In today’s social climate – no pun intended – news travels fast. No matter where we turn, news about climate change is thrown in our direction. The last few years have especially been a doozy considering the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, and the more recent Youth Climate strike that involved over one million students walking out to raise their collective voices to demand immediate action on the current state of the climate, inspired by Greta Thunberg. We see smaller companies making pledges to how they operate to help make themselves more environmentally friendly, such as eliminating single-use plastics, or powering their stores with renewable energy such as solar power. All the while, individuals are also being pushed to reduce, reuse, and recycle; but will this be enough?
We, the common folk, are pushed to help the environment in any way we can. Be it through recycling, using less plastic, using less paper, using electric vehicles, there’s always something that we need to be doing to help stop the accelerated climate change that we see happening today. The unlucky truth of the situation is that even though these small acts of kindness to our environment are the morally appropriate thing to do, that’s exactly what they are: small. We as individuals will likely not make a big enough impact with our actions. Companies like Starbucks and McDonalds have recently promised to ban the use of plastic straws and cutlery in their restaurants. Reducing the waste made by single-use plastics such as straws is a great step towards reducing overall waste in the oceans, thus preventing sea life from being contaminated by these same plastics. This begs the question though: why is there such a fixation on straws? The idea of banning the use of plastic straws likely originated from a video in 2015 featured on National Geographic, of a sea turtle who had a plastic straw lodged in its nostril. It was a gruesome video and perhaps opened viewers’ eyes as to where much of their plastic waste ends up: in the sea and affecting life in the sea. Which leads to the next thing we as a species have collectively attempted to do to help our environment: recycle.
We see those blue cans everywhere know, sporting the familiar recycling logo that is only a few decades old. Passing by one, you decide to throw in your two-day old half full bottle of water in there and throw in any napkins and tissues you had stuffed into your pocket throughout the day, all into the same receptacle. And there lies the problem. Single-stream recycling systems made the act of separating our household trash into “garbage” and “recycle” significantly simpler. What many of us don’t do is read the labels on these recycling bins, which typically tell us whether that particular can is for plastic or paper or something else entirely. Tossing food stuffs together with our plastic and paper products leads to increased amounts of contamination of potentially recyclable items, and leads to 91% of plastic waste not being recycled, and instead sent to massive landfills which pollute our oceans and further negatively affect marine life. Just outside of the Jay Street entrance of CityTech, there are two recycling cans; one for cans and bottles, and another for paper products. The bin for cans and bottles has a convenient opening built-in, while the bin for paper products has a handle that you need to pull to open. Without really thinking about it, I threw in a tissue into the bin for cans and bottles, and I’ll tell you why. The opening was already there, and I did not have to touch a germ-infested handle to open it, but that is our problem. We tend to choose short-term convenience over long-term protection of our ecosystem. This doesn’t just apply to our recycling habits, but also to the bigger corporations that choose short-term financial gains over long-term environmental restoration and protection.
The state of the accelerated climate change has to the point that even if every household in New York State were to suddenly shift over to renewable energy sources and started using public transportation exclusively, the overall difference of emissions on a global scale would be negligible at best. It has been firmly established that about 70% of total carbon emissions since 1988 are the product of 100 fossil-fuel-producing companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell, BHP Billiton, and Gazprom, and “the subsequent use of fossil fuels they sell to other companies.” (FullFact.org). In the end, it’s not all about saving the planet; the movement to decelerate climate change is for the survival of life that currently exists on the planet; namely, human life.