It’s Not You, It’s Us: Looking Beyond Sustainability

Written by: Mariah

Edited by: Joaquin

Visual by: Solenne

Wildfires blazing in West America and Australia. Typhoons raging in Southeast Asia. Floods drowning Indonesia. As you see these horrific events flash on the news, you can’t help but feel guilty. You forgot your reusable bags, turned on the heater, ate meat, and rode a gasoline-powered car. It’s your fault this is happening.

To cope with climate change anxiety, you have to ditch the shame. Our consumerist lives contribute to the rise in greenhouse gases. But that’s because we live in a society where it’s almost impossible to ethically consume resources. Cities require us to move around in automobiles, stores sell unsustainable food and clothes because they’re cheaper, and yet we still blame ourselves for not being “green” enough. It’s not just you who’s facing challenges. It’s difficult to live sustainably in an unsustainable society.

If we live in an unsustainable society, is it possible to live sustainably? Even if it is, is it making enough difference? A 2017 report found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, most of which produce oil and coal, such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP. Moreover, a mere 25 corporations and state-owned entities were responsible for half of global industrial emissions since 1988. Our emission contributions as individuals pale in comparison to those from the producers. If these companies and corporations are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, then why do we blame ourselves? The concept of “carbon footprint” traces back to the same industries. The poignant advertisement, featuring a man throwing a bag of trash out of his car onto the shoes of a Native American, promotes the catchline “People start pollution. People can stop it.” While the ad calls on individuals to properly dispose of their trash, its underlying message is that pollution is your problem, not the fault of plastic-producing industries. Focusing too much on individual consumer patterns can divert us from more urgent issues, making it more convenient for industries to continue polluting the planet. Producers and governments, the largest polluters, need to take more responsibility to curb industrial emissions.

As quarantine restrictions start to loosen and companies resume business-as-usual levels, they should opt for more sustainable methods. These methods can differ for each corporation. Not only should coal and oil producers focus on not harming the planet, they should also focus on creating a net positive impact. They should balance having eco-friendly practices in manufacturing, packaging and shipping, as well as lessening landfill waste.

On the other hand, governments have the power to implement policies and regulate unsustainable production, correlating with SDG 12 of responsible consumption and production. They should prioritize environmental concerns first before economic interests. Governments may struggle with their economic priorities, especially since countries are recovering from the pandemic. But if the climate crisis remains unsolved, cumulative damages from extreme weather may reach $8 trillion, impoverishing 3% of the gross world product and costing the poorest regions more than their GDP. It’s better to sacrifice today’s economic interests to avert tomorrow’s consequences.

Although producers and governments should shoulder more responsibility in the climate crisis, this doesn’t mean you should give up or feel hopeless. The average person emits about 4 tons of CO2 and generates 4.4 pounds of waste per day, so every reduction matters. Fortunately, we have the choice to replace unsustainable activities with environmentally friendly alternatives. Driving less, flying less, eating less or no animal products, and conserving electricity can reduce your carbon footprint. Recycling, composting, and refusing plastic packaging are some ways to reduce waste.

It may be difficult to live sustainably, but it makes a difference. Continue the sustainable methods you’ve started, start one if you haven’t, then spread the word. Your individual actions can create ripples and ultimately lead to the societal reforms we need. According to a 2019 survey, 77% of Americans and Australians want to learn more about sustainable lifestyles, while others have already taken steps: 83.4% of them recycle, 57.5% use reusable bags and 45.2% avoid single-use plastics. But sustainable living alone won’t achieve much in the grand scheme of things. We need more collective action. Stop blaming yourself and look at the bigger picture. To witness lasting change, our governments must regulate fossil fuel emissions and pass environmental policies, and companies must shift towards greener alternatives. Until then, we won’t truly be sustainable.


Byskov, Morten Fibieger. “Focusing on How Individuals Can Stop Climate Change Is Very Convenient for Corporations.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 11 Jan. 2019,

Pratt, Deanna. “Is ‘Sustainable Living’ Possible in an Unsustainable Society?” Medium, Climate Conscious, 14 Nov. 2019,