Oliver: Trendy environmentalism lacks tangible solutions

Capitalism spins the environmental movement to achieve its own interests through clicks and sales of new products. When a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw up its nose went viral, cities banned plastic straws, which prompted people to purchase an alternative, made from steel or silicone. This shows the powerful reactionary tendencies among progressive cities and their results in a culture of consumerism.  

Old products become socially unacceptable so people buy the new, cool thing that also happens to be better for the environment. But is it that much better? We need to shift the focus away from trendy, environmentally-friendly consumer goods. Instead, we should look at our daily habits that take a toll on the environment and investigate creative, bold solutions such as the Green New Deal. 

I live 500 miles from home. At the end of the school year, I could spend hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket, or I could carpool with someone from the University of Oregon Ride Share Facebook Page. Carpooling comes with the opportunity to meet a new person or two, save money and reduce carbon emissions that come from flying hundreds of miles. This solution is not glamorous, but it significantly reduces my impact on the environment and increases affordability. 

In my article, “Gen Z freshmen care about sustainability,” I discovered that freshmen on campus are very aware of climate change and have taken action as a result. Many of these changes were prompted by trends that required them to buy something new in order to “solve the problem;” however, this feeds our culture of consumerism. 

Wealthy people can buy locally made hemp clothes, walk to their neighborhood natural grocery store and only eat grass-fed beef — but are those actions significantly minimizing their impact on the environment? Or are they just buying into the same capitalist systems that created this problem in the first place?

Maria Csutoria, who conducted research in Budapest, Hungary, found that consumers offset the impact of their environmental behavior by consuming more. Csutoria argues that any radical change will require a change in lifestyle. 

Doing something to help the environment is better than doing nothing; however, it is important to be conscious of how much consuming you are doing as a result of the sustainability movement. In order to progress, we need to be thinking bigger and bolder with resolution proposals like the Green New Deal that serve as a framework to combat climate change and social injustice embedded in our systems. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York’s 14th District, is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution proposal which is not a law but a guideline to slow climate change if it were to pass. It addresses the climate crisis with a holistic approach — an overhaul of the American way of life. The Green New Deal proposes building a smart grid which will expand access to electricity and overhaul the American transportation system through investing in zero-emission infrastructure, according to CNN. 

An October 2019 report on climate change released by the International Monetary Fund revealed that a global agreement taxing fossil fuels would be the most efficient way to fight climate change. The IMF found that a global tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit the planet’s warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Whatever you are doing to help reverse climate change is valuable, big or small. But without mass mobilization and activism, no substantial change will be made. Attend a town hall meeting to let your representatives know that you are paying attention and care about environmental legislation. Investigate candidates to make sure that they will represent your wishes and not those of the fossil fuel industry. Lastly, talk to your family, friends and neighbors about climate change, because it impacts everyone and everyone needs to contribute to combating it.