The Guardian columnist and environmental thinker George Monbiot usually manages to provoke a strong debate in our comments sections. Some time ago, our post on his new book Heat raised a fierce exchange of views about the impacts of flying, meanwhile his flight to Vancouver to promote the above mentioned book lead some to level accusations of hypocrisy against him. This is not necessarily something that Monbiot himself would deny, at least if the introduction to Heat is anything to go by:
"And which of us — except perhaps Mayer Hillman [British environmentalist and academic] — can really claim to live as we urge others to live? Most environmentalists — and I include myself in this — are hypocrites."
Monbiot's main point, it seems, is that personal abstinence is not particularly effective, and only a broad political movement can bring about the changes necessary to reverse climate change. Not everyone agrees however. His latest assertion that ethical consumerism is fast becoming "a pox on this planet" has drawn a sharp response from Bibi van der Zee on the Guardian's Ethical Living blog:
"On behalf of anyone who has ever stood in a supermarket looking at an organic chicken, thinking "can it really cost £13?" - and gritting their teeth to buy it as your household budget splinters into a zillion pieces - for every commuter who has ever held up a queue of caffeine-cravers by demanding a fairtrade latte, for everyone who has ever clenched every nerve in their body in order to ask the bank clerk if they have an ethical screening policy... my blood boiled."
Bibi goes on to admit that George does, to some degree, have a point. While she argues that green shopping sends an important message to governments and corporations about the type of world we want, she concedes that it makes up only a tiny portion of overall spending. The message is indeed pretty weak then.
However, Bibi also argues forcefully that ethical consumerism may be a first step for many would-be environmentalists, and George and co. should be encouraging such folks to move further in their efforts, rather than criticizing them as inadequate:
"So perhaps the actual impact of so-called ethical consumption is negligible. But the people doing it - the ethical consumers (what a horrible title) - are on your side, for God's sake. They may be on a far earlier stage of the long journey into greenness, but they're going in the right direction. Remember, in certain parts of the UK, using a beer trap to catch slugs instead of pellets, or asking for English strawberries instead of Spanish ones can be seen as weirdy-beardy radicalism. There's a possibility that the man buying sheep's wool insulation this week will be chairing a meeting on saving his local wood next week. Why not have another go at Exxon instead?"
All of this kind of reminds us of Lloyd's response to criticisms of Earth Day earlier this year, in which he argued that "Small steps lead to education and awareness and that leads to votes and votes lead to change." While George may have a very valid point that shopping will not, in itself, save the planet, we can't help agreeing with Bibi that there may be better targets for his anger. ::The Guardian::