Corporations should be held accountable for climate damage


Taze Wilson

Preserving the planet’s environment should be a top priority for the United States government, not just to preserve its beauty but also to ensure the health of future generations. The destruction of the environment, whether visible or invisible, is a crime that should be punished.

Taze Wilson, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

Actions taken to slow damage done to the environment have often focused on individual responsibility, but individuals have not been the main producer of climate damage. Instead, the largest polluters, industrial corporations, should be held accountable for pollution.

The media has emphasized reducing individuals’ carbon footprints while ignoring the fact that the average individual does not have the effect on the environment that large corporations do. In fact, this is precisely what it was designed to do. British Petroleum (BP) actually created the concept of the carbon footprint and gave advice on how the average person could pollute less, rather than taking responsibility for the damage that they are overwhelmingly responsible for.

Corporations have been placing the blame on individuals rather than accepting responsibility for decades. BP’s manipulation of the concept of the carbon footprint, along with campaigns like the Keep America Beautiful campaign that discouraged littering while being funded by the likes of The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, have been blaming individuals for climate change.

That is simply not the truth.

The Break Free From Plastic audit named Coca-Cola the world’s largest plastic polluter, yet Coca-Cola has a yearly revenue of $37 billion. Coca-Cola is profiting while doing irreparable damage to the environment. The damage done to the environment will not affect Coca-Cola’s stock price, but rather the poor and those without access to proper trash storage.

The average US citizen’s carbon footprint is 16 tons while Chevron produced 123 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019 and BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to harm wildlife 10 years later. Why should the average person be held accountable for climate change while those responsible for the majority of the damage continue undeterred?

Corporations have been getting away with polluting the environment and accelerating climate change for far too long. Instead of blaming the average working American and asking them to sacrifice for the environment, it is time for the government to step in and hold corporations accountable for their actions.

This is not a radical idea. The federal government has made corporations pay for environmental damages numerous times before, most notably with The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 spurred by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” The actions of the government held corporations accountable for the damage their products caused; why should they not do the same when companies are destroying the environment on a mass scale?

The implementation of a carbon tax would hold corporations accountable for the destruction of the environment while accelerating the development of clean energy solutions. A carbon tax charges companies for the carbon they release into the atmosphere and the damage they cause to the environment.

A carbon tax is not a radical idea.

This tax exists all around the world and even in the United States. The taxes collected from a carbon tax can pay for Green New Deal energy programs, while not costing taxpayers a penny and strengthening the nation’s economy. Jobs lost by oil and coal companies can and will be replenished. Entire new industries in green energy installation and production can be created just by pushing innovation in a more environmentally friendly direction.

There are people working on solutions such as this one around the world and in the Quad Cities. “Simultaneous actions are needed to fix the climate crisis,” said Lori McCollum of the Progressive Action for the Common Good Organization of the Quad Cities. “One action is a carbon tax levied on fossil fuel users which will increase fuel cost, discourage and reduce use, and hence reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

There is no way to deny the existence of climate change, with global temperatures having risen every year since 1977. It is time to take action. This action does not have to be bold, or have responsibility fall on the taxpayer. It does not even have to cost the national economy in any way. But this action needs to be taken, and corporations need to be held accountable for the damage they have caused.

When the world is significantly warmer and shorelines are disappearing, the next generation will wonder why their parents did not act. “We must act quickly; the earth is running out of time,” McCollum said.

Unless action is taken, future generations will be robbed of their futures for the sake of comfort and profit. It is time to hold those responsible for the destruction of the environment accountable.