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Who’s responsible for saving the world?

Grace Clift breaks down the arguments for corporate, individual and wealthy responsibility for climate change action.

With 2023 being the hottest year on record, ‘saving the world’ has never been more of an accurate phrase to describe the current climate situation. Global warming is racing past humanity’s efforts to stop it at an overwhelming rate, and everyone is looking towards each other for a solution. Someone needs to take responsibility for saving the planet – but who?

Image Credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash.


Large corporations seem to be the most obvious antagonist; a CDP study from 2017 shows that 100 companies are responsible for 70% of global emissions, and more recently, a Carbon Majors study has shown that 80% of emissions between 2016 and 2022 are the result of actions from 57 cement/fossil fuel companies. Businesses are responsible for most of the problem, but seemingly, individuals are expected to take on the solution. The lack of power that individuals are given to tackle climate change compared to corporations, as well as the increasing pressure on individuals to take most of the responsibility, has led to a rise in climate anxiety – the terror of not being able to ‘save the world’.


Corporations are creating the bulk of climate damage, and all the while, adverts target individuals to take shorter showers, turn off the lights more and litter-pick. The targeting of individuals not only disregards the massive impact of corporations, but expects of individuals a disproportionate amount of power to what they are actually given. Businesses have the convenience of being an organised force – individuals, however, don’t have the luxury of shared systems and offices with every other individual working to combat climate change.

Image Credit: Li An Lim on Unsplash.

This has led to a phrase, ‘no ethical consumption under capitalism’, becoming popularised in the last few years. This means that regardless of individual action, capitalism’s relentless prioritisation of profit over protection means that any ethical individual actions will become meaningless. But this isn’t true. Individuals have, time and time again, demonstrated power over companies in influencing change – from consumers displaying demand, fashion leaders like Asos have promised to adhere to clear eco-claims with the CMA. Consumers have the power to direct companies – and further consumer action is needed to ensure that companies like Asos stick to these demands.


It’s important that the responsibility is not placed on consumers entirely, and particularly, that the brunt of this is not directed towards working class consumers. Investors are the major influencers over corporate action – they’re where all the money is. Wealthy individuals – with more access to climate-damaging products like private planes – can make or break the climate change movement.


Positive actions by investors have led the movement in the right direction recently. Forbes notes that “In November, California Public Employees' Retirement System, the U.S.’s largest public pension fund, announced it would invest $100 billion in climate solutions by 2030, doubling its climate investments in a step that underpins its comprehensive strategy for zeroing out its emissions from its portfolio investments by 2050.”


The answer to this question is one that we all know, but don’t want to hear – we all need to work together to address the climate crisis, with the disparate amounts of power that each of us hold. It’s possible, but unity is key to progress, and this is just one of the reasons that corporations hold so much influence. Wealthy, individual and corporate actions have already made positive change; clean energy is growing at the fastest pace in two decades. It may sound like it’s straight out of a children’s novel, but together, we do have a shot at saving the world.


About the author: Grace Clift is an English Literature student at the University of York with particular interest in UK politics, climate issues and literature. Grace can be contacted via her email,, or Instagram, @gracevclift.

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