Polluting the planet

Corporate vs. consumers impact on pollution

April 20, 2022

According to the corporation-backed narrative in the media, most of the planet’s environmental concerns can be attributed to one simple problem: too many plastic straws. The oversimplification of the damage done to the Earth’s climate puts consumers and their choices at fault for all of the pollution in our atmosphere, but conveniently ignores the massive amount of emissions produced by large corporations.

Manipulating the climate situation protects the interests of monopolizing oil and energy companies like ExxonMobil, D.T.E and Shell, by distracting from their contributions to the problem at hand, and allowing them to continue producing in the interest of profit rather than the environment.

With approximately 71 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions linked to only 100 different international companies, the most impactful way to combat climate change is to alter large-scale production patterns to more sustainable methods across major industries.
For a lot of these companies, changing their habits would mean losing a lot of money in production investments. Rather than address this, corporations mislead the public into thinking that their contribution to the climate problem is less than it actually is through a process called greenwashing.

According to Abby Wallace, the energy and climate policy coordinator at the Michigan Environmental Council, companies greenwash in order to avoid pressure to make costly, fundamental changes to their business.

“We see it all the time in campaigns saying that you need to be composting, and recycling and drinking out of a water bottle, that again are a lot of times being sponsored and bankrolled by people who have such a disproportionate effect on Climate change,” Wallace said. “These companies are misrepresenting it as an individual problem, rather than as a system-wide problem that they are actively fighting behind the scenes to keep in place.”

Some companies have already made the commitment to be more environmentally friendly, which is evident in the rising popularity of the electric car market. Electric and hybrid vehicles have proven much more fuel and energy efficient, and give off significantly less air and noise pollutants than diesel and petrol cars. Micheal Phelan, an automotive critic for the Detroit Free Press, believes that electric cars have the potential to help relieve parts of the current climate crisis.

“Electric cars don’t have an exhaust pipe, which emits all the carbon and gasses that make the air quality poor,” Phelan said. “Just one car can save millions of grams of CO2 a year, and in order to see a lasting difference in our atmosphere, everyone has to commit to making the switch from diesel to electric.”

What prevents this from happening, though, is the lack of affordable electric vehicles available to buy. The cheapest option on the market is a 27,000 dollar Nissan, which is not a reasonable price for everyone.. In order to persuade people that investing in environmentally friendly alternatives like electric cars is worth the financial commitment, legislators have offered incentives to make the jump from fuel to electric.
“The state has implemented a federal electric vehicle tax rebate ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 dollars depending on the car,” Phelan said. “This was done strategically in order to allow all people, no matter their wealth status, to contribute to improving the quality of the environment.”

While this is a step in the right direction, Wallace and members of the Michigan Environmental Council feel as though the inclusivity of the tax credit could be taken a step further.
“Something our group has been pushing for is for them to include language like ‘used’ electric vehicles in that rebate, in order to open the market up further for people who are on the lower end of the wage spectrum,” Wallace said. “Or for it to be issued on an income basis, where someone who’s making less than 80,000- or some number below the poverty line- is going to to get more money in the rebate than someone who’s making $200,000”

It’s in the interest of the car companies to continue producing a different variation of the same product they’ve been making for years. Not only do electric cars bring in the same amount of profit that normal cars do, they excuse the company from further exploration into more environmentally friendly developments.

“It’s a systemic problem, and it needs to be tackled in different ways, like for example public transit. If there was a bullet train from Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids and then up North, so many people would use that. I think it would be a good faith estimate for the state to make, but the companies can’t make money on that,” Wallace said.

Sustainability can be defined as a concept that stresses the ability to maintain life over time without depleting natural resources. Former car designer at General Motors, Jane Plieth, explains how much sustainability impacts our lives now and will continue to in the future.

“In order to have healthy communities, we need clean air, natural resources, and a nontoxic environment,” Plieth said. “This is easier said than done but if we all work together it would go a long way.”
Having strong air quality is an essential aspect of sustainability. The Clean Air Act is a federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. According to a study done by the University of Chicago, the Clean Air Act has added 1.5 years to human life expectancy as a result of the quality of air improving. Although the air quality has dramatically risen in recent years, it still has a long way to go taking into account the pollutants emitted directly from vehicles.

“Since the engines are consuming fuel and air and creating heat, nitrogen from the air can be transformed into nitrogen oxides which are gasses that irritate the lungs and eyes,” Plieth said. “These pollutants are not the only cause for concern, but play a strong role in weakening the air quality.”

As of right now, both consumers and corporations are not setting themselves up to prosper in the future due to the large amounts of waste produced, whether that be garbage or carbon dioxide. There’s only one world and both sides need to work together in order to ensure it lasts.

“We need to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” Plieth said. “Resources are finite and need to be used conservatively and wisely with long term consequences in mind.”

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