I find today’s environmentalist agenda unsettling. Often, we focus on individual contributions to climate change rather than the damage the industrialized world inflicts on our planet. I scoff every time I see articles arguing that eating mealworms could save the planet, as I find it quite trivial to expect people who are privileged enough to have access to food they are used to eating to change their diet in the name of preserving the environment.
News flash! In some developing countries, the diets of the most impoverished communities are not about some “eco-fad” — people live and eat without options. Even radical dietary changes will not fix the emissions from our vehicles and our intensive agricultural and industry practices that are glorified by our globalized society and rich people.
Not everyone participates equally in this problem; the real culprits are apparently the wealthiest populations and corporations. Capitalism kills, and it’s currently murdering our planet. We live in an era of cognitive dissonance, where celebrities will cry on social media about the polar bears and burning koalas but, like Kylie Jenner, will use a private jet to pick up Kendall Jenner and go to a restaurant 40 minutes away. Glamorizing luxury travel, wastefulness and status makes that lifestyle desirable for the ordinary person. The only solution is to hold people accountable legislatively, punitively tax them for luxuries and indulgences, and tighten the restrictions on companies that accelerate our impending demise.
It is shameful how some people go to extremes at times, looking down on those whose diets are not plant-based or vegan, with little consideration for how costly those lifestyles can be. Many low-income, minority individuals live in food deserts deemed “unprofitable” in marginalized blocks of cities and suburbs. Financial instability only hampers their access to fresh produce.
The inequity continues with environmental health issues: Central Valley field workers and their families are exposed to organophosphates linked to neurodevelopmental issues; Flint, Michigan battles with lead-filled water; and Chevron explosions disrupt marginalized communities in Richmond, California. Disadvantaged communities face extreme exposure to environmental risks, which only exacerbates their struggles to make a healthy living. The silence of allies and environmental activists is deafening, and more should be done to ensure that advocacy and protections are inclusive and thoughtful.
While there is scientific evidence supporting the fact that the corn, dairy and beef industries contribute significantly to the agricultural carbon footprint, it is worth noting that these industries will only continue to thrive if subsidized by the federal government. This financial and legislative support makes that bag of chips and that hamburger way more affordable than fresh fruit or a leafy bale of greens, which is why advocacy on this front is so important.
By 2030, if extreme measures are not taken around the world, we will face debilitating environmental uncertainty, increased chaotic weather and natural disasters, as well as sweeping droughts, wildfires and food shortages for millions across the globe. We need the Green New Deal — legislation with actionable measures for a host of environmental concerns. It takes a stance against big corporations, demanding compliance with zero-emission energy streams and calls for clean upgrades to our transportation systems. It buckles down on affordable electricity and finds solutions to increasing pollution and deforestation. It calls for a living wage and much-needed benefits for industry workers and farmworkers, as well as enacts proper protections in cases of exposure and environmental racism. This is an effort that goes beyond the individual that needs our voice and the support of the collective population.
Using your metal straw or your reusable Tupperware isn’t useless; your vegan lifestyle isn’t unhelpful. But our decisions are only microscopic steps toward a macroscopic end goal. If we want to really change the environmental degradation we are seeing, we need to push for more serious action, such as the Green New Deal. It is not worth bartering for our lives. Don’t let capitalism and big corporations determine your expiration date. With the evidence we have, it’s worth fighting back.
Nicole Anyanwu studies molecular environmental biology at UC Berkeley