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Climate Crisis Is Not the fault of Individuals

Climate Crisis Is Not the fault of Individuals

Does the Climate Crisis Inspire Anger?

To avoid responsibility, the fossil fuel sector uses greenwashing or woke-washing.

Generation Z grew up in the shadows of the climate crisis. Global leaders promised that they would act. Despite dire warnings from leading experts on climate change, the world has been paralysed by inaction for nearly every year since the 1970s. Meaningful progress has been obstructed by fossil fuel companies’ intentional obfuscation of responsibility for the climate crisis.

The result? The climate crisis is now a reality. Globally, 41 million people live on the brink of starvationClimate change is causing an increase in deaths due to extreme weather events, desertification and higher temperatures.

But who’s at fault? The 2020 Carbon Majors Report90 companies, mostly fossil fuel-based, were identified as being responsible for two-thirds the carbon emissions. Global leaders continue to conclude that individuals are to blame, despite this.

Last October’s COP26 conference saw the same tired talk points about individual responsibility. Leaders insisted that the public change its consumption habits, even though companies encourage people to consume at unprecedented levels. Given the fact that there were so many of these leaders at the COP26 conference last October, it is not surprising that they continue to repeat the same tired talking points about individual responsibility. 503 delegates representing fossil fuel companies at the COP26—two dozen more than the largest country delegation—despite fossil fuel companies being banned from participating directly. Experts believe that the integrity and credibility of the talks were compromised by the presence fossil fuel lobbyists. Their influence was instrumental in the creation of the Glasgow Climate Pact which contains commitments. reducing the use coalInstead of phasing out, This deal gives fossil fuel firms the social license to carry on their business as usual. 

Writing for The GuardianGeorge Monbiot, a columnist, described individual responsibility as one the greatest lies ever told by the fossil-fuel industry and the PR firms that create their messaging. These messages are still being propagated by leaders around the world.

“The myth of individual responsibility has origins in 40 years of the creation of societal order fixated on individualism by the Republican Party,” says Robert Brulle, visiting professor of environment and society at Brown University. He says that the first major manifestation of this individual focus was in BP invented the concept of the “Carbon footprint.” It’s a messaging strategyThis has fundamentally changed the way the public views climate crisis.

Using the suggestion of turning off the lights or driving less is a way to lose sight of the climate crisis’ global severity and shift the focus away from those who have the greatest potential and responsibility to make meaningful changes.

Melissa Aronczyk, associate professor of media studies at Rutgers University and author of A Strategic Nature: Public Relations, Environmentalism Politics and the Politics, describes it as “misdiagnosing and misunderstanding the scale and scope of the [climate crisis]. It keeps [humanity] external to the environment instead of seeing us as part of the environment.”

This externalization of blame allows fossil fuel companies, such as fossil fuel companies, to downplay their contribution to the climate crisis and undermine regulation, litigation, and activism in this area.

Individualizing the responsibility is an insidious weapon within the fossil fuel industry’s arsenal, which includes greenwashing and woke-washing. It has contributed to the climate crisis’ worsening effects and long-term damage to climate justice efforts.

To counter this, climate action plans must place blame where it belongs and focus on the problem’s immediacy. There are two main ways to achieve this: collective action and requiring those companies that created the problems to be at forefront of solutions.


To market themselves as eco-friendly, fossil fuel companies use greenwashing to raise multibillions of dollars. It began in the 1970s and ’80s.

“[Fossil fuel] companies figured out that it’s not popular to be against the environment,” Aronczyk says. “There is no way that a company could say they are anti-environment and be legitimate.”

The fossil fuel industry uses advertising to hide its continued contribution to the climate crisis. Companies use various messaging tactics to “position themselves as contributing to the public interest rather than working against it,” Aronczyk says. “They started using tactics like raising awareness and coalition-building to support their interests.” For example, Shell has PromisedTo reach net-zero emission by 2050 by offering low-carbon products and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

But according to an analysis from environmental lawyers at ClientEarth, the truth behind Shell’s greenwashing paints a grimmer portrait. According to the company’s 2020 fourth-quarter reportShell is not planning to reduce its production by 2030, and is committed to exploring new sources of oil and gas. Shell is continuing to work with Exploration seismic for gasOff the coast of South Africa, and plans to increase its fossil gas business by 20% over the next few years.

There is no indication that Shell has aligned its investments with its reduction targets either: The company’s 2020 Annual reportShell has invested approximately $17 billion in fossil energy production and only $2 billion to 3 billion in renewable energy each year.

The Hague District Court will be opening in May ruled that Shell’s planned emissions reduction of 20% was insufficient and said the company must raise its decarbonization commitments. Shell will have to reduce its emissions by 45% in 2030, as compared to 2019 levels. Shell is Currently appealingThe ruling.


As ClientEarth has indicated, greenwashing is a thinly veiled attempt at reputation laundering—one that is becoming increasingly easy for the public to see through. So companies are now engaging a new tool to delay efforts to curb emissions—one rooted in social justice arguments.

These marketing campaigns, also known as wake-washing, are designed to convince people that fossil fuel corporations are fighting for the poor. Marginalized, Women. Companies are investing billions of dollars in fossil fuel propaganda, which portrays the industry as an integral part of society. This co-opting of social justice arguments comes from companies becoming skilled at using the tactics used by social movements to justify actions.

One of two types of woke-washing strategies are used: warning that a shift away from fossil fuels could negatively impact poor and marginalized communities or claiming that oil companies are aligned to those communities. As an example, Chevron is one of many companies that posted “Black Lives Matter” on TwitterDuring the 2020 BLM demonstrations. Ironic considering that fossil fuel pollution is disproportionately Black people are killedChevron also paid police and soldiers to shoot Nigerian protesters on Chevron’s oil platform in 1998.

Woke-washing is a point of transformation for corporate PR.

“Up until recently, companies were reluctant to enter into partisan battles, as they didn’t want to alienate potential consumers,” Aronczyk says. She says that this changed with the rise of the youth market and political activism. “[Companies are] capitalizing on a market trend but also help to create it by reducing social justice movements to a commodity.”

This tactic makes consumers feel like they’re achieving social justice goals by engaging with brands. Chevron, for example, is promoted as supporting BIPOC communities by selling its products. This effectively compromises both the original message of Black Lives Matter and climate change benchmarks.

What are the Real Solutions?

Climate change is a complex problem. Many solutions, including implementing multilateral tools to hold corporations responsible for failing to set realistic emission reduction targets, depend on the policymakers’ ability to enact the right policies to create systemic change. But, policymakers are often limited by the machinations and corruption of capitalism and governance. This makes it difficult to achieve meaningful change.

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Another part of the solution to climate change is forcing companies to be open about it. These disinformation campaigns have a long-term effect on the public’s perception of the role of fossil fuel companies in the climate crisis.

The results of the COP26 talks, which United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres DescriptionClimate progress has been further impeded by the insufficient fossil fuel industry’s legitimacy and value.

The much-hyped solution of changing individual consumption habits is not feasible. It feeds into the narrative that individual responsibility has been created by the fossil fuel industry. Ethically speaking, it is a good idea to reduce meat consumption and make use of public transport more often. However, those things will not single-handedly make a difference in the grand scheme of things: An individual can save a meager 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide by going carless, which can’t compare with the 1.38 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent Shell emitted last year.

“There is a dire need to overcome the messaging of individualism that has been ingrained within society,” Brulle says. “Your individual actions, while admirable, need to be backed up against collectivism—particularly collectivism that calls fossil fuel companies to account.”

He identifies practical solutions, such as urging one’s congressional representative to look into corporate greenwashing. This is especially relevant given ongoing investigations by the Congressional Greenwashing Task Force. House Oversight Committee. Communities can also support lawsuits against greenwashing campaigns like the one filed by Massachusetts. ExxonMobil.

Private sector collective action has already shown tangible results. Shell recently emerged from legal pressure by environmental activists to stop drilling in the United Kingdom. Cambo oil field project was canceledThe Shetland Islands, and cited that there was no economic case for the project. Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime Minister, made controversial announcements about a controversial proposal to drill offshore for oil and gas. We would not allow it to continue.

Private equity investors are also switching to green assets from fossil fuel investments. This is mainly due the rising demand for climate accountability. Clean Creatives and other organizations are also participating in. Name-and-shame campaigns or boycottsList of PR firms that have worked with fossil fuel companies.

Aronczyk emphasizes the importance of putting companies at the forefront in finding solutions to climate crisis. “Advocating solutions can contribute to the problem,” she says. “It suggests that we as individuals should find the solutions. By doing that, aren’t we letting decision-makers and policymakers who need to make system-wide changes off the hook?

“We have to be careful not to suggest that individual solutions can be carried out instead of pushing the large decision-makers to develop and implement solutions,” she says. “They’re already diverting resources to distracting people from the larger issues at hand when they could rather use those resources to find actionable solutions.”


Cassandra Roxburgh
She is a journalist covering LGBTQ rights and LGBTQ issues. After completing her master’s thesis on corporate human right diligence, she left academia to pursue a freelance career as a writer. She is known for yelling passionately about her favorite punk group or the latest speculative novel. She is based out of Cape Town, South Africa and speaks English as well as Afrikaans. You can reach her via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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