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How Admitting You’re a Hypocrite Can Save the Planet

05/21/2012

All right, environmentalists: I think it’s time for us to come clean.

We don’t belong to a select club of pious treehuggers. We don’t live at the top of an ivory–er, green–tower, studying the unsustainable masses below with disdain.

We don’t have perfect environmental records. We’ve engaged in all kinds of unsustainable behaviours in the past. Even since the day we realized how urgent humanity’s environmental problems are–and started trying to persuade others to be more green as a result–we still do things that are harmful to the environment.

We’re hypocrites.

And we’re not the only ones. Take the Occupy Wall Street movement, for example–it’s full of hypocrites. Occupiers criticize corporations, yet they also support them, by using smartphones sold by corporations, wearing clothes made by corporations, coordinating through corporate-owned social media, etc.:

And don’t worry–just because I’m the one currently pointing this out doesn’t mean I think I get a free pass.

I’m a hypocrite, too.

I’ve decried consumerism numerous times on this blog, and yet to the right of this post you’ll see links to purchase my novel, Royal Flush. I could argue that this isn’t so bad, since I’m focusing on marketing the ebook over the paper book, but in fact the jury’s out on whether e-Readers are actually the more sustainable option.

As well, on June 3rd, I will travel on a series of airplanes to Rio de Janeiro, to blog about World Environment Day for UNEP and TreeHugger.com–despite having frequently remarked that runaway CO2 emissions are seriously jeopardizing our survival as a species.

So, yes. I’m a hypocrite. And I’m okay with that.

Image credit: Scott Robinson

Because, as Bruce Sterling points out in this talk, the only way to be perfectly green is to be dead. You can’t out-conserve a dead person. Dead people are the ultimate environmentalists–they live in super-small apartments, without any electricity or running water, and they are literally being recycled.

As long as we’re alive, we’re consuming a certain amount of resources. We’re responsible for the release of a certain amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Inevitably.

So even though I know air travel emits a lot of greenhouse gas, I’ll still fly to Rio in June. Because I think participating in and promoting a conference aimed at finding solutions is a worthy use of the fossil fuels.

And I’ll continue selling my book from the same site I criticize consumerism. I don’t carry ads for anything else, and selling my book is important enough to me that I feel it’s justified, despite the attendant resource consumption. I dream of making a living selling stories–I’ve dreamt about that since junior high. And, incidentally, many of the stories I write contain environmental messages.

Members of Occupy Wall Street use corporate products to criticize corporations. But how else would they do it? Our society has become so corporatized that it’s now impossible to express ourselves except through corporate channels. Does that mean Occupiers shouldn’t try to bring attention to economic inequality and corporate influence on government? Of course not. The cause is important enough to justify that hypocrisy.

But why am I writing this post? Why do I think it’s important for environmentalists to publicly acknowledge their own hypocrisy?

Image credit: Dave Stokes

The answer is this: environmentalism is too often portrayed as some kind of lofty virtue, and those who don’t identify as environmentalists are too often looked upon with contempt. We can’t afford that. If we’re going to make it through this century, we have to do everything we can to include people in the environmental movement–to include everyone.

If we represent environmental consciousness as this angelic ideal, we risk alienating people who feel they don’t measure up. So let’s be honest, with ourselves and with others:

The things we do aren’t always completely sustainable. Sometimes that’s justified, and sometimes it’s not. When it isn’t–well, we’re working on improving, just like everyone else who understands the immediacy of humanity’s environmental problems.

I’ve done some confessing in this post, and in the comments I invite you to do the same. Let’s prove that people who care about the environment aren’t as ‘high and mighty’ as we’re sometimes made out to be.

What are some of your unsustainable habits?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. John Erickson permalink
    05/21/2012 9:54 PM

    Wow – if I admit to some of my stuff, I WILL be a very green person. As in, you’ll put me in one of those tiny, powerless mini-apartments! :D
    I’ll admit to heating with a wood fire. Done by burning lumber mill trash (stuff they’d normally just grind into sawdust) in a very small yet efficient wood stove. And I love my go-fast cars, though I have never owned, and only twice driven, a car with more than 6 cylinders or 3.1 liters.
    By the by, one way to partly dodge corporate support is to buy military surplus for everyday use (not just clothing). Yes, a corporation made the stuff, but the government paid for it (so you bought part of it, via taxes) and will pitch it if you don’t buy it. Not great, but somewhat more green than buying the latest from Nike or Coleman!

    • 05/23/2012 12:15 PM

      That’s a great suggestion, John. I recently got a winter coat at my local army surplus store–mostly for the great prices. I didn’t know about the associated environmental benefits, but now that I do, I feel that much greener! I’ll make a point now to buy from there more often.

  2. Andrea permalink
    05/22/2012 11:50 AM

    There are plenty of things I’m not willing to give up: drinking coffee and tea that can’t be grown locally, travelling by plane to interesting parts of the world, and living in a country that requires me to heat my home for six out of twelve months. And a whole bunch of other things. The goal isn’t to live a zero impact life, it’s to strive to the lowest impact where possible. If we drive ourselves crazy with environmental ideals, we’ll be miserable, and that proves nothing!

    • 05/23/2012 12:17 PM

      Coffee is a weakness of mine, too. Speaking of which, I think I’ll put on some…

  3. 05/22/2012 12:29 PM

    Reblogged this on Planned Resilience and commented:
    Check this out. I have often thought about the problem of consumerism, and how there really isn’t much of a way to get through out days without purchasing and/or using stuff from corporations. Plus, most of us depend upon corporations for jobs. It’s a confusing conundrum. I suppose, as oil becomes more scarce, we will be forced to do without our stuff. What will we do then?

  4. 05/22/2012 5:25 PM

    Thanks for writing this. I was appalled when I did my carbon footprint because I thought I was such a fine environmentalist. However, as Andrea says and you attest to, flying is something I do and will continue to do. There are times when I feel guilty (when I golf mostly), but then I get over it because I am doing something. And I do those somethings every single day. I’m going to reblog.

  5. 05/22/2012 5:27 PM

    Reblogged this on P. C. Zick and commented:
    I’m happy to reblog this thoughtful piece. Love to hear from you on this topic.

  6. crisms permalink
    05/22/2012 7:55 PM

    I’m glad you’re going to Rio! Of course, it would be a bit greener if the flight included carbon credits to offset the footprint. Can’t the UNEP hook that up? Anywho, thanks for writing! What a healthy form of catharsis for the green conscience! You said it! Of course it’s not easy for us to change our habits, behavior, or preferences…and sometimes just not the most efficient or effective option, as you pointed out. It’s like that saying “Choose your battles” — which green battle am I going to fight? Of course a zero impact is ideal, but I’m just not ready to become a candlemaker and solely live by the flame at night. But maybe I will get there. In the meantime, I can do everything in my capacity to be kinder and gentler towards my environment…in form of the word.

    • 05/23/2012 12:50 PM

      That’s a great idea, about the carbon credits–I’ll have to look into that!

      Thank you for reading :) I only just saw your comment on my 2nd UNEP blog post today, and I really appreciated it.

      Be sure to keep in touch! I hope to see you around the blog more, and I’d love to hear about the projects you’re working on.

  7. 05/23/2012 3:20 AM

    I’ll admit I’m a hypocrite because I drive a 1976 VW Kombi campervan…! I still eat red meat, occasionally, drink coffee every morning & smoke, way too much…! But, when I fly, I offset my carbon emissions, I donate time, energy & money to environmentally friendly organisations & I always recycle, renew, reuse & restore…!

    • 05/23/2012 12:51 PM

      Hey, there’s something to be said for driving an old car–it means you haven’t scrapped it to buy a new one, so you’re saving a lot of resources that way!

    • John Erickson permalink
      05/25/2012 4:19 PM

      Rebecca – Any chance you live in the US, and would be willing to sell or trade the van? My wife’s station wagon literally broke down (right around the left front suspension), and we’re having a dickens of a time finding something we can afford. She would LOVE a VW van! :D

  8. 05/24/2012 4:50 PM

    I live 5000 miles away from parts of my family, so I fly. I don’t own a car and try to offset as much as I can afford (using gold standard offsets, that actually invest in alternative energy companies) but there’s no escaping the fact that air travel is terrible for the planet.

    This was a great read. I agree that we’ll get nowhere with a “greener than thou” mentality and it’s a terrible shame that some of the best spokespeople for the planet are tripped up by accusations of hypocrisy, because the world we live in simply does not support perfect environmentalism.

    It is important, however, to set the bar slightly higher than it needs to be. I think Arnold Toynbee put it best: “It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.”

    • 05/29/2012 9:44 PM

      Hey Matthew, thanks for dropping by.

      I was a bit concerned that people would think I’m saying people shouldn’t think about changing unsustainable behaviour. (Not that I think that’s your interpretation.) I’m definitely not saying that–I’m saying that some such behaviour serves a greater good, and at any rate, we shouldn’t let accusations of hypocrisy stand in the way of our efforts to change society for the better (read: greener).

  9. 05/28/2012 5:13 PM

    Here is a great site:
    http://www.populationmedia.org/issues/population/population-and-poverty/

    Most of the world is actually poor, and it is getting worse…..

  10. 10/07/2012 11:46 PM

    Slavoj Zizeks take on sustainable consumerism. Extremely relevant:

    According to him we’ve trapped ourselves and corporations (and our are succeeding perfectly well in making us feel guilty (P.C. Zick said herself earlier)…

  11. 10/07/2012 11:46 PM

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  1. How to be green – admit you’re a hypocrite « SIMON WILD

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