How Admitting You’re a Hypocrite Can Save the Planet
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.
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.
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?
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?