by Anna Subbanna
Recently, Union Square’s midnight countdown clock has been changed to a climate crisis countdown clock. Sprawled across the facade of the building facing the square, are large numbers constantly reminding the people walking by that there are only seven years left to save the planet from climate change. However, during a time of mass anxiety due to the pandemic, rising unemployment, and political struggles, is it wise to add a sense of impending doom to that?
The citizens that truly care about environmentalism are taking measures to reduce their carbon footprint including putting pressure on their local legislature to pass environmental protection laws. Around 67% of adults believe that their government is not doing enough to protect them from climate change and 63% of Americans are ready to deal with the cost of implementing stricter policies (Funk, Pew Research Center). To curb climate change is to reduce carbon emissions, chemical effluent, and waste production. Only one hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions (Riley, The Guardian). In fact, just twenty of those companies produce one-third of the world’s emissions (Taylor, The Guardian). It is the responsibility of businesses to reduce carbon emissions enough to stop the dire consequences of climate change. Moreover, other damaging practices such as oil spills and improper toxic waste burials cannot be stopped by everyday people. Putting up a countdown in Union Square for hundreds of New Yorkers to see and thousands of Americans to read about is not appropriate when looking at those responsible. Americans know that protecting the environment is increasingly important, now it is up to the companies and legislators to act.
How do we hold companies responsible?
Most companies will not change their environmental policies on a whim, they need to be told to do so by the government. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but the most efficient ways will be monetary consequences (The Sanders Institute). For example, increasing penalties on pollution will force companies to be more responsible for their production and transportation methods. If an oil company does have a major spill, like Deepwater Horizon’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they need to be held fully accountable for the direct impact and indirect impact of their mistake. They should pay for the cleanup of the oil and restoration of habitats impacted by it. Harsh and decisive legal action is the only way to stop climate change, not a countdown clock in the middle of a busy city.