Tuesday, May 24, 2022
McDonald's in Belgium is currently running an ad campaign for trash bins. You might find that strange. What interest would a fast food chain have in promoting its trash bins? I imagine what happened was that some people buy a burger, and then throw the wrapper on the street. With the trash being both concentrated around the burger restaurants *and* being marked McDonald's, some people will blame the company for the trash problem. This is an example of shared responsibility: Obviously McDonald's itself is not throwing burger wrappers on the street, so some responsibility has to lie with the individual customers who currently aren't using the trash bins. But as McDonald's provides the wrappers a part of the responsibility lies with them as well.
Society appears to have a problem understanding the concept of shared responsibility. Depending the political leaning of a commenter, he might *either* blame McDonald's *or* "the youth of today" for the wrapper trash on the street. It is rare that somebody acknowledges that both parties somehow share the blame and the responsibility. With one-sided blaming often come one-sided solutions to the problems, which aren't really all that adequate, because they ignore half of the problem.
The biggest example of this is global warming. Many people blame oil companies for global warming. But the simple scientific fact is that a jerry can of petrol by itself emits no carbon dioxide at all, and a comparatively little amount of CO2 was produced making it. Over 90% of the carbon dioxide production happens the moment that somebody takes that petrol, puts it in his tank, and uses it to drive somewhere. In the climate change jargon that is known as "scope 3 emissions", the emissions that not a company itself does, but their customers do with their product.
Oil companies have some responsibility for their scope 3 emissions. But it is easy to see that for example car companies aren't exactly innocent in this either. And it is also obvious that the final customer, the person driving the car and producing the CO2 has some share of the responsibility as well; for example he could be driving a Hummer, or he could be driving a Prius, which makes a huge difference in emissions for the same distance driven.
The inability to admit shared responsibility leads to absolutely idiotic proposals on how to solve the problem: Sure, let's make petrol illegal, confiscate all the money of oil companies, and buy electric cars for everybody with the cash! If you did that, you'd notice that we don't have enough electricity to run all those electric cars. And most of the electricity that we do have is produced by burning fossil fuels. If you bought an electric car in a country that burns coal to make electricity, e.g. Germany, you are possibly emitting more carbon dioxide than a diesel car.
Pointing fingers and blaming somebody else for the problem is always the easiest path, but it doesn't actually lead anywhere. Climate change is a problem that needs a very complex system of many solutions, which includes the necessity of not just companies acting, but also consumers adjusting their behavior. Your holiday trip to Thailand? You really want to blame the travel agency, the airline company, or the oil company providing the jet fuel for the huge emissions that causes? Some decisions are clearly taken by the end consumer, and companies have a tendency to react to market demand. You and me aren't solely responsible for climate change, but we shouldn't forget that we are part of the problem.