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Plastic straws are not the problem, capitalism is

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Greed is a major cause of climate change

In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that the world has twelve years until it reaches the point of no return regarding climate change. Since then, activists and Facebook moms alike have been bashing the use of plastic straws. Starbucks declared that it will be straw-free by 2020, and Seattle outright banned the use of plastic straws all together. Compostable paper straws and reusable metal straws flooded the market. 

But what about driving big cars with low gas mileage? What about the animal agriculture industry? What about capitalist society’s reliance on cheap manufacturing and the profitability of pollutive practices? 

According to a study published by Richard Heede, director of the Climate Accountability Institute, 63% of industrial carbon emissions can be traced back to only 90 entities, including Chevron, BP and other energy-based industries. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that carbon dioxide emissions are the primary element of greenhouse gases, which is heavily used by many, if not all, industries reliant upon a capitalist system. The primary culprits? Energy, industrial processes, and agriculture industries contributed a total of 39,339 metric tons of CO2 as of 2007.

In 2010, the BP oil spill decimated ecosystems throughout the Gulf of Mexico. As the largest oil spill to date, BP paid $18.7 billion in penalty fees for gross negligence, according to Reuters. Much of the immediate effects of the spill have been handled, but the long term impacts still pose a threat to the remaining species. While BP ended up with $65 billion in total fees, including clean-up and legal fees, their 2012 revenue was over $300 billion. Such a massive profit puts them at number 3 on the Global 500, alongside other petroleum giants Chevron, Shell and Exxon. 

BP did face legal consequences for causing the largest oil spill in history, but such consequences were simply monetary. A corporate giant with hundreds of millions of shareholders, financial consequences pose virtually no long-term threat. According to Reuters, BP CEO Bob Dudley earned $14.7 million last year, putting him comfortably in the top 1%. A capitalist system is unsustainable because the real culprits of climate change are never held accountable. 

Yes, plastic straws are a part of the problem. It is estimated that 500 million straws are used in the US every single day. However, plastic straws only account for 0.025% of the eight million metric tons of plastic that pollute our oceans. By contrast, a survey conducted by the non-profit Ocean Cleanup found that fishing nets account for nearly 46% of plastic waste within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of garbage the size of France. Many nets lost by the fishing industry end up around the throats of sea creatures; often, nets in use catch the wrong prey, which are often left physically deformed or dead. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US commercial and recreational fishing made over $200 billion in sales in 2015. 

The world has a lot of work to do regarding global climate change. Recycling and reusing products is absolutely integral to improving the state of Mother Earth. But more needs to be done. Banning plastic straws overlooks the roots of the problem. The industries in control of a large amount of our energy sources need to step up. The capitalist system needs revision, if not complete overhaul, in order for the focus to shift from profit to sustainability.

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