the American Lung Association, and UPS. According to the EDF, if the loophole is exploited past 2019, until 2025, it could lead to 12,000 premature deaths due to added pollutant. It is an ominous message to the people of the United States when the head of the EPA grants super-polluting glider trucks access to the road.
In 2015, 91 percent of the global industrial GHG emissions, and about 70 percent of anthropogenic GHG were due to the fossil fuel industry and its products. “If the trend in fossil fuel extraction continues over the next 28 years as it has over the previous 28, then global average temperatures would be on course to rise around 4 degrees Celsius above [pre-industrial] levels by the end of the century,” writes Paul Griffin, author of the CMR. The risks that come with a temperature rise as drastic as this are unknown, but scientists are predicting mass species extinction, food shortages, and the cross of tipping points in the Earth’s ecosystems that have unknown, but likely severe consequences.
Companies such as Apple, Ikea, Facebook, and Google have committed to using 100 percent renewable energy sources through the RE100. According to the RE100 website, the RE100 is “a collaborative, global initiative uniting more than 100 influential businesses committed to 100 percent renewable electricity, working to massively increase demand for – and delivery of – renewable energy.” Volvo recently declared that all their cars will be either electric or hybrid by 2019. The commitment to switching to 100 percent renewable energy is an important step in addressing the impact consumer companies have on the environment. Companies that have not made this same commitment may also feel pressured to do so as more and more influential companies take this step.
In 2017, President Donald Trump declared the official withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. The United States was a part of 195 countries that agreed in 2015 to use methods of peer pressure and voluntary action to reduce climate change. President Trump has decided to go through the formal withdrawal process that will take four years.
Aside from removing the U.S from the Paris Climate Deal, President Trump is rescinding climate regulations implemented under the Obama administration. One example includes the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP was created to limit the emissions from power plants as well as place regulations to manage methane leaks from oil and gas operations and “would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.”
Media has redirected the attention of many American citizens from the primary cause of climate change, focusing on the individual consumer to fix a problem they largely lack control of. By educating citizens through the CMR, the CDP is forcing companies responsible for the GHG in the environment to make a change. The RE100 initiative is also using tactics from the Paris Agreement to pressure other companies into assuming more environmentally friendly acts and reducing their contribution to the environmental GHG. If large steps are not taken to prevent the increase of global temperature, there will be drastic changes to the ecosystem as we know it. Citizens can indirectly help the situation by supporting politicians and companies that are actively fighting and pressuring others to join the initiative to reverse and prevent further effects of human-induced climate change.