Not Evangelism

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Hypocrisy of Environmentalists

An interesting (and brief) post on TreeHugger this week about the so-called hypocrisy of environmentalists (In Defence of Hypocrisy - In Search of the Sustainable Double Standard).

I've written about this subject before, because I reject the idea that environmentalism is a black-and-white, all-or-nothing proposition. These issues are much deeper, far more complex than simply the fact of - to use a popular example - having or not having a car.

Car ownership as a measure of environmentalism

Car ownership is such a poor measure of environmentalism. Car engine size is no better.

There are, for example, many different models of car, with varying engine sizes  and fuel types. The conditions these vehicles are driven in, how they're loaded, even how much air is in the tyres - all these considerations will affect fuel consumption, and as a result the carbon emissions of the car.

Beyond the crude - but concrete - measures we could draw from the scientific data about a particular car, there are the harder-to-calculate effects of the owner's behaviour. Someone who drives their car less often will obviously use less fuel - will emit less carbon - than someone that drives more regularly. But several short, lower speed journeys will consume different amounts of fuel than a single long journey at cruising speed.

And carbon emissions are just one measure of environmentalism. A popular, well-reported, easily-understood measure, I grant you, but no more valid because of that. What about pollution, of resource consumption, of lifecycle and disposal? What about electric cars?

It's a complex world out there.

Avoid people that accuse you of hypocrisy

The hypocrisy argument is at best the result of lazy, uninformed thinking - and I for one am not interested in wasting time or energy debating with people like that. At worst, accusing someone of hypocrisy because they don't fit a simplified, inaccurate model of the world is an insidious way of undermining them and their views. Sneakily, it forces people into a tiny pigeon hole and then lambasts them for it.

To use the word "hypocrisy" when talking about environmental views - to allow others to use that word - accepts the suggestion that these matters are that trivial, really are black and white. We get sucked into an argument that demeans and disregards our views. And we can't make any headway against that kind of simplistic, childish, flawed reasoning.

Life - happily! - is just not that simple. If it were, environmentalists would just wear green shirts and be done with it.

Oh, wait. If that were the case, then we'd need to pick our preferred shade of green...

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