OP–ED: You can’t stop corporations from making climate change worse. But here’s what you can do. By Annabelle Williams C'20

100 companies produce 71% of world carbon emissions.

In light of such of a staggering statistic, it is easy to feel that nothing one person does matters.


But we are in crunch time. A report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in October describes a “strong risk of crisis by as early as 2040.” That’s 22 years from now, well within the lifespan of many of the people reading this article.


There’s so little that one person can do in the face of a not–too–distant climate disaster. And that’s scary. It’s also scary that many politicians, including the one who currently occupies the White House, denounce climate change as a partisan issue.


In the increasingly frantic and frenzied 24–hour–news cycle, milestones like this report often find themselves benched in favor of buzzier domestic politics coverage. In the past months alone, two huge reports have come out: the IPCC findings on climate change and the New York Times exposé of the Trump family’s fraudulent financial practices. And neither took up much space in the national discourse. And as important as the Supreme Court and the midterm elections are, the environment should come first. It has to.


But what is even the appropriate response to a report so cataclysmic it seems like the plot of a Cormac McCarthy novel? It’s easy to write off individual contributions to a larger social problem in the face of monolithic numbers like these. What could one person do that will tip the scales? Or harden the glaciers?


One singular action undoubtedly will not make as much of a difference as an oil company going solar or a coal–burning enterprise switching to wind. One person cannot match the carbon footprint of China’s coal production (14.32% of the world’s total greenhouse emissions) or ExxonMobil’s impact (1.98% of global emissions). It is easy to push off individual responsibility in favor of blaming corporations.


However, there are actionable steps that everyday people can take. And you should take them.


Here’s one: vegetarianism — beans instead of beef. It’s catchy, sure, but it also might help. The Atlantic published an article in 2017 saying that — if everyone pitched in — it could have a tangible impact.

“Recently Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals.”


Of course, there is no chance that every barbeque–loving carnivore in the U.S. will give up beef by 2020. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Even a small impact helps, and it could have a ripple effect on those in your circle.


Whether you choose to opt for a metal straw in favor of a plastic one or to cut out beef and focus on plant–based consumption, think about it this way—it can’t hurt. And right now, no one can afford to do anything to make the planet worse.

All this is not to say that corporations don’t deserve blame. If giving up meat isn’t your speed, why not try holding corporations accountable?


Don’t invest in companies that produce massive amounts of fossil fuels. To the extent that you can avoid it, don’t patronize these companies either. Corporations shouldn’t be rewarded for making the world inhospitable to future generations in the interest of shareholder profits.   


The point is this: you have to try. You can’t afford not to. 2040 will be here sooner than you realize.