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Institutions should become more responsible for environmental degradation and not the individual.

About a month ago, I wrote an article about the burning of the Amazon, and when I shared that article on Facebook someone said to me that they wished I improved that article by adding advice for individuals at home; to tell them how they should help the environment and help the Amazon from their sofas.

This Commenter gave me examples such as reducing waste, buying second-hand, using renewable energy, or eating locally grown produce, all decent well-known individual environmentalist responses.

When I read this comment I liked it with the thumbs up Emoji, but I didn’t respond and I didn’t add or edit that Amazon article, because I found something wrong with that comment that I couldn’t quite identify until I read ‘Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?’  a Journal Article by Michael F. Maniates.

The frequent question we get everyday when the issue of environmental degradation comes up; is what can we do, as an individual, to help the environment? But this question in itself is a problem. When you search on the internet all you ever see are individual consumerist answers to this environmental issue; telling people to watch their carbon footprint, charging cars for emissions, banning plastic straws and telling individuals to change their consumerist habits in order to protect the environment.

There is nothing wrong with doing these things but this narrative limits our thinking, individual responsibility makes us believe that we can only solve environmental issues through individual action, it places pressure on us as individuals to solve environmental problems and it doesn’t put pressure on our Institutions or our States to take action.

Maniates points out that we are too busy seeing ourselves as individual consumers to see ourselves as citizens of a state. The narrative around environmental politics is asking; what can we as individuals do? And is never asking what is the state doing or how can we unify all our global institutions to help solve these issues? We are too busy acting as individuals that not enough of us are using our powers as democratic citizens to make our government accountable for these issues.

This has resulted in a massive de-policisation on environmental degradation. Too many Governments are putting the environment as a secondary issue on their priority list, current issues such as Brexit overshadow the future of our planet.

There is only so much that we can do individually. You can stop using plastic straws as much as you want, you can recycle as hard as you can, but statistically over 80% of the plastics in the ocean that are harming our ocean life, is there due to the Fishing industry. The Plastic Tide, Teen Vogue, National Geographic and lots of other media outlets have all reported that 80% of the 8 million tonnes of plastics in the Ocean come from land-based sources, from shipping and the Fishing Industry. Fishing Nets account for 46% of all Ocean Plastics.

When we look at the Burning of the Amazon, it was burning because of fires purposefully started by industrialists and the Brazilian government to make profit from the resources within the Forest. Institutions should become more responsible for environmental degradation and not the individual. They are the ones that should be changing their habits to help the environment.

Environmental degradation is being caused by a lack of policy and a lack of laws that should be regulating industries that are harming our natural landscapes.

We need to stop thinking about Environmental Degradation as an individual issue, we need to use our power as citizens as members of a collective state, to ensure that industry and governments are actually made responsible so that we can start having solutions to these issues.

If you want to do something from home to help the environment, than you should start voting, you should sign a petition, you should start doing some direct action via protesting and marching on the streets. You should do anything to make our institutions become aware that this is an issue and make them take our environment seriously, before it’s too late.

Because that would make a more significant difference than not using a plastic straw.

Join groups such as Extinction Rebellion, if you want to go on the streets and make our institutions more accountable.

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Alexia Barrett

Journalism student at Cardiff University. Aspiring Broadcast Journalist, Foreign Correspondent, and Novelist.

November 2019
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