Why Environmental "Hypocrisy" Is Irrelevant and Inevitable

When Coal Is Stupid activists blockaded a coal shipment in New England, some commenters immediately leveled accusations of hypocrisy based on the tenuous notion that these environmentalists' own reliance on fossil fuels meant that their protest at the excesses of Big Coal were simply a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

After all, when socially conscious activists decided to fight the transatlantic slave trade, were only those pure souls who didn't have sugar allowed to protest? When the civil rights movement rose up against segregation in the South, were all citizens who rode the segregated buses immediately excluded from the debate?

The environmental movement has been obsessed with personal virtue and ethical lifestyle "purity" for way too long. Yes, riding a bike is a great way to cut carbon. Working from home lays the foundations for a different kind of mobility. Eschewing meat sends a message to the markets. But these are first and foremost optional tools in the activist toolbox, not measures of an individuals moral integrity.

As Annie Leonard argued in our live chat about The Story of Broke, trying to live the perfect green lifestyle in an economy that was structurally designed to promote waste, consumption and fossil fuel dependence is a little like trying to swim upstream.

It's an argument I've made more than once before. Green lifestyle choices will not save us. Shopping and voting are not the same thing. And we need to focus on leverage, not footprints.

I suggest we stop worrying about whether someone is "pure" enough to speak out against climate change and fossil fuels, and instead start embracing anyone and everyone who is ready to take a stand and say it's time for a change.

All of us are hypocrites. All of us are agents of change.

That's a-ok with me.

Tags: Activism | Consumerism | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Causes | Global Warming Solutions

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK