Title media by

Last Saturday, I had an epiphany.  My roommates and I were faced with a problem: our compost bin—a plastic shopping bag full of eggshells and banana peels—was attracting flies and desperately needed to be thrown away. With no real infrastructure to dispose of food scraps, throwing our compost out meant contributing to the already devastating amount of college trash in landfills. 

There are few reliable compost bins on campus, so we started brainstorming: we considered starting a composting program, or using food scraps as fertilizer for our garden—but none of these were a good fit. 

After minutes of debate, we came to the most realistic solution: we should throw out our compost. Our decision was sensible enough—to fix our fruit fly problem, we had to get rid of the rotting fruit—but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Why did I feel guilty over a couple of eggshells when thousands of pounds of industrial waste are dumped into landfills each year? Why does our generation lose sleep fighting rising temperatures while agriculture and oil execs are tucked in by the billions they’ve made lobbying against fuel efficiency and carbon taxes? 

My frustration brought me to my epiphany: we’ve made a horrible mistake in our framing of the climate change story. Falling for the capitalist con, we’ve convinced ourselves that issues like air pollution, rising sea levels, and global warming can be recycled and Beyond-Burgered away. 

As would be expected, this environmental guilt-tripping has gotten us nowhere. By directing our anger inwards, we’ve let corporations sneak the Trojan horse of environmental decline right past us—and they’ve tied it up with a pretty green bow. Article after article urges us to eat less meat, bike to work, and go thrifting: all while oil and gas companies dish out thousands in advertising to convince us that they shouldn’t have to pay for the damage they’re doing to the environment. 

This is not a coincidence. Neoliberal thinking drives home the fact that something needs to be done for the environment, but derails with its free-market ideals of hyper-individuality and competition. While we should be working together to hold corporations accountable and invest in sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, we are stuck debating the most sustainable diets and lifestyle trends. 

The trap of neoliberalism is that it not only distracts us from cooperating to achieve our goals, but makes it seem as though these goals are implausible to begin with. The belief that humanity can come together to end climate change is far-fetched when climate change deniers and oil executives hold such substantial power.

I am no exception: my environmental activism also got its start in thrift stores and tote bags. But to reach the temperature goals that scientists have set to prevent environmental collapse, we’ll need something more substantial than carpools and personal pledges. We can’t rely on “green companies” and their sustainable solutions to get us through the oncoming storm.

If we wish to reach these climate goals, we can no longer allow oil executives and climate change deniers to influence climate policy: we must return power to the people’s hands. We must write a new story where we—not the corporations that serve our destruction on a silver platter—hold the power to heal the planet. We must abandon neoliberal hyper-individualism and embrace a more community-based approach, investing our time and energy into a future where solar panels and compost bins aren’t reserved for those with the time and money to commit to them, but for everyone. We must hold corporations accountable. We must not turn the finger of blame inward or at each other. Save your anger for the corporations.