Neustadter: Climate policies are too individualistic

Corinne Neustadter

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.

With everything that’s happened in 2020, it’s easy to forget about the worsening state of our climate. The year began with much of the Australian continent on fire, followed by intense flooding in the Midwest and a “historic” fire season here in the West, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. In fact, July 2020 was one of the hottest months in global recorded history.


Smoke plumes from the Cameron Peak Fire visible from Poudre Canyon Road on Monday, Sep 21. The fire has grown to 104,652 acres and is at 15% containment as of Sept. 22. (Skyler Pradhan | The Collegian)

At a national level, our climate policies, or rather lack thereof, are not mitigating these continuing impacts of carbon emissions. Even here at Colorado State University, there are more collectivist and far-reaching policies that can be implemented to make a greater impact on the University’s carbon emissions.

For many companies, there may not be an incentive to drastically reduce carbon emissions in the short time frame we have to lessen the impacts of climate change, which the United Nations believes is only within the next 10 years, indicating that there is a serious need for government intervention.

Still, corporations such as Coca-Cola, which produces 200,000 plastic bottles per minute, continue to push the burden of recycling their waste onto consumers, opting to ignore their massive carbon footprint while reminding consumers of their personal responsibility to recycle.

As I’ve noted previously, there is a definitive need for corporations to begin taking responsibility for the single-use plastics they generate.

And while a Coca-Cola representative said that “company views on public policies are independent of charitable giving,” organizations benefitting from Coca-Cola Foundation’s donations expressed opposition to the creation of a bottle bill in Georgia on the grounds that Coca-Cola would object.

Coca-Cola did not have a representative present at the meeting.

“Focusing on how individuals can reduce their own carbon emissions negates the systemic nature of our environmental problems.”

Bottle bills significantly reduce plastic waste by giving consumers a financial incentive to recycle their bottles as it adds a deposit charge onto bottles that customers can receive back by recycling them.

Corporations have a vested interest in shifting the responsibility of reducing carbon emissions onto their customers. If people are preoccupied with how they have personally contributed to climate change, it’s harder for them to recognize how companies are more concerned with increasing profits than correcting their vastly more devastating actions.

This trend is indicative of larger climate policies, which often seem to center on the individual actions one can take toward mitigating climate change instead of recognizing the collective, hegemonic forces that have largely contributed toward climate change.

In corporate campaigns telling people to “be green” by reducing, reusing and recycling more, the fact that “100 producers account for 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions,” according a study by the Climate Disclosure Project, is never mentioned.


Even local governments have fallen into perpetuating this false narrative, with the City of Fort Collins itself encouraging the community to take small actions to reduce their carbon emissions every day.

Cumulatively, yes, these actions will make a difference in a community’s carbon emissions and energy consumption.

However, focusing on how individuals can reduce their own carbon emissions negates the systemic nature of our environmental problem; although it can make an impact, this impact is considerably less than the potential effects of holding corporations accountable through sound government intervention.

CSU’s most impactful climate policies have been in collaboration with Fort Collins to change how students and citizens alike approach sustainability. For example, CSU and Transfort’s partnership beginning in the 1970s has increased student access to public transportation for decades, resulting in over “2 million CSU-related rides” in 2016.

Increasing access to public transportation for all students has positively impacted the City of Fort Collins as well by proving that an accessible, affordable public transportation system can develop in college towns.

Similarly, CSU’s large-scale composting and waste reduction initiatives have diverted 93% of food waste in Housing and Dining facilities, proving that it is possible to change University-wide operations to become more environmentally conscious.

By initiating two composting operations at CSU’s Foothills campus, Housing and Dining Services is able to divert food waste from landfills, as they were willing to acknowledge the scope of the problem and establish institutional measures that have radically rethought how to solve it.

At the same time, CSU has continued to accept funding from oil and gas companies as recently as 2019 and has employed Coca-Cola for the past 9 years as the University’s  beverage provider.

To continue building on its progress and success as a green university, CSU needs to address these conflicts of interest. Decarbonizing University investments and pushing Coca-Cola to stop supplying single-use plastics to CSU would go a longer way toward mitigating its carbon emissions than pushing students to recycle more.

Focusing simply on how one person’s individual actions have contributed to climate change lessens our ability to recognize how hegemonic corporations and the lack of government policies have drastically increased carbon emissions over the past 50 years.

To begin moving forward with substantive climate policies that can make a difference, we need to acknowledge how this crisis developed and the necessary steps we need to take to hold corporations accountable at every level of government.

Corinne Neustadter can be reached at or on Twitter @cneustad.