Personal recycling, composting, and going vegan won’t stop climate change

As the world grapples with the devastating impacts of climate change, the conversation around individual responsibility for the crisis has intensified.

However, many experts and activists are pointing out that the focus on personal actions like recycling, composting, and going vegan is misplaced.

According to a recent report, just 100 corporations are responsible for a staggering 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

If you use the calculations from the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, around 60% of total global emissions can be traced back to those 100 companies from 1990 to 2015. About 60% of greenhouse gas emissions come from just 10 countries, while the 100 least-emitting contributed less than 3%.

Despite this, much of the discourse around climate action still centers on individual choices rather than systemic change.

“People are being told that if they just recycle and change their light bulbs, they can save the planet,” said climate activist and author Naomi Klein. “But the reality is that the vast majority of emissions come from the biggest corporations.”

This sentiment is echoed by many climate scientists and environmentalists, who argue that without major policy changes and regulation of the fossil fuel industry, individual actions will only go so far.

“We need to focus on systemic change,” said Dr. James Hansen, a leading climate scientist. “Individual actions are important, but they are not enough. We need to hold these corporations accountable and demand meaningful action from our governments.”

Many advocates are calling for more attention to be paid to corporate responsibility and for the world’s largest emitters to be held accountable for their contributions to the climate crisis. This includes divestment from fossil fuel companies, increased regulation of the industry, and investment in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure.

As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, it is becoming increasingly clear that we need bold, systemic solutions to address the crisis. While individual actions can certainly make a difference, it is imperative that we shift our focus to the corporations and industries responsible for the majority of emissions.

It’s difficult to discern how much total global emissions can be attributed to the top 100 polluting corporations, but there are ways to get a ballpark idea. 

But CAIT’s research includes emissions from agriculture, land use and electricity that wasn’t considered in the 2017 study.

If you use the total global emissions excluding land use and land-use change and forestry emissions from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, then an average of around 63% of those emissions can be traced back to those 100 companies from 1988 to 2015.

Potsdam’s research includes nitrous oxide and F-gases — fluorinated gases used in industrial applications — and considered only fossil fuel-related carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

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