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Why do we continue to allow fossil fuel corporations to dictate the terms and conditions of our world?
Since the end of COP27 in Egypt, it’s important to remark at the number of oil lobbyists who flocked to the desert oasis of Sharm El Sheikh. It’s hard to imagine how an international climate conference could allow such a thing. A meeting of the nations like COP seems important on paper, but in practice, the event has raised multiple questions on the ethics of a performative “green” space. Beyond the “Green Zone”‒where academia, youth groups, businesses, and artists are allowed to “participate” in the conference‒lies the “Blue Zone,” where powerful heads of state in conjunction with the United Nations engage in substantive negotiations.
COP27’s format is reminiscent of a children’s table at Thanksgiving: the invitees who most closely resemble average members of the public are invited, but segregated from the real dinner. The “Green Zone” is an echo chamber where cultural leaders, who did not make it into the elusive “Blue Zone,” are allowed to spread their climate message‒if they can afford it. Attendance to observe the conference is open to multiple segments of the public, and includes student delegations from top American universities to grassroots activists from around the world. This illusion of inclusion furthers the narrative that all voices are heard at these conferences, when in reality, COP27 quite literally separates the real climate negotiations from the general public.
As attendees observed supposedly “meaningful” climate negotiations entered into by heads of state, they are surrounded by a swarm of corporate sponsors whose firms have actively exacerbated the planet’s climate crisis for their own economic benefit. COP27 was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which a report from the nonprofit Break Free from Plastic notes was the world’s leading polluter of plastics in 2021. COP26 in Glasgow was sponsored by Unilever, another top plastic polluter, along with Microsoft, who had recently partnered with the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil. COP25 in Madrid had Endesa‒the largest greenhouse gas polluter in Spain‒sponsor the conference in exchange for publicity and tax breaks. And famously, COP24 in Poland was partially sponsored by a host of coal companies. Indeed, almost no international climate conference has been free of the influence of “greenwashing” companies‒including COP21, which produced the Paris Climate Agreement. These conferences are no more than an elevated global stage for companies to attract the dollars of environmentally conscious consumers.
Why do we continue to allow companies to dictate the terms and conditions of our world?
Of course, we will not be able to solve the climate crisis without corporations’ help. However, greenwashing does little to advance global efforts to combat climate change, and average citizens have done little to stop it. We control market demand, we control the actions that are made‒whether with our votes or our dollars. Global citizenship is more than simply talking about change, it is change in action. Showing up to the polls and throwing money at distant nonprofits are only one part of the solution. These actions need to be followed up with personal responsibility in our own consumer habits, and in democratic nations, the responsibility of our governments. As global citizens, we share a common identity beyond our national ties and therefore have a moral obligation to care for one another. How can we continue to argue about sovereignty when people are dying? When rivers are drying up, and forests are burning across the globe?
Our planet and Mother Nature will continue to suffer while humanity dithers over dollars and cents. Global citizens‒especially in the developed West‒have the opportunity to use our enormous wealth to try and mitigate the damage we’ve done to the planet. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, and ambivalence is no longer an option. Thankfully, there are now strong financial incentives to take immediate action. Whether this is through an aggressive emission tax or boycotting top polluters, there are more tools in our arsenal than before.
But if COP27 is the best current leaders can do, our world is in trouble. Who will they lead when there is no longer a planet left to save? Global citizens in the United States and elsewhere must make conscious efforts to reduce our individual carbon footprint, and must demand more from our governments if we’re to avoid the most dangerous climate future. The hypocrisy of COP27 should illustrate that phony greenwashing, performative corporate activism, and glorified publicity campaigns will need to be replaced with actual, transformative work on the ground. If deforestation in the Amazon, deadly forest fires in California, and record-setting droughts in the Middle East have taught us anything, it’s that the Earth desperately needs it.
First published in Common Dreams. Licensed under Creative Commons.