All social movements are susceptible to the “cult of personality.” This is always dangerous. Not only are individuals invariably fallible, and never live up to the “purity standards” often imposed on them, but it is their message that is most important, not the messengers.

Within the environmental community, I have witnessed this personality frenzy at work in a variety of settings, which usually leads to a debasing of the dialogue. I fear that the recent uproar over Al Gore’s personal life, which I regrettably waded into, has the makings of just this sort of distraction. Gore should be judged solely on the merits of his ideas and the prescriptions and policies that he proposes to address climate change. Whether he is a personal environmental hero or not has nothing to do with the issue.

A number of prominent environmentalists have private jets. They could do more to reduce their carbon footprint, but I’m more concerned about the laws they want to enact, which will impact their lifestyles too. I also want to know how their ideas will impact the poor, since environmental policies are often regressive.

The point is clear.

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Members of the environmental movement should not prejudge any messenger based on their personal lifestyles, especially if that individual is making serious attempts to influence policy. It is much more important to analyze the merits of their ideas. If we want to analyze personal choices it should be within a broader context of why it is that we do the things we do and the incentives that shape these choices.

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