Global warming has remained a primary issue in American politics for years, perhaps epitomized by Al Gore’s 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth.” In 2017, President Donald Trump received extreme criticism when he pulled the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Nevertheless, in that same year, the United States tracked the largest decline in CO2 emissions in the world of -0.5 percent and 42 million tons, according to the June 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. This marked the third consecutive year that American CO2 emissions declined. Meanwhile, global CO2 emissions in 2017 grew by 1.6 percent.
While more change certainly will be required to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions, the United States has been doing something right. American citizens, companies and industries had somehow reduced their carbon footprint despite the leadership of a climate science denying president. Why? Because Americans don’t need a president, a government or a coalition to tell them how to live.
In the United States, the people retain the power. This is evident in the social movement that has forced corporations like Starbucks and McDonald’s to reduce, phase out and eliminate plastic straws. Starbucks and McDonald’s are corporations – they want to make money and that means answering the demands of their customers. I don’t assume (though I don’t totally rule out the possibility) that corporations go green and cut back on waste and energy to save the environment or money. They do it for us, the consumers.
Capitalism’s principles of supply and demand may be just what is needed to move toward a more sustainable country and world. If the people demand sustainable options for their cleaning supplies or that their transportation companies use more renewable energy, they will receive results. I see it every time I get a Lyft receipt assuring me that the ride I took was carbon neutral or a barista hands me a straw-less beverage. The more that people demand for greener products and services, the more diverse and possibly cheaper such items will become. Private citizens’ demanding of companies rather than the government to change is a far more effective way to continue to reduce CO2 emissions in the United States.
Some may argue that even if capitalism is succeeding in the fight against climate change, the government should still step in and do its part. I completely agree – by improving its own carbon footprint rather than legislating policy to impede on the life of private citizens. Natural gas municipal garbage trucks are a great start. Perhaps limiting paper usage or the use of non-natural energy in government buildings will come next.
Capitalism is a favorable system to promote environmentalism, so long as the American people continue to demand it from the companies whose products they utilize frequently. Until the Paris Climate Accord yields similar results, the United States should have faith that its economic foundations can help bring the people what they want – a clean and healthy world.