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Culprits of Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, we may not be asking who is taking assertive actions towards mitigating climate change. We may think that everybody has equal responsibility in this task. While it is important that we as individuals and consumers regulate some of our behaviors that can lessen our carbon footprint, our individual impact is overshadowed by the impacts of corporations and governments.

The fifth assessment report on climate change by the IPCC published in 2014, states that we have less than two decades to limit global warming to 1.5°C (34.7F). Given this news, if someone decides to do a web search and learn about what are the steps that must be taken to accomplish this goal, that person will most likely encounter the same answers given by the media. Take more public transportation, use the stairs instead of the elevator or practice recycling — these are some of those suggested strategies for individuals. These are all good insights, but they don’t target the entire population and most importantly, there are corporate interests that might be an obstacle for people to follow those alternative solutions.

In the United States, relying solely on public transportation for your commuter needs might work if you live in cities like New York or Washington D.C (Given you can afford the fare on this last one). However, many major U.S cities don’t offer a reliable public transportation system to make this happen. Additionally, major parts of the country have no other mobility choice than a car. Historically speaking, General Motors is partially responsible for this. During the early 20th century, the US had one of, if not the best public transportation system in the world, with streetcar tracks available in big and small cities. This all changed when GM put its efforts into filling the cities with motorized vehicles that would replace the streetcars. In order to accomplish this, it was necessary to clear the space these street cars were using to allow for vehicular traffic. (Olson, Klein). Nowadays the dependability of cars in the US is higher than any other industrialized country and we have not been able to go back to those years where public transportation was available for everybody. The EPA Inventory Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks report shows that from 1990 to 2018, transportation was the economic sector that remains the biggest contributor of greenhouse gasses during this period, with emissions consistently higher than 6000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (2019).

There are other cases where the governments are directly responsible for contributing to their country’s carbon footprint. The Amazon rainforest has always been in danger of deforestation, and has increased significantly during the tenure of president Jair Bolsonaro, who has shown favoring agricultural and mining development in the forest. The National Institute of Space Research (INPE), one of the most distinguished research institutes in Brazil, published a report that showed significant increases of deforestation in the Amazon by using their Real-time Deforestation Detection System (DETER). Bolsonaro’s response to such a report was to call such data a lie and fire the head of the Institute, Ricardo Galvão (Escobar). The Amazon rainforest is responsible for absorbing a quarter of the total carbon dioxide absorbed by forests. Its reduction will accelerate global warming at an unsustainable rate (Freedman).

It is easy to pass the responsibility of climate change to individual consumers, even though the residential contribution of greenhouse gases is the lowest in the EPA report (2020). However, it is clear that corporations and governments have a bigger influence on the direction our planet will take. At the end of the day, these corporations and governments are the ones that control our way of living.


[1] Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2018 (Rep.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks

[2] Escobar, H. (2019, August 4). Brazilian institute head fired after clashing with nation’s president over deforestation data. Science. Retrieved 2020, from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/08/brazilian-institute-head-fired-after-clashing-nation-s-president-over-deforestation

[3] Freedman, A. (2019, August 22). Amazon fires could accelerate global warming and cause lasting harm to a cradle of biodiversity. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/08/21/amazonian-rainforest-is-ablaze-turning-day-into-night-brazils-capital-city/

[4] IPCC. (2014). Global Warming of 1.5C (Rep.). Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/

[5] Olson, M,  Klein, J. (Directors). (1996). Taken for a Ride – The U.S. History of the Assault on Public Transport in the Last Century [Video file]. New Day Films. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-I8GDklsN4

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