Over on Treehugger, Lloyd Alter claims to have enjoyed this Wall Street Journal piece by Dan Akst (yes, yes, subscription only). I can’t say I did.
Since you can’t read it, I’ll summarize: People who build "green" houses that are huge and isolated are hypocrites.
It’s a bit mystifying to me why this genre of writing is so prevalent. I suppose it’s fun to point out that a preachy celebrity drives a Hummer, or that the head of an environmental group flies all over the country to give talks, or that some recycling suburban mom commutes 50 miles to work. For pundits, charges of hypocrisy are nigh irresistible, since they require no thought, research, or analysis. "Look, person says A and does not-A! Gotcha!" It’s easy.
But is hypocrisy really that important? To the point that seemingly the bulk of writing on environmentalism begins and ends there?
I think not.
For one thing, "one ought to reduce one’s energy consumption" is true even if spoken by a person who is not reducing their energy consumption. The speaker’s failure to do what they say is entirely orthogonal to the truth value of what they say, whatever it might say about their character.
For another, the worst environmental problems are global and systemic. Ecosystem-destroying behavior is woven into our infrastructure, our manufacturing practices, our governing practices, our tax code, etc. Personal conservation is not irrelevant, but it is far, far from the most pressing need. We need solutions as big as the problems.
I am reminded of a passage from an (otherwise unrelated) post from Zaid Hassan:
At some point the implications of this hit me like an axe. The professor was basically making the case, demonstrating empirically, that a change of individual consciousness does not necessarily result in a more just society. When we’re living in systems that are producing injustice due to structural reasons, running programmes that work with individuals — no matter how well facilitated, will not necessarily change or impact a situation. There needs to be a conscious attempt to address issues of structural injustice. In other words, creating systemic change means working with individuals in order for individuals to change both themselves and the structures that generate injustice.
It is very difficult to live a genuinely green lifestyle in contemporary society — structural factors work against it. It requires enormous persistence and commitment. It should be no surprise that even those who advocate for environmental change are unable to do it consistently.
Environmentalism’s enemies use this fact to deride and marginalize it. I would just ask environmentalists not to help them, however tempting it may be.