It was the day before move-in day. Apprehension rushed through every inch of my body. Not only was I starting college, but I was also in a new country with a different culture. I was preparing to take the biggest leap of faith in my life. Yearning for familiarity, I turned to my morally corrupt old friend: Starbucks.
Walking toward the counter, I felt a warm embrace as I ran through the familiar motions of ordering my drink. As I waited with excitement for my first sip, suddenly a cold shiver ran down my body. I took a deep breath in. I could not believe my eyes. I was surrounded by an invasion of plastic straws. As panic surged down my fingertips, I began to fling items out of my bag in desperate search of a metal straw—the tool I would use to fight these single-use plastic demons. They could consume our oceans but they would never consume my soul! My metal straw would be my savior—my hero! If only I could find it! Did I even pack it?!
Long story short…I could not find my metal straw.
The harsh reality of my next choice settled in. I walked towards the counter, hesitantly unwrapped the plastic straw, and shut my eyes. Shame, guilt, and heartbreak suffocated me.
Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” played through my headphones as I reminisced about my love for the Earth and lamented over my unforgivable betrayal.
My eyes began to well up with tears…Why were there no paper straws? Were plastic straws not banned in the U.S.? Would I ever be the same again? Could I even call myself a climate activist anymore? Was the planet burning…because of me?
Clever marketing schemes may cause you to believe that yes, as individuals, we are all completely to blame for the climate crisis.
And so, the all too familiar feeling of climate anxiety consumed my body.
For many students at Yale, rather than a pressing concern in our daily lives, climate action is an Instagram Reel we share or a class we take. At most, it’s a non-committal hobby. And for those who do actively care, we are consumed by guilt and anxiety as we navigate a world built to be unsustainable.
In my opinion, caring about the impact of our individual actions on the planet is essential. Ultimately, we all have a role to play in mitigating carbon emissions and an empowering step in that can be engaging in sustainable choices—from metal straws to recycling to joining an activist group. However, the climate crisis is not entirely our fault. As individuals, we are not the villains in this narrative.
Think about it! McNugget supplier & agro-business giant Cargill’s industrial production directly results in the deforestation of just under 2 million hectares of Amazonian land; McDonald’s itself releases 53 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than the whole nation of Norway. But is the CEO of McDonald’s overwhelmed by heartbreak as they destroy the rainforest? Do you think Xi Jinping sheds a tear every time he is reminded of China’s outsized carbon footprint? Judging by their climate policy, the answer is no.
So if they’re the drivers of climate change, then what is our role as individuals? We could all enter a feral era, completely removing sustainability from our vocabulary and unifying in our mission to set the world on fire. Personally, that is not how I want this story to end. We should all do what we can through individual actions. But this route is only effective when we unify in our feelings of guilt, anger, powerlessness, passion, and frustration. Instead of beating ourselves up, we need to beat up those actually killing our planet: the big businesses and the stubborn governments who refuse to prioritize climate action.
Yes, individual action is powerful. But the weight of the world does not have to be entirely on your shoulders. We must remember who the real enemy of the planet is. It is not the single parent who can’t afford to eat vegan or the college student who forgets the metal straw.
We can change and protect the world. But to do that, it is the responsibility of those in power to amend their reckless behavior. As individuals, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable.