Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Green Hypocrisy

Perhaps the toughest thing about committing to a green lifestyle is, well it's the hypocrisy. It's common for me to have great discussions with fellow environmentalists who often seem to want to squeeze in a few comments about their latest foreign holiday. Ouch.

We're all sinners.

In today's Canada, it's damned hard to reduce one's carbon footprint. A big part of that is because our nation was built on ready access to cheap fossil fuels. We live in a society where we go to the things we want. We may work downtown but to get the McMansion we desire (and can afford), we have to commute to the suburbs, even the exurbs. It seems only the rich and the poor get to live near where they work. Many of us think nothing of driving 20-miles or more for shopping. We put gas in the tank, get in the car, and off we go. Because we're so spread out, it's prohibitively costly to offer European-style mass transit.

We're also creatures of a consumer economy. We like to own stuff and, for quite a few of us, the more stuff you own the better a person you are. Think that's not true? Wander over to your local marina or count the big SUVs in your grocery store parking lot. Check out how much the "average" home has grown over the past half century.

We can try to go green. I moved into a much smaller house, a really comfortable little bungalow. I upgraded the place with a high-efficiency wood stove/fireplace for heating and I get my wood supply from a guy who's licensed to collect the leftovers from nearby logging operations that would otherwise be heaped into a pile and burned on site. Put in new windows that allow super ventilation on hot summer days and greatly reduce heat loss when it's cold. Got a small, economy car that I drive when I have a bunch of errands to run, usually about once a week. It's already 11-years old and I expect to get several more out of it while I'm waiting for that great technology breakthrough we're told is just around the corner. I've given up on taking holidays abroad but, then again, I had my full share of foreign travel back well before we knew about carbon emissions.

The point I'm trying to make is that I'm doing a lot to reduce my carbon emissions but I'm not even close to where I should be. I recently went over to for a check-up. There was good news and bad news. My individual carbon footprint is somewhat more than a third of the average American's. That said it's nearly double where it ought to be. While I was digesting that information, the MIT brats who created included one additional, inconvenient truth - the per capita carbon emissions government puts out on our behalf. I guess you really do burn up a mountain of fossil fuels waging war.

What does it all come down to, moral relativism? I may be dirty but I'm less dirty than you are? I'm poisoning the environment much more slowly than you are? Oh how I'd like to give myself a big pat on the back, a hearty "well done" but I can't. Everything I've listed here is good but that's not the issue. What matters is if it's good enough and I know that it's far off that mark. It's naive and foolish of me to believe that I can find the answers because it's going to take, if not all of us, most of us to forge solutions and we don't seem to have the collective will for that.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with you fully.

Like yourself I have heard people who talk the "green talk" and are quite ready to point fingers at others whilst totally missing their own consumption and effect on the environment. They drive me nuts with their hypocrisy.

But I do believe there are ways that we can all reduce our consumption wisely. I don't think that a forced "greening" will work or makes sense in the long run.
If we can maintain a certain standard of living, then I think it will be easier. The problem is that being "green" is a business and one that often will use deceptive marketing practices.

The Mound of Sound said...

CWTF, I'm not sure I fully agree with myself either. My own hypocrisy confounds and, at times, infuriates me.

My better half has gone back to uni and is just finishing a degree in environmental sustainability. One aspect of this field is being able to advise business on how to meet the environmental demands that are coming.

The reality, CWTF, is that cutting one's personal emissions doesn't have to be an ordeal. There are options beyond sackcloth and ashes. You can actually have quite a comfortable standard of living because a lot of the things you do without weren't particularly necessary or even valuable when you had them.