The reality is that we live in a capitalistic world. And by that, I mean money is the center of it all. Whether we like it or not, money ends up being the catalyst that gets things done and allows change to happen. It’s how businesses and individuals alike make decisions. It’s how people decide what products to buy and how businesses decide what products to market. After all, a customer isn’t going to buy a product they can’t afford, and a business isn’t going to try and market a product that doesn’t sell. It’s cost, price, and money that drive these things. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but simply an observation.
Things get a bit complicated when we turn our attention to conservation efforts. Fossil fuels and products derived from them, such as plastic, get a lot of hate. And understandably so. The fossil fuel industry can be taxing on our environment. However, this portrayal that the fossil fuel industry is the boogieman and everyone in the industry is in cahoots against you is false. I don’t think the industry is all aligned in some mischievous way.
The reality of why the industry has been so successful? It’s cheap. The fossil fuel industry for decades has figured out and continued to optimize the things you need in the cheapest way possible. Need an easy way to transport yourself? Heat your home? Protect the products that you use daily? They’ve got you covered and they usually do it for way less than the alternatives that have been created historically. Are there solutions without environmental cost or sacrifice? No. And we should keep striving as a society to be better than the day before. But that change is not going to happen overnight by shutting down all oil rigs or simply closing the door of any company that produces plastic products.
For me and many others, the fossil fuel industry has been our livelihood. Out of self-preservation, it’s not surprising that those same people work to defend the industry. Nonetheless, that’s not a reason to push to keep an industry afloat. Perhaps some of my opinions about these issues are rooted in self-preservation to some extent. I might even be guilty of confirmation bias when it comes to some of these issues, but I can assure you: I am doing my best to be objective.
This seems to be where a lot of us are lacking, both in and out of the fossil fuel industry. Most environmentalists are fine demonizing plastic without truly adequate alternatives being offered. Consumers are comfortable buying products in brown natural looking packages regardless of if the products really are any more environmentally friendly.
And those within the industry blindly defend it too. I was recently on a call discussing recyclable VS. compostable products. I advocated for the importance of looking at the data and pivoting if needed. Even if we are working to improve recycling rates, if composting turns out to be more successful for consumers, we need to be willing to pivot as an industry to what is most successful. Others on the call didn’t feel the same and advocated for pushing recycling because they “believe in it.”
At the end of the day we need to be as objective as possible and let the data speak for itself. We need to be willing to be surprised and accept that sometimes our expectations are wrong. Most importantly, we need to think beyond dollars and cents. The decisions and actions we take have more than a financial cost associated with them. They also have external costs, for example, environmental damage beyond the small price tag on some fossil fuel resources. In an effort to circumvent some of these environmental externalities, we likely will require government intervention to motivate change to occur more rapidly.
From my understanding, I’m optimistic about things like the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act and their ability to effectively solve some of our issues. These initiatives are data driven and don’t try to eliminate plastic all together, but allow us to leverage its value in the meantime by pushing the industry to be more creative in its design while also increasing true recycling rates.
However, governments and organizations will only take the appropriate environmental action if we make them. We should vote for politicians that listen to the data and science about the best choices we can make today. We can also leverage the number of people supporting certain products by voting with our dollars. Every dollar spent supporting businesses that make positive environmental change only gives them more money to keep making greater and greater change.
But what do you think? Should we be making sweeping change like eliminating plastic or do you have another idea? Let me know in the comments!