It is not my job alone to save the world

March 2, 2018

Walking around Brandeis, it is hard to miss the posters promoting green lifestyles. From composting food to turning off the lights, Brandeis does a great job of reminding students of the steps that they can take in order to do their part for the environment. But what exactly is “their part?” Often, the effort to slow global warming rests upon the idea that individuals have a responsibility to future generations or to the planet. I believe the individual should not carry such a responsibility but that it should instead fall to the government.

Individuals cannot be expected to refuse convenience in favor of something that is beneficial to the planet, under most circumstances. This is certainly not to say you should not turn off the lights when you leave a room; individuals should be encouraged to help when it is not difficult for them or even if it means going slightly out of their way. People should not be expected to choose the planet over expediency, or need to worry about the entire planet or an entire generation with every action they take. This is also true for corporations. Both individuals and corporations are reluctant to forgo their self interest for the environment. Large companies harm the environment through many means, from the use of fossil fuels to the use of plastic packaging. Corporations, for the most part, don’t do what is in the best interest of the environment unless it is profitable to them in some way. They cannot be trusted or expected to forgo profits for sustainability without some kind of incentive.

This is why I do not fault Brandeis for investing in fossil fuels. Our college is a great supporter of sustainability, but the fact of the matter is that money is tight. If Brandeis does not take measures to support itself financially, its plight to teach the future generation of the dangers of global warming will be shut down. Brandeis is not responsible for the fact that fossil fuels are currently a worthwhile investment.

Who, then, is responsible for the future of the planet? Global warming is a problem that, by nature, falls under the responsibility of the government. It is the job of the government to distribute resources to combat outbreaks of disease and to help recovery efforts for immediate natural disasters. So why shouldn’t a government’s role in global warming be to make it as easy as possible for the individual to choose a sustainable option and advantageous for companies to manufacture and sell their products in a sustainable way? The government is uniquely situated to regulate society in ways that stymie global warming. They can do so more powerfully and effectively than any individual or corporation, so the responsibility should fall to them.

That’s not to say that there is no individual role in sustainability. The individual’s role in this stems from the fact that “the people” define what the government should do. Rather than taking it into their own hands, individuals should support those who have the means to bring about change. This means focusing less on turning the lights off and more on voting for political figures and donating to interest groups that make an environmental difference on the larger scale. While reminding people to do sustainable things does help in many ways, this long term threat requires a long term solution.

A top-down solution to environmental issues, while desirable, is not perfect. Individuals, corporations and governments don’t function ideally. The people may define what the government does, but, in the real world, the government is also influenced by many other factors, including anti-sustainability interest groups and corporations. This makes allocating responsibility for environmental issues much more difficult in practice. Nonetheless, I believe that the biggest impact an individual can have in the situation is to try to bring about governmental change.

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