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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

The Student News Site of Colorado State University

The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. Letters to the Editor reflect the view of a member of the campus community and are submitted to the publication for approval.

To the Editor,

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Instead of fussing about recycling more or not recycling properly enough, we could be taking direct action and attacking the problems at their common source. If only 3% of our recycling waste is actually recyclable due to food contaminants, maybe something is wrong with the process and structures, not the people.

If we’re shipping our recycling waste to be processed thousands of miles overseas — where recently Malaysia has warned Western countries that they’re not our “dumping ground,” where only 20-30% of waste in shipping containers is actually recyclable and may be illegally and dangerously processed by unlicensed operators, where recently they actually returned 150 containers of waste to 13 countries, including America, whereby container ships operate extralegally in international waters burning tons and tons of bunker fuel (the grimy leftovers from the petroleum fractional distillation process) — then maybe something is wrong with the systems that produced this waste in the first place.

No, it’s not just “maybe” — we must dismantle capitalism if we are to survive this climate crisis.

With 70% of carbon emissions being produced by just 100 corporations, sorry, but banning plastic straws and driving a Prius are just more half-measures that distract us from fundamental solutions. While the praxis of returning non-recyclable waste to Coca-Cola’s front porch may be left as a thought exercise for the reader, there are other forms of legislative and direct action we can take locally besides shaming our peers for not being perfect environmental stewards.

Something Colorado State University can do is to terminate contracts with vending machine suppliers that sell plastic waste. Comprising about 34,000 people and being economically central to Fort Collins, the University has enormous negotiation leverage to pressure vendors to provide safer alternatives such as boxed water — similar to how Walmart bullies its suppliers to make changes to their packaging.

Make it fun! Invite student groups to propose vending machine alternatives, with preference to locally-sourced solutions. That’s just one example; the idea is to squeeze the corporations so selling poison is no longer a viable business model.

While buying plastic waste at the grocery store is practically unavoidable, perhaps it’s time to restrict corporations’ bad habit of externalizing their costs by forcing society to deal with the complete life cycle of their products. The U.S. can learn from the recent Canadian and European Union legislation that enforces the “right to repair.”

We must face the grim reality of the mountains of electronics waste that small children burn to extract the precious metals and of the artisanal mining that may or may not be responsible for the cobalt metal in your iPhone. Apple is apparently working on their supply chain transparency issues — let’s apply more pressure on companies that exploit people to become richer than some nation-states.

Given the reinforcing feedback loops operating within this climate crisis — and yes, climate change is a neutered term that actually sounds kind of relaxing — we need to admit that we can’t stop our planet from heating up even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today.

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As Jonathan Franzen recently wrote in The New Yorker, once we stop pretending we can stop this climate disaster, we can move forward with immediate climate action. Almost anything can then be considered climate action as long as it helps your neighbor. For example, organizing can force real estate developers to include urban gardens, emergency food and water reserves and other community spaces in their new apartment complexes. Make those capitalist vultures do something useful with all that rent money they’re extracting from us!

By using systems thinking to trace surface-level problems to their root structures and mental models and then devising high-leverage, paradigm-shifting system interventions, we can transform our local communities and set a shining example for cities elsewhere.

We already have the tools available at our disposal: to unionize the workplace like the video game industry is finally doing, to collectivize ownership of businesses like the late great employee-owned New Belgium did or by using the many Colorado legal codes to form public benefit cooperatives.

By steering organizational goals toward sustainable and socially responsible outcomes, we may finally figure out funding alternatives to the profit hungry and socially destructive corporate model. And we can start today.

Sincerely,

James Wheaton
 
Second-year doctoral student in the systems engineering department at CSU.
 
The Collegian’s opinion desk can be reached at letters@collegian.com. To submit a letter to the editor, please follow the guidelines at collegian.com
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