“The lungs of our planet are burning.” These dire words floated around my Instagram feed in the wake of the news that the Amazon rainforest was on fire. Ire increased when it came to light that the fires were man-made for agricultural purposes. This raises an interesting point about the burden of responsibility when it comes to environmentalism.

The green industry is growing every year, meaning that consumers are increasingly buying products that market themselves as “earth-friendly”. While this may not be a bad thing, it diverts responsibility onto the individual, when the bulk of it should lie on the shoulders of large companies, industries and the government. We need to redirect our efforts and increase pressure on lawmakers to implement regulations protecting the planet. 

Veganism and related diets are becoming increasingly common, and one of the most commonly cited reasons is environmentalism. This is a reasonable thought process because it requires 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef from pasture to package.

However, given the scope of the issue, solutions on the individual level are not going to create a large enough impact. From 2010 - 2014, Tyson Foods was the biggest contributor to water pollution, doing more damage than Cargill, Koch and Exxon combined. During this period, Tyson produced an estimated 73,000,000 pounds of meat products per week.

These numbers are staggering, and this is just one company from one industry. Power companies are also a big offender, and boycotting electricity is much more difficult than not eating meat. The problems facing our environment are massive-scale and deeply complex. As such, they require massive-scale and informed solutions. This will mean political involvement, and lawmakers regulating business practices that hurt the planet.

This is the crux of the issue, and it is more complicated than it may seem. It can be remarkably difficult to convince even progressive politicians to implement regulations protecting the planet due to massive amounts of lobbying from fossil fuel companies. Last year, the Democratic party stopped taking donations from these companies and went back on the decision two months later.

These companies have lawmakers deep in their pockets. Although this makes the problem more difficult, it does not alter the fact that if change is to happen, these are the people who must make it. Ultimately, it does not matter how much funding they get if they are not reelected. Faced with enough counter-pressure, politicians will have to choose between these funding sources and their political seat.

None of this is to say that consumers have a license to be irresponsible. After all, they created a demand for these products in the first place. It is also important to note that some environmental issues really are the fault of the individual, such as littering and the use of plastic straws. However, broadly speaking, the public is misplacing blame.

The mindset that it is important to do one’s part is well-intended. Unfortunately, one person’s part is very little. The real change that will actually accomplish something is in the hands of lawmakers, and that is where we need to focus.

Emma Richardson is the opinion editor of the Arkansas Traveler. Emma worked as an opinion writer from 2018-2019.

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