It’s undeniable: climate change is real and its effects are causing significant damage  faster than previously anticipated. From shrinking Arctic ice sheets provoking increased absorption of heat by the oceans, to extreme weather events wreaking havoc on cities, climate change already impacts every corner of the planet.

By now, the topic of decreasing a personal carbon footprint has largely been exhausted. We’ve heard it all before: reduce, reuse, recycle, carpool, ride your bike, avoid plastic shopping bags, etc. While these suggestions are all effective and should be incorporated into everyday life, they gloss over the truth of the matter: big industries are largely to blame for climate change. The planet will continue to suffer unless large-scale systemic change is enacted.

Animal agriculture is the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions after burning fossil fuels, and is the largest cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss. When considering climate change, many tend to steer clear of the topic of meat and dairy consumption since it plays such a large role in everyday life. According to Climate Nexus, if every single person in the U.S. replaced beef products with plants in their diets, the annual greenhouse gas emissions associated with U.S. diet would decrease by 96%.

As consumers on this planet, we have made producing animal products profitable for industries. As environmentally conscious individuals, it is our job to facilitate the paradigm shift away from a meat centered economy.

Animal agriculture is only one example of large industries contributing heavily to climate change. Single-use plastic products greatly damage the environment as well. According to ABC News, 12 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce single-use plastic shopping bags. While it may not seem like a large contributor to climate change and pollution, this figure does not include other single-use plastics such as plastic water bottles, cups, and straws. Following in the footsteps of Hawaii and, most recently, New York, a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags and hopefully other forms of plastic products would decrease the use of oil and amount of plastic pollution.

Demanding large-scale industry changes seems daunting and even impossible, but there’s a simple way to contribute: vote. By educating yourself and those around you, legislators who are knowledgeable about climate change can win elections and advocate for the future of our planet.

Voting goes beyond the presidential primaries and election. Midterms and local elections matter just as much — if not more. To see large-scale change, politicians need to advocate for the climate in all arenas, not just in the Oval Office.

Climate change is often blamed on the individual for consuming too much, as opposed to large industries for operating in unsustainable ways. Individual efforts against climate change should be applauded. The best way to make a difference, however, is to advocate for systemic change by doing your due diligence to educate yourself and by exercising your right to vote.

Illustration By Ben Murphy

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