All that’s well and good, you might quip, but isn’t global warming a structural issue rather than the responsibility of individuals? What do you expect me to do?
As individuals, green efforts can feel like using a cup of water to extinguish a forest fire. Well-intentioned, but it hardly makes a dent.
After all, as of 2017, only 100 companies have produced 71 percent of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1998. Southeast Asia’s emissions also seem negligible compared to oil-guzzling countries like the United States and China, which together accounted for 42.4 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. If anything, Southeast Asia is a victim of these large countries’ irresponsible emissions.
Except we’re not totally in the clear, ourselves. Like it or not, living in global capitalist societies means we’ve participated in and added to practices that harm our planet, from choosing food delivery to travelling by plane. Global warming also doesn’t care about whether we’ve personally produced emissions or simply let our evil corporations do so. Eventually, everyone will be affected by it, though some will be hit much harder than others.
That’s why we should do what we can, within our means, to reduce our carbon footprints. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to mitigate climate change—what a wealthy executive can do won’t be the same as what a low-income family who can’t afford green choices can do. But anyone can do something and have it count, however small.
And the social sciences seem to bear this out! People constantly evaluate what their peers do, and adjust their actions accordingly. Making sustainable decisions signals to others that the climate matters, and normalises it over time. In Singapore, for example, the top reason for making climate-friendly decisions changed from lowering household bills in 2017 to “[preserving] a livable world for future generations” just two years later.
For anyone still skeptical about what one person can do, let Greta Thunberg be your inspiration. She started as a kid protesting outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign reading “School Strike for Climate.” Today, she has inspired other people from around the world to contribute to the fight against climate change. Here are some of these individuals from Southeast Asia who are doing great climate work.