09 July 2011

Hypocrisy about the environment?

This post by Heather Mac Donald over at Secular Right is an indictment of the pseudo-environmentalism of many liberals, and an interesting perspective coming from an avowed conservative. It paradoxically put a ruminative smirk on my face. It's precisely the sentiment that crossed my mind one evening in Ann Arbor when I noticed that Whole Foods keeps their store lit up all night with what must be a kilowatt worth of bulbs even when they're closed.

It's a thought that's crossed my mind before: even though I try to do simple things to reduce my negative environmental impact, is it hypocritical of me to expect big government or big business to make bigger proportional sacrifices than I do?
If truly “caring for the environment” required anyone to give up his core lifestyle, the response would be: “Sorry, no can do.” The lifestyle changes that people are willing to embrace—recycling; driving a cool Prius; possibly, in a few cases, taking one’s own bags to the farmer’s market—are things that we are already willing to do. If saving the planet required us to turn off our computers and wireless devices, or running the electricity just 8 hours a day, no one would do it.
I do disagree with her idea of using higher gas taxes to increase demand for fuel efficiency; that's ultimately going to harshly punish blue-collar workers who depend on trucks and other vehicles for their livelihood while being a mere inconvenience for better-off suburbanites who do more unnecessary driving. She does, however, make an excellent point about the superficiality of the "green" label and the way the cultural elite brag about their "carbon footprint" as models do their dress size.

I recycle, turn the lights out when I leave the room, try not to waste water, and so forth. I make an effort not to directly make things worse in my day-to-day life, but can I honestly condemn polluting corporations when I'm unwilling to give up luxuries they provide? Is it fair to punish a firm for acting rationally in response to demand from its consumer base?

I think that we humans need to accept that we're an invasive species in most ecosystems on this planet. We don't adapt to our environment - we adapt our environment to us. We wreak ecological havoc just by being here. If we're going to be serious about mitigating that havoc, we should be promoting individual discipline to replace our culture of reckless consumerism. The solution isn't using government regulations to strong-arm industry; it's getting the general public to realize that environmental responsibility is an act of collective self-defense against a planet that could easily go on living without us.

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Creative Commons License