Environment Current Affairs Politics Social Justice

Who Is Really to Blame for Climate Change?

The newest tidal wave of climate activism has been led by Gen Z who have become increasingly vocal in their frustrations aimed towards governments who have routinely failed them. Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s story, hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the globe traded their textbooks for placards as they took to the streets in protest. We have been urged to abandon our plastic straws and reduce individual carbon footprints, but are our micro-actions truly solely to blame for the current climate crisis?


The newest tidal wave of climate activism against climate change has been led by Gen Z who have become increasingly vocal in their frustrations aimed towards governments who have routinely failed them. Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s story, hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the globe traded their textbooks for placards as they took to the streets in protest. We have been urged to abandon our plastic straws and reduce individual carbon footprints, but are our micro-actions truly solely to blame for the current climate crisis?

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money

Native American Cree Prophecy

The unmeasurable detrimental environmental damage caused by enormous conglomerate corporations has remained unchecked as they manage to circumvent the consequences of their actions. The people grossly benefiting from this real-life game of monopoly are responsible for the vast majority of the environmental destruction occurring on our planet. In addition, the wealthy and their business enterprises need to be held accountable for the political, social and economic issues that trickle down from their environmental exploits. 

Oil Extraction

oil well
An Oil Well

One of the biggest culprits of environmental damage is the oil industry. The oil industry includes the global processes of exploration, extraction, refining, transportation, and marketing of petroleum products. The extreme monetary value of oil and its products has led to it being known as “black gold”. 

Oil extraction is a menace to wildlife. Oil spills are infamous killers of wildlife as they can immediately kill sea life and cause long-term ecological changes by damaging animals’ habitats, and on land drilling operations fragment habitats for many species.

Oil production is among the main contributors to air pollution as the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and industrial facilities generate toxic gases which contribute to the greenhouse effect, which warms the Earth’s surface. This is harmful to humans as gases released from these industrial power plants also trigger respiratory problems such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, developmental issues and even cancer and the most affected are people of colour, who typically live in neighbourhoods with more pollution.

One of the biggest oil corporations based in the United Kingdom is British Petroleum, better known by its acronym, BP. The company has an infamous track record in terms of the environment, violations and accidents, it’s interference in global politics and global market manipulations.

In 2006, a group of Colombian farmers sued BP for environmental damage caused by the BP Ocensa pipeline which had caused landslides and damage to soil and groundwater, affecting crops, livestock, and contaminating water supplies, making fish ponds unsustainable. The company was accused of benefiting from a regime of terror carried out by Colombian government paramilitaries to protect their assets during the turmoil of the 2006 Colombian Presidential Election1. This shows that corporate organisations like BP need to be held accountable for the environmental destruction they can create, their involvement in foreign politics and the economic problems they can exacerbate for the poor in developing nations who rely on their natural resources to make a living. 

BP oil spill pelican

One of the major examples of oil damaging the environment is the BP 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. This was a major industrial accident on the Gulf of Mexico which leaked 210 million gallons of oil into the ocean and cost the company more than $65 billion of cleanup costs, charges and penalties2. The damage affected a range of species and habitats in the Gulf and the spill had a strong economic impact on the Gulf Coast’s economic sectors such as fishing and tourism. It is not until in February 2020, BP set a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 20503 by transitioning to other fuels. However, this promise is very vague and no real plans have been made.

“Fracking” is a newer method of oil and gas drilling used across the world. Without rigorous safety regulations, fracking can poison groundwater, pollute surface water, impair wild landscapes, and threaten wildlife. George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, blocked moves towards green energy 2015 by cutting funding for many small-scale solar installations and encouraged fracking in the UK. This demonstrates that business owners and MPs deliberately block environmental policies which try to tackle problems surrounding climate change. Currently, the only active fracking site in the UK, operated by the energy firm Cuadrilla, is near Blackpool in Lancashire. In August, Cuadrilla was forced to halt its work after the British Geological Survey measured three earthquakes in less than a week of its opening4. In England, the government placed a moratorium on fracking in November 2019 after protests, legal challenges and planning rejections.

Factory Farming

factory farmed cows climate
Factory Farmed Cows

In addition to the oil, another industry which plays a detrimental significant role in climate change is the factory farming industry. Factory farming is large industrialized farming in which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at a minimal cost. This industry is heavily controlled by large corporations that have multiple monopolies and are left without little to no restrictions. 

One of the ways in which factory farming intensifies climate change and harms the environment is through the releasing vast volumes of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, either through the excess amount of livestock or the production process. 

One way in which livestock contributes to the greenhouse effect is through waste. Farm animals produce large amounts of nitrogen daily basis and the high concentration of farm animals in indoors factory farms means that the waste is not properly disposed of and seeps into and harms the natural environment the excess amount of livestock results in increased air pollution.  The waste from livestock farming produces 65% of the global methane and nitrous oxide emissions which are much more potent than carbon dioxide.4

Furthermore, the production process results in the fossil fuels used in energy, transportation, and synthetic pesticides/fertilizers emit millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. The corporations are not adequately held accountable for the damage they have contributed to the atmosphere. In the UK, when cooperation is taken to court there may be a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. This essentially means that there is no prosecution for breaking regulations if a corporation promises to better their ways, and if they do not, they are fined. However, means that large corporations can in theory face no punishment for damaging the environment and even when fined they are not obligated to actively change their company practices. This demonstrates that corporate entities should be held accountable for the damage they have caused to the environment as they are a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. One solution could be implementing greater regulations on farming methods and waste disposal. 

In addition to corporate factory farming contributing to air pollution, the industry has also caused environmental damage to the land. One product which is factory farmed on mass which causes environmental carnage is palm oil. Around 66 million tonnes of palm oil are thought to be produced every year and by some estimates, the substance is found in half of all packaged goods in UK supermarkets5. The creation of massive plantations has meant these rich ecosystems have been replaced with monocultures – “green deserts” in which native animals and plants cannot thrive. In total, palm oil plantations are now thought to cover more than 27 million hectares6. While palm oil development has to some extent brought economic opportunities to some local people it has also been linked with the persecution of indigenous groups as developers move in and seize land. The on-going Amazon forest fires have destroyed local plantations, leaving remote people without food or livestock to sell to survive. “We are part of this nature, we live with her day by day and it was all devastated,” said Alessandra Guató, a tribal leader.7

Burning of forests to make way for industrial palm oil farms pollutes the air and deforestation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. However, in most developing countries the governments allow these farming methods to continue as the government benefit from the tax on the exports of these high-demand products and they often have hostile policies towards indigenous peoples and the environment isn’t seen as a priority in their policies. This demonstrates that corporations are not being held accountable for the damage they are causing as the authorities are turning a blind eye and in some instances supporting their practices for monetary gain.  

The UK is not innocent and also plays a role in the factory farming industry. New research reveals that there are close to 800 factory farms operating across the UK.8 Most of these farms have gone unnoticed, despite their size and the controversy surrounding them and the government does not collate central statistics on mega-farms as there are no recognised definitions under British regulations and statute which makes it easier for them to go under the radar of the authorities and local opposition. The lack of laws in the UK surrounding the issue of factory farming enables farming conglomerates to get away with environmental damage which further contributes to climate change. Although people are switching to more plant-based diets and consuming less meat, these farms continue to operate and the huge conglomerates who own these farms should be held accountable for the damage they cause.

Waste Disposal

landfill site climate change
A Landfill

One of the largest issues which contribute to environmental damage is waste disposal.  One of the methods of disposal is via landfills. A landfill, the oldest most common form of waste disposal, is an area of land which is used to dump unrecyclable (and sometimes recyclable) waste materials. Landfill sites exist all over the UK, and all over the world. Some sites practice ‘landraising’ (piling the rubbish directly on the ground), and some practice ‘landfilling’ (filling a hole in the ground with the rubbish). 

The rubbish in these piles is a mixture of household and commercial waste. They contribute greatly to the process of global warming as high levels of methane gas and CO2 are generated by the rotting rubbish in the ground. Many toxic substances end up on landfill, which leeches into the earth and groundwater over time which creates a huge environmental hazard. Leachate, the toxic liquid formed when water filters through landfill waste can easily contaminate our waterways which can kill fish in the waterways, poison animals and humans who drink from those water sources.

The main industries that contribute to landfills are the manufacturing, technology, mining, and clothing industries as many of products are not recyclable or biodegradable, or the cost of adequately disposing of waste is high, which means that their products are most likely to end up at landfills. Almost 65 to 80% of collected solid waste is disposed of into landfills in developing nations,9 which means that corporations are benefiting from poor waste disposal by dumping their waste in other countries so they themselves do not deal with the damage they cause. This created a problem in which poor children in developing countries become waste pickers/scavengers in which they have to go through the waste to find scraps that are sellable. This is dangerous as they are exposed to toxic gases and materials which can have negative impacts on the health and wellbeing. This means that corporations are benefiting from the poor waste disposal by damaging the environment and contributing to dangerous situations which put people in developing countries at risk. 

Solutions to decrease the amount of landfills and the waste in landfills include the idea corporations switching to creating recyclable and biodegradable products, putting international regulations which prohibit companies from sending their waste overseas, designing landfills which prevent the toxic substances destroying the environment surrounding the area and using chemical-physical and biological treatment is to enable the removal of pollutants from the waste and landfill sites. 

Another way in which waste is disposed of is through marine debris. This is when waste is deliberately or accidentally released in a sea or ocean as a disposal method.  

With the increasing use of plastic, human influence has become an issue as many types of plastics do not biodegrade and waterborne plastic poses a serious threat to fish, seabirds, marine reptiles, and marine mammals, as well as to boats and coasts. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. It covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometres, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France10. This has an impact on sea life as many animals consume and get stuck in the plastic, and the toxins in the waste leak into the ocean is poisonous to marine life. Corporations need to be held somewhat held accountable for their products ending up in the sea and they should design their products to be recyclable and biodegradable so they do not end up at the sea and reused or disposed of correctly. Furthermore, disposal companies should be fined and be responsible for the cleanup of the waste they are putting into our oceans. 

Human waste has also been released into the water. Water companies have discharged raw sewage into the sea near bathing water beaches in England and Wales almost 3,000 times in the past year, a report has found11. The practice of allowing untreated sewage into the sea can cause pollution incidents known as combined sewer overflows. Hugo Tagholm, Surfers Against Sewage, chief executive, accused water companies of putting “profit before fully protecting the environment”12. This again demonstrates that corporations are able to pollute the environment and create dangerous environments for human beings without facing any consequences.

However, efforts have been made to prevent and mediate marine debris. Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 is designed to ensure clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas, by putting in place better systems for delivering sustainable development of marine and coastal environment. In 2019, the EU parliament voted for an EU-wide ban on single-use plastic products such as plastic straws, cutlery, plates, and drink containers, polystyrene food and drink containers, plastic drink stirrers and plastic carrier bags and cotton buds. The law will take effect in 2021. However, due to the fact the UK is leaving the EU at the end of 2020, this law will not apply in the UK  and companies will be able to continue manufacturing products which will end up in the sea which will contribute to environmental destruction. 

Carbon Offset Credits

Companies may want to develop projects which reduce carbon dioxide emissions, every tonne of emissions reduced results in the creation of one carbon offset, or carbon credit. A carbon credit is a tradeable certificate that represents the avoidance or removal of one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions. Buying carbon credits means investing in emission reduction projects around the world – projects that require financing in order to take place. Polluters can purchase “carbon credits” to mitigate the effects of their activities.

However, carbon offset credits are frequently criticized by the press and some environmental advocates as the object to “market-based” approaches for solving environmental problems. This allows them to continue with their existing business while claiming that they are doing their bit to combat climate change as the projects used to purchase carbon credits are often third-party companies and allow the main company to continue polluting. This means that carbon credits do not create a long-term solution to climate change and they can ‘lock in’ high-carbon infrastructure. Furthermore, carbon credits create an incentive to avoid regulating certain sectors and industries.

To conclude, although as individuals we may contribute to the environmental crisis, our contribution is minimal compared to the corporations which have industries which directly harm the environment on a greater scale, do not dispose of their waste adequately, and avoid prosecution or dealing with the environmental issues they create.  

Written by Obed Bhiziki


  1. Verkaik, R. (2010). BP pays out millions to Colombian farmersThe Independent.
  2. Response Team, U.N. (2011). On Scene Coordinator Report Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
  3. Crowley, K. (2020). All eyes on Exxon and Chevron after BP pledges to go carbon neutral – Los Angeles Times.
  4. Weiss, S. (2019). What is fracking? Your need-to-know guide to fracking in the UK. Wired UK.
  5. Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture | The Organic Center.
  6. Gabbatiss, J. (2018). Why is palm oil bad for the environment, and what can people do to help? The Independent.
  7. Gabbatiss, J. (2018). Why is palm oil bad for the environment, and what can people do to help? The Independent.
  8. Philips, D. (2020). Brazilian wetlands fires started by humans and worsened by drought. The Guardian. 
  9. Harvey, F., Wasley, A. and Madlen Davies (2017). UK has nearly 800 livestock mega farms, investigation reveals. The Guardian. 
  10. Agamuthu, P. (2012). Landfilling in Developing Countries. Sage Journals.
  11. The Ocean Clean Up, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  12. Chapman, B. (2020). Raw sewage dumped in English and Welsh seas 3,000 times in one year, report finds. The Independent. 
  13. Chapman, B. (2020). Raw sewage dumped in English and Welsh seas 3,000 times in one year, report finds. The Independent. 

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