‘Personal responsibility’ on climate change has gone too far

Listen — I want to save the planet as much as the next person. But if I have to hear about my carbon footprint one more time, I might spontaneously combust.

This past weekend, I visited Arcadia Earth again. As a refresher, it’s an augmented reality exhibit/museum/art installation in New York City that is focused on showing people just how much trash we accumulate, where that trash ends up, and what the collective “we” can do about it. Read my original post here, from when I first visited in 2019.

The installations are amazing. There are trash jellyfish, a giant plastic bag wave, and rooms of augmented reality animals that pop up when you download their app, Most notable is the rainbow room room full of plastic bags, which was groundbreaking when the exhibit first opened up, since New York City had yet to ban plastic bags (they have now – sort of).

The plastic bag room – the number of bags New Yorkers used in 1 second in 2019

As you get deeper into the museum, the solutions presented become more and more clear — this is YOUR trash and YOU are in charge of fixing the problem. However, there was one thing that started to nag at me.

When I entered the ‘climate change’ room, this is what I heard over the loudspeakers:

Did you know global warming has caused the earth’s temp to rise 1°C since the 1850’s, causing extreme weather like hurricanes floods, heat waves, and forest fires?

You can help. Switch to a green electricity company in your home. You can also buy carbon credits to support blue carbon, reforestation, and renewable energy projects. 

Reduce carbon emissions by using public transport, bike, use the carpool option, and walk as much as you can. 

Notice, they didn’t mention that humans are the cause of the mountains of CO2 we dump into the atmosphere every day, causing Earth’s temperature to rise. Also, they didn’t happen to place the blame on anyone else, say… the oil industry? Or perhaps, any of the Big Oil companies who just testified (and lied) in Congress about disinformation about the climate crisis?

And then came the onslaught of QR codes asking us to calculate our own carbon footprint. I didn’t even bother out of spite — but I think they need a reminder that BP coined the term as a form of greenwashing that we all apparently can never get away from.

The reason I’m so mad is because is the first time some New Yorkers, tourists, and climate-adjacent people may get the chance to hear about climate accountability. And Arcadia Earth dropped the ball.

Luckily (for them), their “carbon footprint” is NOT sponsored by Big Oil, but by Aspiration — a credit and debit card company that plants trees and promises not to put your money in with banks that promote coal.

Something that also crossed my mind was “accidental greenwashing.” Perhaps I’m being too harsh, and the higher-ups at Arcadia Earth really, truly, just want to help the planet. So, that could mean that they really, truly, are just trying to make things better and show everyone visiting that they want to make the world a better place.

As you exit, you have the opportunity to take a picture with neon signs as different “vows”… divest from banks, eat less meat, etc. The last one had me pretty much fuming by now — “I vow to… lower my carbon footprint.”

The exhibit is wonderful — I’m not knocking any of the artists who spent their time, money and expertise here. I, too, have made art from trash, and will always tell you to continue to make smart choices to lessen the trash heading out into your waste stream.

But, it’s time to stop with the personal responsibility. Sure, you can walk to work (????), or anything else I encourage you to do on this very blog. But I will NOT be actively working toward lowering my carbon footprint. It’s Big Oil’s turn to do that.

As the shirts in the gift shop said, I vow to care. Oh — and I vow to end the carbon footprint calculator.

2 thoughts on “‘Personal responsibility’ on climate change has gone too far

  1. One of my biggest complaints is with regard to not teaching our kids how to buy food (don’t even ask about growing a vegetable garden!). As far as how to cook it is another story! From my observations, kids will always ask for the fast food restaurant, sugar-coated cereal, chocolate milk, sodas, etc., and the parents give in to them. Teach kids by example, and just say NO.

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