McGrath: Plastic Straws Aren’t Killing Us, Corporations Are


(Design by David Onwukeme | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Mackenzie McGrath, Opinion Writer


We’ve all heard or used the term gaslighting — it is “a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more, makes a victim question their reality and own sanity.” You might think of that word more in terms of romantic relationships than existential threats to humanity. Now is a good time to think again.

The manipulation of the climate change narrative is gaslighting at the highest and most dangerous level. Big Oil, the Trump administration and other corporations are misleading, blaming and shaming us. Because of them, we see individuals as responsible for climate change, from eating meat to being a monster who uses a plastic water bottle. Not only is this a classist trope, but it also diverts accountability away from the real culprits of our impending climate disaster.

At most, we can be responsible for our own behavior, but when corporations are the driving source of climate change, governments must regulate them — and the Trump administration will never do that. Another Trump term will not merely be unsustainable — it will be deadly.

Today, the average consumer understands that smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products is incredibly dangerous to their health. Over the last few decades, numerous ad campaigns have worked to educate young people about these risks. Who doesn’t remember those commercials of smokers with artificial voice boxes warning us of the addictive and harmful effects of smoking?

When researchers found a correlation between skyrocketing lung cancer cases and smoking in the 1950s, the tobacco industry used tactics to deny and undermine the public’s faith in research. Tobacco companies claimed the emerging science was uncertain and lacked evidence to link cancer to cigarettes — and they successfully manipulated smokers to doubt scientists and trust big corporations. Pushing a narrative that the causes of lung cancer were still debatable led voters and policymakers to believe that developing legislation to regulate tobacco was unnecessary. Just as the tobacco industry lied and blocked product regulations by manufacturing doubt and denial in consumers, the fossil fuel industry has been undermining public confidence in sound climate science and otherwise manipulating us for decades.

Climate researcher Richard Heede argues that big oil and fossil fuel companies’ efforts to conceal the adverse effects of their products are modeled after the tobacco industry’s old techniques. And they’ve worked. Corporations’ sinister combination of denying the facts and misleading the public has seriously impeded efforts to fight the climate crisis. Just as the tobacco industry is advertising vaping and “Juuling” as “healthy alternatives” to smoking — even though there is little to no research on the lasting effects of vaping — fossil fuel companies are “greenwashing” themselves, claiming to make strides in becoming “eco-friendly” while still contributing to climate change.

There is no conversation to be had, no “two sides” to this issue. Climate change is real, and it is caused primarily by corporations and governments benefiting from fossil fuel lobbyists. In fact, just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global CO2 emissions. But these organizations thrive when blame and accountability is distributed elsewhere. That is why we’re conditioned to shame people for using straws or plastic toothbrushes and taught that spending more money on supposedly sustainable items will help save the planet.

The United States was the second-highest emitter of greenhouse gasses in 2014. Think about that for a second. Can tiny things like plastic grocery bags really be the bulk of the problem? Can our limited, expensive “eco-friendly” options really be the solution? Research shows that “you would need to reuse a paper bag at least 43 times for its per-use environmental impacts to be equal to or less than that of a typical disposable plastic bag.” Condemning those who cannot afford to be eco-friendly — who are often the same people who will suffer the most serious consequences of climate change and environmental degradation — only benefits these companies by ignoring the disproportionate environmental impact of corporate interests.

We need the federal government to condemn and regulate the major corporations at fault for climate change. If the fossil fuel industries in the US and other high-polluting countries are not forced to change, we will increase average global temperatures by 4°C within the next 80 years. Governments have the power to pass legislation that forces industries to limit emissions and slow climate change. In other words, it is the president’s role and responsibility to protect their people. Projecting that responsibly to the individual is doing the exact opposite.

Individual consumers are not responsible for climate change, and we don’t have the power to stop it. Our government does — which is why we need a president who believes in science and cares about the future of our nation and world. So vote for Joe Biden, if only because a vote for Trump is a vote for the death of our planet.


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