Climate change, corporations and consumers The never-ending blame-game


By Andrea Valadez

| Part of the series Our Future, produced in collaboration with the California Youth Media Network.

Imagine this: you just got off the bus, reusable grocery bags in arms. You see a news alert that a wildfire is blazing through Texas, and it’s officially the second-largest wildfire in United States history. Climate change has made it so these types of news alerts are no longer shocking but to be expected. You do your part — take public transportation when possible, decrease your purchase of single-use plastic and you don’t eat meat, but the planet is still burning. Now what? 

For decades, the general public has been fed a narrative that it is up to us to be eco-conscious to combat the climate crisis. There have been many campaigns to educate the public on what we as individuals can and should be doing to reduce our carbon footprint. But how much does that help? Can individual choice offset the pollution caused by big corporations? And how much are those companies doing to offset their carbon output? 

There is certainly a responsibility for consumers to make conscious choices about the products they buy and how they impact the environment. However, I struggle to believe that consumer spending is the only solution when there is so much that is not being done by corporations and governments that are most responsible for the climate crisis. 

Companies like Shell and Chevron have made sustainability commitments, but have not done much, if any, work to counteract the damage already done. The emissions from Shell’s combustible fuels were around 1 billion tons in 2022, according to Reuters. An average North American would have to live 77 million years to emit this much. 

Since 1988, the data has stayed essentially the same — 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. Vistra Energy, a power generation company (who owns the Moss Landing power plant) was the top greenhouse polluter in 2021, according to a report by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2021, it emitted over 112 million tons of carbon dioxide. 

Since then, Vistra has lowered its carbon footprint slightly, in line with the company’s goals to grow a zero-carbon footprint through more investments in renewable energy. By 2022, Vistra’s carbon emissions dropped to 95 million. While this is progress, it is not happening worldwide at a fast enough pace to keep up with the damage to our environment.

The Paris Agreement, signed by 196 countries in 2015, was a commitment to keep the increase in the average global temperature to under 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The global temperature has already risen to over half of that goal. Experts say that there is still hope; we have the finances, technology and information to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, but we have to act now. Globally, we need to cut our carbon emissions and fossil fuel use by more than half by 2035 and have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This will only happen if governments take serious action against the top polluters and force a change.

The average person is not a major polluter, but many still try to offset their emissions with alternative lifestyle choices. Green products in the U.S. are on average 27% more expensive than their non-sustainable counterparts. Not everyone can afford this 27% increase on every laundry detergent, piece of bedding or hand soap bought. Similarly, not everyone can depend on public transportation to get around. Many rural areas don’t have the infrastructure to support public transit. Consumers can try to help combat the crisis we’re facing, but we can’t do it alone — we need the government on our (and the Earth’s) side.

When it comes to those with power and influence, we know one thing for sure: money talks. The good thing is renewable energy and environmentally-friendly policies are trending cheaper than what we’re currently doing. According to a report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s working group, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind have gone down in cost, making them a more affordable option than fossil fuels. Governments should be placing heavy taxes on corporations that are not aligning with climate goals and looking to alternatives, or else there will be no reason for them to.

Additionally, policy changes would drastically improve livelihoods, and in turn, incentivize the masses to make environmentally conscious choices. Lower-income communities have always been the most impacted by climate change, lack of infrastructure and economic inequality. If there were protocols in place to manage land and energy in sustainable ways — such as investing more into infrastructure as well as electric-powered transportation like e-scooters and bikes — the average person would have options that would help reduce their carbon footprint. 

Policies aimed at reducing deforestation and demanding companies be more energy-efficient by minimizing waste and prioritizing recycling materials would also limit public health impacts on low-income and communities of color. The general public should be included in the creation of these policies, so the government knows what’s most important to its people. By allowing the public a stronger say in environmental decision processes, most people would be more willing and able to live an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Climate change is no longer a looming threat to our society — it’s happening right now. As consumers, we have a responsibility to be aware of our choices and make any realistic change we can, but it is not all about us. We have to demand much more from those in charge — the real polluters.

This story was produced by Voices of Monterey Bay and is part of a collaborative youth-driven project “Our Future” that includes content from Boyle Heights Beat, Coachella Unincorporated, The Contra Cosa Pulse, The kNOw,  Tower of YouthVoices of Monterey Bay, and YR Media

Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.



About Andrea Valadez

Andrea Valadez was born and raised on the outskirts of Los Angeles and is now a journalism student at Cal State Monterey Bay. She’s the current editor-in-chief of the school’s student-run newspaper, The Lutrinae.