Is it possible to see successful and sustainable climate action under capitalism? Can individual effort save our planet? Aisling O’Leary explores the fact that perhaps neither is possible, that we need change – big, sometimes inconveniencing, change.


The future that climate change has forced us to visualise is a bleak one, and bleaker again when you remember we can only point the finger of blame at ourselves. With this burden and burgeoning panic among the general populace, many have looked towards their lifestyle to do something, anything, to reverse the impact ecological disaster will have on our lives. Yet, much of green activism is conflicting. How much is enough? When are we absolved of our crimes to the earth? Are metal straws enough or is raw veganism the only way? Furthermore, will individual action even be enough, or are we just inviting the blame for climate change onto suburban moms who don’t sort their rubbish and not the Fortune 500 CEO who has a bigger carbon footprint than an island in the Pacific? 

According to the European Commission, “humans are increasingly influencing the climate and the earth’s temperature by burning fossil fuels, cutting down rainforests and farming livestock.” The meat industry is a major contributor to climate change, contributing to 13-18% of greenhouse gases as livestock produce a large amount of methane. We all tend to bristle at the gentle and sometimes not so gentle prods from vegans and vegetarians to stop eating meat to save the planet, but being honest, they’re right. No amount of reusable straws and boycotting PrettyLittleThing will make up for the incredible damage our demand for meat does to the environment. It is no longer sustainable or possible for us all to eat meat 7 days a week.

Transport is another contributor to greenhouse gases. No one needs to be reminded of how bad cars are for the environment, yet after all this time, in cities across the world, proper alternatives to cars are not available. Cycle and public transport frameworks are heavily underdeveloped in Ireland and transport is an area that is overlooked when it comes to individual action to fight climate change. Pressuring our TD’s to revise our transport networks and cyclist framework would empower people to find alternative, environmentally-friendly ways to move around.

However, even still, bicycles and veganism are not the answer. While individual action must be stressed in the context of the meat industry and political pressure, we must place equal pressure on multinationals, large corporations and the ruling class. We must recognize how we have allowed the earth to be beholden to the actions of a few members of the ruling class and their businesses. Our economic system, driven by profit and demand above all else, will always push people to prioritise profit over sustainability and the environment. In a world where capital dictates politics and what “matters”, merely asking companies to be environmentally friendly is only a temporary fix. Truly unselfish politics and ways of life that prioritise the earth will never be fully realised under an economic system that centres around selfishness and profit. Green politics and truly prioritising the earth and our future can no longer be reconciled with capitalism.

It is not just big companies who are driving climate change. If the United States military was a country, it would be the 47th largest polluter in the world. The advanced weaponry, artillery and vehicles used by militaries consume a huge amount of oil and fossil fuels. For a military so heavily married with the capitalistic drive for profit, the US military exists almost more as a large imperialist business than a protecting force.

Often, in discussions surrounding resistance to climate change and individual action, the line “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is thrown around as a cop-out. While it is true due to the inherent exploitation of labour under capitalism, it is not a pass to do nothing to fight climate change and blame it on “the big guys”. While we as individuals may not have all the power, we still have some responsibility, and we can challenge the damaging nature of the current status quo while also using bamboo toothbrushes. 

The answer to who is to blame for climate change is a multi-layered one. From the individual to the world as a whole, huge reformation is necessary to save our planet. While it is imperative we all do our part when it comes to climate change and the selfish, lecherous nature of capitalism, meatless Mondays just won’t be enough.

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