Low on Time

by Dana Berdichevsky, Features Contributor, Arshia Verma, Features Reporter & Melinda Yung, Features Contributor
photo illustration by Emily Zhang

Tick Tock. 7:101:16:06:56. The years, days, hours, minutes and seconds ingrained on a countdown clock in New York City’s Union Square is author Andrew Boyd and cartoonist Gan Goland’s creation, a constant reminder of the growingly irreversible effects of climate change.

The countdown clock, critics say, unfairly and unwisely places responsibility for mitigating climate change on the individual rather than large-scale corporations, which raises the question of who should be held accountable for fighting climate change. 

The recent wildfires in California resulted in an increase in carbon emissions, affected the air quality and destroyed the homes of local citizens and animals. This tragedy may be the most visible threat of natural disasters, but California is not alone in experiencing the constant threat of global warming. Climate change is hitting close to home; in August, Newton declared a Level Two drought, meaning above-average temperatures and below-average rainfalls.

Corporations entirely ignore these environmental consequences. They are adopting the easiest, most rapid way to dispose of their trash. The oceans are becoming less of a

habitat for a variety of marine life and more a home for corporation’s waste. It’s corporations and industries, not individuals, that need to change their practices.

More and more clothing companies,such as Forever 21, Shein and Zara have turned to fast fashion — the technique of mass-producing products for a high profit — to stay on top of the latest trends. While it is profitable and convenient, fast fashion causes large corporations to produce, waste and circulate much more material than they would if they focused on higher-quality, simpler items. The clothing and textile industry is emitting a substantial amount of green-house gases. According to the World Bank, the process of making and distributing just one pair of jeans emits 33.4 kilograms of carbon into the atmosphere. By depleting non-renewable resources and using immense amounts of energy, water and chemicals, fast- fashion brands cause major environmental consequences. 

The resulting pollution has driven many consumers to minimize purchases from companies that use such egregious techniques. Large businesses need to be held accountable for their role in exacerbating climate change and their potential for mitigating it.

Large-scale protests, boycotts and social media activism simply haven’t made the necessary change. The government’s sole response to the costly environmental actions taken by corporations was to implement small fines. This minimal government action, however, failed to disincentivize corporations from their environmentally harmful practices.

A 2017 study by the Carbon Majors Report said that just 100 energy companies have produced over 70% of total industrial emissions since 1988. Because they are creating a vast majority of global environmental problems, it is the responsibility of corporations to become more eco-friendly. We must band together to pressure the government to hold corporations accountable.

Holding corporations accountable will influence individuals to combat climate change on a proportionally smaller scale. Where some businesses, like Nike, have trail- blazed this approach, many businesses are taking zero action toward combating global warming — or worse, actively contributing to it. Companies such as Exxon Mobil, an oil and gas corporation, have failed to recognize the destructive effects of climate change. In- dividuals, like you and I, are not responsible for the detrimental effects of climate change on a scale comparable to corporations.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “companies seem to be more comfortable taking public stands on issues like race, immigration, gun violence and trans- gender rights before speaking strongly on the environment.” As climate change intensifies, corporations have to rise to the challenge. For our part, we must hold corporations accountable by supporting eco-friendly brands and setting the tone for others to do the same.

The countdown clock in New York City will continue ticking, and climate change will continue progressing, regardless of whether or not you recycle your Starbucks cup. At this point, the general population has already acknowledged climate change, and there is only so much each individual can do to combat climate change.

What we’re lacking, however, is a firm commitment from corporations. After centuries of providing a gravitating home, it is our turn to give back to our world. The decreasing time on the clock should not be taken as a reminder for individuals to act upon climate change; it is an alarm alerting corporations of the imminent crisis.