Entanglement between environmental agencies and large-scale corporations is rampant and largely goes unnoticed. In her book, “This Changes Everything,” Naomi Klein delves into the murky waters (probably due to pollution) where the natural environment and the corporate environment overlap. It is no longer a secret that large corporations, especially those in the food and fossil fuel industries, control our government. After all, a government based on capitalism will capitalize where the needs of its consumers are: the food that feeds humans and the fossil fuels that feed essentially everything else. Laissez faire policies allowed corporations to grow exponentially until they had the power to also control our government. Now, corporations seek to buy out environmental agencies, and the worst part is that they are succeeding.
One example of this is how a well known environmental agency, The Nature Conservancy, allowed oil companies to drill on their conservation (193). If a company that supposedly stands for environmental conservation can be bought out at a certain price tag, what does this say about the rest of society? Most people look to these agencies for leadership and guidance, to solve the climate crisis with their ecologically minded policies. All trust is lost when an organization exploits what it claims to protect in return for money from the corporations do the most damage to our planet.
This, unfortunately, is not a rare occurrence; other agencies like the Conservation Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International have accepted money from fossil fuel companies companies like Shell, BP, Exxon, American Electric Power, and other destructive corporations like Walmart, Monsanto, Toyota, and McDonald’s (196). It is hard to believe that these agencies are fighting to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius when they are accepting money from corporations that will do anything to keep from being regulated. This money is incentive to publish false articles about climate change, allow for drilling, and falsify records.
Corruption also occurs in the conferences and think tanks that produce environmental platforms for our society and government. Organizations like the Heartland Institute hold climate change conferences that are primarily funded by fossil fuel companies and “right-wing causes that cannot be fully traced” (44). The scientists that present at Heartland have received the majority of their funding from fossil fuel companies in the past and the journalists asked to publicize the conference have also received money from the same sources (45).
The entanglement and corruption continues when CEOs claim to act in an environmentally mindful way but still push the free market to its edge by further developing a destructive company. This is the case for Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Airlines. In 2006, Branson pledged $3 billion of profits over the next decade toward the development of biofuels, presumably so that he could continue to earn money without having his environmental friendly persona tainted with hypocrisy, seeing as the airline industry has one of dirtiest carbon footprints (231). Branson never met his $3 billion pledge, nor did he invest in the development of biofuels; yet he was able to double the size of his airline fleet, thus doubling his carbon emissions. That is the issue with large corporations: the public only sees their proclaimed righteousness while under the surface, their tactics are just as dirty as the fuel they mine and use.
This duplicity seems to be what our country is built upon in recent years. Food products with GMO’s can be labeled as “natural”; conservancies can drill for oil; whole countries can claim to be “for the people,” when in reality, all they are for is free trade and money. This is too large and too confounded a task to change by simply recycling and driving a Prius.
In order to overcome the challenges we face, we need to restructure our government and economy to favor small, local business, rather than Big Business. We need “live within ecological limits,” which means living locally (91). How can you live sustainably when most the products you purchase come from a place you have never been and of which you do not know the ecological limits? Scaling things back to the local level will allow people to have greater awareness of where their goods are coming from, the energy and time spent in making them, and how they are disposed. This awareness may encourage people to consume less, which is a huge factor in staying under a two degree Celsius temperature increase. Scaling economies back to the local level will likely disrupt the corporate schema and provide communities with more local jobs, and more importantly, jobs with safe conditions and fair wages. This will decrease social disparities and make the entire economy more equitable. But in order to do this, there will have to be sacrifice.
Large corporations will have to let go of destructive fair trade policies and the only way to do this is through regulation. Regulation will take the power out of the hands of the few and put back into the hands of the many. Though Big Business will take the hardest blow, even wealthy middle class consumers will probably feel some of the impacts of regulation. However, a more equitable economy is the only sustainable option we have as a planet in order to survive comfortably on economic, social, and environmental fronts.
In order to make this “Great Transition” we need large-scale policy changes that force carbon to stay in the ground and even bigger investments in renewable energy (89). Small individual changes will have to be made for a full economic transition to be successful (91). By making changes in our consumptions habits, we can directly affect corporations. Without a hit to their profits, corporations will not change. The middle class, currently living comfortably, needs to awaken from the daze of the screens that distract us from corporate corruption before it is too late to live comfortably at all. We cannot wait for a cataclysmic event to force us into third world status and then try to change things. We must act now before it is too late.
Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014. Print.
Article by Lauren Wheeler