So you use oil? No, that doesn't make you a hypocrite

gas pump brazil photo
CC BY 2.0 otubo

Every now and then, a fellow green blogger writes something that I wish I could just cut and paste and call my own. Ben Adler over at Grist has done just that, with his excellent response to a perennial climate denier straw man. Why "you drive a car" is not a good rebuttal to calls for climate action should be compulsory reading for every online troll.

Having criticized opponents of Obama's Keystone veto in a tweet, Ben was immediately attacked for driving his car to work (even though he did no such thing). In his response, he points out that even if he did drive, it would not be a legitimate means to undermine calls for reducing our fossil fuel dependence.

Here's a taste:

It would only be a meaningful argument if climate hawks say no one should ever use oil. But they don’t. Instead, they argue, among other things, that fossil fuel producers and consumers need to start paying the social costs of their pollution through something like a carbon tax, instead of sticking the global poor and future generations with the climate tab. You’d think that conservatives, supposed fans of personal responsibility, would appreciate the morality of that position.

I've covered similar ground before in my piece on why environmental hypocrisy is irrelevant and inevitable, so I'll try not to repeat myself. But I will offer a few analogies:

If a 19th century abolitionist sometimes ate sugar, would that invalidate her calls for ending slavery?

If an alcoholic or a drug addict failed to kick their habit, would it invalidate their plea for restricting sales of their chosen poison, or their desire for more resources to help them fight addiction?

If a suffragette didn't vote (because she, errm, wasn't allowed to vote, for example), would that invalidate her call for allowing women to vote?

If you use oil for anything, ever, does that mean you shouldn't be outraged at BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe?

You get the idea.

Whether we are installing LED light bulbs, geeking out over smart thermostats, growing our own food, biking to work, supporting clean energy or living in a tiny house, many of us go to considerable lengths to reduce our own reliance on fossil fuels.

And that's all well and good.

Similarly, however, the vast majority of us have a long way to go. We still (sometimes) fly in gas guzzling planes. We still live in car-dependent communities. We still turn the heating up from time-to-time because our feet are cold.

This is a collective challenge that requires a collective response. If we allow critics to reduce environmentalism to a matter of personal responsibility, then the planet will fry. The fact is, our entire system was built on fossil fuels. And those fuels have brought us considerable benefits. That's why the system is set up to structurally favor fossil fuels and discourage alternatives.

But new solutions are emerging. And the costs of maintaining the status quo are becoming ever more apparent. A transition to a low carbon economy is not only possible, but increasingly plausible.

So fellow oil users and "hypocrites," worry not.

We can compost this pointless straw man argument. We can keep calling for sensible energy policies. And we can still use our coal-powered computers to write about it. (Although my computer and the cloud that it floats around in are looking greener by the minute.)

Tags: Activism | Coal | Oil


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