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The Gap Year Blog

Are You A Climate Hypocrite?

29 Aug 2019 16:05 PM
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It’s not easy being green. Whether you’re Kermit the frog or guilty of grabbing a non-recyclable cup from Starbucks on the run, the fact of the matter remains that all of us aspirant environmentalists are, without exception, climate hypocrites.

Whilst that might seem a damning criticism, you’re not alone. Unless you happen to be Jesus, implementing a cannily timed Second-Coming, or perhaps Greta Thunberg, who last night completed her two-week Atlantic crossing to attend a US climate summit- none of us are totally fulfilling our green ideals. Whether you scrupulously walk and cycle to work but naturally fly to the Med in summer, darling, or á la Harry and Meghan- attend Google’s celebrity ridden climate camp via private jet- it is easy to forget that green consciousness has only recently shifted into the mainstream of thought and the demands of a 21st century lifestyle are not built to accommodate it.

Whilst a shift in discourse can implement change in the long run, short of la revolucion there will necessarily be a lag time, a lag time which leads to a kind of cognitive dissonance between ideological aspiration and lived reality. The fear of navigating this dissonance is perhaps at the heart of people’s reluctance to adopt more green practices- it increases susceptibility to a specific kind of social shame. In Sweden, the phenomenon of ‘flyskam’ or ‘flight-shame’ is steadily gaining traction- pressurising individuals to opt for rail-based travel to lower carbon emissions. By dipping your toe into the sustainable pool, you are tacitly branding yourself, and thereby opening yourself up to harsh criticism- aren’t those annual flights erasing the impact of anything else you do? 

Whilst the logical apotheosis of sustainable climate policy would result in many of us undertaking off-grid, zero waste lives, we all exist within the very system that we are trying to change- many have no option but to drive cars to work, or cannot afford to boycott the supermarkets who use gratuitous plastic packaging.

In an essay of 1969, second wave feminist Carol Hanisch famously argued that ‘the personal is political’- refuting the idea that ‘domestic issues’ like abortion, childcare and household labour- were issues that had no place in the political sphere. Yet whilst this was a landmark ideological shift, it has been since destructively displaced from its original political context and particularly corrosive to environmentalism, where the compromises the activists make take up more discursive energy than the crisis itself.

As Zoe Williams has recently argued in The Guardian: 'the answer is not to strive for greater individual perfection, but to return to that first materialist analysis: who benefits from climate inaction? Whose status is maintained by political inertia? Whose structures render personal efforts insufficient?’.

Indeed, it is the systemic climate hypocrisy of global institutions that cannot be ignored. Whilst Bolsonaro’s antics have transformed him into an almost comically exaggerated villain on the world stage, he is right when he accuses other nations of hypocrisy- Europe, US, Japan and Canada are all complicit in the destabilisation of the climate that helped make the G7 countries rich.

Environmental group Rainforest Rescue – an organisation which has rallied to protect the Amazon and other rainforests – lashed out at Brussels last month for the EU's lenient stance on palm oil production, responsible for the devastation of rainforests worldwide. A statement read: "The EU wants to save our climate with supposedly green biofuels and has deemed palm oil 'sustainable'. Yet on the other side of the globe, rainforests are being clear-cut to produce the 1.9 million tons of palm oil that end up in European fuel tanks every year.

Whilst greater transparency in such is undoubtedly necessary in global organisations- a human being is not a corporation. Personal identity is not a policy machine issuing press releases- and does not have to remain fixed, or consistent.

George Monbiot once wrote that hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations- they want to live more ethically- and they will always fall short. But the alternative to hypocrisy isn’t moral purity, but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day’

By Laura Smith - Online Journalism Intern

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