Climate guilt is definitely a thing. Those who feel strongest about global warming—activists, academics, “greenies”—are some of the same people who’ve benefited most from carbon-emitting systems of privilege and power. We’re uneasy with the problem because we are the problem.
But it’s also true that we inherited this mess—we’ve unwittingly emitted carbon since before we were born. What few choices we do have—the Prius, the solar panels, the marching-in-the-streets—are exclusive and limited and, regardless, not enough. We’re implicated not by choice but through lack of choice.
Meanwhile, a select few companies continue pumping out profits at the base of the carbon supply chain. Since 1884, twelve percent of all carbon pollution can be traced to just five fossil fuel companies; nearly two-thirds of it can be traced to 90 companies. Together, their CEOs wouldn’t even fill an introductory climate science class.
These companies (and the lawmakers they buy) have known about climate change—an externality of their products—for decades. Yet instead of proactively addressing the issue, they’ve vociferously opposed climate legislation, and they’ve helped make the anti-science of climate denialism a tenable position for news anchors, lawmakers, and your Republican uncle.
Even today, having recognized the risks of unmitigated warming, it’s business as usual for Chevron, Shell, Peabody, and myriad other oil, gas, and coal companies. In cases like Canada’s tar sands, business is getting dirtier. We’re headed the wrong way and we’re lead by double-speaking profiteers.
So sure: we’re all responsible for climate change. But some of us are more responsible than others. I for one don’t feel guilty, not at all. I feel angry.