The environmental hypocrites

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 (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.” – George Monbiot

All environmentalists that I know are hypocrites, myself included. Some more, some less. I’m sure there are people who follow their ethics to 100%, I just don’t know anyone who does that when it comes to environmentalism except one remarkable green politician in Finland called Leo Stranius. At least he says he’s 100% vegan, never flies and cycles everywhere. Goals.  I have just arrived in Dubai, by plane. We environmentalists know we are hypocrites every time we make an ‘non-environmetal’ choice. And if we didn’t know that we’re hypocrites already, there will be hundreds of people in line informing us about what awful hypocrites we are.

Like the guy with a 400 gram steak in front of him, telling me how unethical I am for tasting a tiny bite of my friends dish that contained meat. Or the anonymous commentator who thinks this zero-waste blogger is wrong to promote environmentally friendly sunscreens when in fact, flying is the worst part of her trip. Or all the millions of people who say Leonardo di Caprio isn’t an environmentalist because he flew in a private aircraft twice in a year.

I made an extremely hypocritical choice. I went on holiday to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my family even though I think airplane traveling is not good. Flying by plane is something I should not do. I took the train to London because I’m really am trying to quit flying but it’s extremely tempting to do it. 7 hours direct flights for a very affordable price to see white beaches and another culture. It’s easy to make quite irrelevant justifications for myself like “but at least the flight is shorter than to Thailand, less fuel is required, no stop overs means less fuel for takeoffs too…”.  But the truth is I’m going to a state that’s criticised for using slave labour, that has a very high oil consumption, a very high water consumption and promotes very much commercialism. I wanted to go out of curiosity, to see what it’s like. Dubai is very popular, and seeing many people going here made me want to go too. If I stay more true to my values than I did this time, perhaps I’ll never go again. I’m sorry if I let someone down by making this choice, I’ll try not to do it too often anymore.

The criticism does have grounds, but by calling environmentalists hypocrites you put the focus on the wrong thing. Saying “airplanes are bad for the environment” and taking an airplane OR saying “I never ever think about the environmental impact of planes” and also taking the airplane has the exact same environmental impact.The individual environmental hypocrite is in no way worse for the environment than the ignorant person. By saying “airplanes are bad” the environmentalist is at least more likely to start looking for alternatives. I’m less likely to go to Dubai or Thailand every year. I think companies who put millions of dollars on Greenwashing-marketing are the right subjects of being called hypocrites. They do it on purpose, to make money. I make hypocritical choices because of weak moments of temptation, that partly is a result of that greenwashing marketing. Like Norwegian air, which I’m flying to Dubai, saying they have the newest, least polluting fleet in the world. It´s still at least 3x more polluting than train but they don’t mention that in their marketing.

Dubai is a catastrophe environmentally. I didn’t know how much it is so, until I came here. I’m not going to regret coming here and I’m sure I’ll enjoy my time, but really this isn’t the best travel destination. It is still a massive construction site and the main thing to do is shopping. We’ll drive (yes driving is bad too) to the old town of Al Ain tomorrow because Dubai is so silly. The stupid thing is, after we booked this trip I started hearing from friends they didn’t enjoy Dubai too much either, but they didn’t say that on social media when they posted nice pictures. Please dear reader of this blog, be smarter than me: don’t come here. Don’t book a flight to Dubai, even if they are cheap.

Environmentalist are trying to change society. But sometimes we just want to wholly be part of our society. And our western societies include food wrapped in plastic or occasional very polluting airplane rides. My friends and family go for holidays, it look’s lovely, is it so hard to imagine I might want to go too, even if it’s against my ethical principles? Social media does things worse here. In the long run, we want to get rid of unenvironmental travelling but it’s a change that might take some time. Allow us to fail without judging too hard on our journey towards environmentalism.

So cheer us for the times we do choose vegetarian food, cheer us for choosing the sunscreen that doesn’t harm coral reefs and cheer us when we take the train instead of flying. Shouting “hypocrite!” just creates a negative feeling. If you feel an environmentalist could be even more environmentally friendly, share your tips with them in a friendly way! Tell them in what way life can be nice while doing something even better. Ugly words and blaming those who really try to change isn’t the best way of making society more sustainable.

Trust me, we know better than anyone how polluting airplanes are. We just think that occasionally, it’s nice to travel. Just like a smoker, knowing how unhealthy it is but still enjoying smoking. Some environmentalists have already stopped flying, other’s are still, just like that smoker, thinking that perhaps next year I’ll have more self control… Perhaps next year I won’t be as tempted to fly to a warm location for a quick getaway from the Finnish winter. We are weak sometimes and that is okay. We should love ourselves anyways.

Why don’t you join me and become a hypocritical environmentalist? Allow the changes in your life to take it’s time, maybe some of them never happen. Keep an open mind, accept that you’re a hypocrite and continue learning so that everyday you can become less of a hypocrite. I welcome you in the club of self-declared environmentalists, even if you do the smallest change.

The worlds tallest building is about the only thing I really like in central Dubai. But there are other skyscrapers in the world, go to Taipei, New York or Tokyo instead.

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7 thoughts on “The environmental hypocrites

  1. Thank you for sharing tour thoughts on the environmentalist dilemma. I think you are right, not pointing fingers, and that applies to both sides of the argument. We all impact the environment. I do know conservationists that make a living from supporting anti development, but then fly to Hawaii or Mexico annually. And to the flip side of that. I ride my bike to work, I had only one child, I hunt and fish for a large portion of my diet, I garden, and I heat my home by firewood. But I support responsible industrial development. Whose right whose wrong? I think the path is somewhere on the middle.
    Thanks for

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  2. Thanks for your comment! Respect to you for living so sustainably, that’s amazing! I agree that some sort of middle ground would be best, completely stopping development doesn’t seem wise but it needs to be slowed down and transformed for sure!

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  3. One question to begin with: Why would anyone listen to you and your ideas if you don’t even listen to yourself? If a significant portion of the world lived your lifestyle, we’d all be dying of heatstroke or god knows what in a few years. And if we continue to live this way, climate change will have disastrous consequences anyway, just a little more slowly. And you know this, right? You want people to change because you know what will happen if we don’t, and yet you don’t do it. Are you serious when you say that you’re *less likely* to take two long plane journeys *every year*? Just by getting on those planes, you’ve exceeded the carbon footprint you should have and you haven’t even eaten anything, used electricity or heated your apartment, or calculated any of the public emissions into your footprint. I really don’t get it. Environmentalism is *not* about doing your best. It’s not a game and it’s not school. It’s about a large portion of us becoming climate refugees or much, much worse.
    I’m never getting on a plane again, and I’m never eating animal products again, because it’s not hard. I’m still European (=rich), I will still never suffer hunger and I can still go on holiday by train or bus. It’s still an easy life.
    There are two problems with saying that the impact of you taking a plane to Dubai is the same as an uninformed or ignorant person taking a plane to Dubai. First of all, you have an audience. People read your blog and think, well, she is an environmentalist and just took a plane to Dubai, apparently those two things can go together. Most normal people don’t have that big of an audience, and they’re not trying to promote your message. Second, the fact that even you, a highly educated person who knows about climate change and understand the impact she is having, will not make the necessary sacrifice to save our planet – the foundation of all our lives – gives me an incredibly bleak outlook on life. Maybe education is not what we all thought it would be. (Same goes for the current nationalist movements in Europe. We’re all so very educated, and yet still so very stupid). In Europe at least, the most educated people are also the ones having the biggest, worst impact on the environment by far.

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    • I actually agree with you! Education can only do so much and as long as my behaviour of travelling is socially acceptable, even admired by most people in my social circles, I really struggle to follow the lifestyle that I know to be factually better for the world. The choice of travelling is very selfish of me, and maybe you are right that as a writer of this blog I should be more of an example. However, I see this blog as a personal documentary of a journey towards sustainability. I am very aware that in many cases I am not some glorious example. I am very happy to hear that you find a lifestyle of never flying or eating animal products easy! Honestly, I admire you 🙂 I personally find it very challenging at times. The reason I am asking in this blog post for more positive encouragement instead of being called out for being a hypocrite is that I really feel like I need it in order to do better. That kind of positive encouragement was what pushed me to do many other sustainable choices (like becoming vegetarian, eating mostly vegan, taking the train for 3 days from Helsinki to London instead of flying which takes 3 hours). I still argue that making those choices was better than both flying to Dubai and eating meat and travelling by plane within Europe. In a world where most people don’t even know much about climate change, I would argue that saying to a broad audience to do even something instead of nothing is a step in the right direction. I personally believe that individual choices in western countries has a potential of decreasing our carbon footprints about 20%, as we still see many people who just don’t care at all. We cannot rely solely on education but we need broader policies. On top of that we need hard taxes on airplanes (Sweden just introduced a smaller one), government supported renewable energy and lot’s of “nudging” policies to decrease meat consumption. And just as a fact, the sustainable carbon footprint per person is currently about 3000-4000 kg per year (depending where you ask and look, it needs to be around 2000kg by 2050 counting in population growth), so in theory I could actually do this flight, still do basic things to stay alive and stay within the carbon budget. Unfortunately I am not at the sustainable level yet unless you count that I carbon compensate my flights, in which case I am not far away. Also, as for what can be called environmentalist: the definition of environmentalism in the google dictionary is “a person who is concerned about protecting the environment.”. I am concerned but that concern does not always equal my actions.

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  4. I’m not sure which calculater you use, but depending on who you ask, your trip to Dubai is about 1700 to 1900kg of carbon emissions, then you add to that the car trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and you’re at 2000kg or very close to it. Obviously, you do need to count in population growth, because it’s going to continue to happen until at least 9 billion, so yes, you are stretching the limit with that trip alone. 3-4000kg would only be sustainable if everyone started living like that right now, which is impossible. It really depends on how fast the whole world can reduce their footprint, but since not even Germany (which is where I live) is gonna reach their 2020 climate goals, I doubt that any of the other Western nations will. So, 2000kg or even less is much more likely to be the CO2 maximum. I think it’s always important to remember that 2°C is not the magic number that means everything’s gonna be okay. 2°C still means a lot of dangerous changes that we can’t even calcuate properly. There is a *hope* that 2°C is gonna be fine, but we really have no idea.
    I, as I said, am vegan, eat only organic, mostly locally grown food and some of it is also saved from the garbage. So, it’s pretty much as low as it’s gonna get and it still amounts to 700kg of carbon emissions per year. I live in a small apartment and don’t use heating very much and that’s still over 1200kg per year. You could not stay alive and stay within your limit, then, especially not in Finland. I think you underestimate the impact of your daily life. If I remember correctly, my carbon footprint is at around 5000kg, so still too high, although I never use a car (only public transport) and don’t buy much stuff. So, it’s not as easy to reduce as one might think.
    Compensating your flights does not make the oil go back in the ground – it just means someone else does the reducing for you. It’s not you doing something good, it’s you attaching a condition to your charity – I’ll give money to stop climate change, yes, but only if I take this flight. Or, I’ll give more if I take this flight. What you’re doing is keeping it steady at best, when you could and should be lowering it.
    I do strongly agree that, ideally, there would be regulations. Flights would be so expensive that pretty much no one could afford them, there would be almost no permits for private cars in cities, no government money supporting any kind of animal product production etc, because clearly, we are not good enough to do it by ourselves. And yet, I’m not sure what would happen if the regulations were enforced from above. probably some sort of riot would break loose, and that wouldn’t help either.
    It’s just that environmentalism as you defined it is not the goal here. The goal is to save the foundation of our lives. As we have established, concern does nothing for the peope living in the countries that will soon suffer from draughts that will ruin their harvest year after year. It does not help that you are concerned if you don’t do what is necessary. You can’t wait for someone else to make the necessary choices to make sustainability accepted – you have to be that person. Yeah, it doesn’t feel good to tell grandma that you’re not gonna eat that dead animal or that cream cake that she made for you. Maybe it doesn’t feel good to spend the winter at home, where it’s only warm inside, although everyone else is going away. And the summer, too, because even train rides aren’t carbon free. But maybe, next time, grandma is gonna make something more sustainable. What I mean with easy is not that it takes no effort. It takes a lot of effort, and research and hard choices and uncomfortable conversations. But it’s nothing compared to what we’re trying to avoid with it, you know? And if you have a good reason for these limitations, which we do, it does become easier to stand your ground.
    I don’t know if you can say that 20% less people dying from their homes being flooded or their neighbourhood woods burning down or from lack of clean water and food can be called a success. I would call it a failure.
    I don’t want to discourage you, or insult you, and I don’t hate you. I think documenting your journey might help some people feel less bad about themselves, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. We should feel terrible, and then change, so that we don’t have to anymore, instead of looking to other people reinforcement that we’re doing fine. Obviously, what you’re doing is better than doing nothing, but it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s very difficult for me to convey how I feel about lowering my impact, because to me, it’s not exactly fun, but it feels incredibly good, because I know it’s the right thing to do.

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    • Look, I’m not defending flying but I have decided on a level that I think is fair that I, in the current social environment, take responsibility for. I agree that compensating is far from ideal, but in the end the climate does not care who’s emissions it is as long as the total effect is better. The goal is to keep global warming as slow and little as possible, 1% of people living a life that currently is almost socially unacceptable in the wesr has a smaller effect than 70% of people at least doing something. From a theorethical point of view you are absolutely correct, but human behaviour does not work like that. Most of us care more about our own family and close friends, than a random 20% of the population. I’m trying here to somehow balance both, whereas a majority of people don’t even try. In in fact my co2 footprint from last year was about 6000 kg. I’m using the Finnish environmental institutes calculator, as well as the website https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx?tab=3 viewing the Dubai trip as approx 1200 kg. As I flew Norwegian, whose fuel use is 10-20% below industry average its about 1100 kg for flights. As for car, the emissions for that distance in a small, new rental car is less than 50 kg co2. Life is short and this whole blog is about trying to find a balance between enjoying life right now and being selfish, while trying to mind tomorrow. People in my area of Finland have an average footprint of 11000 kg co2. Me at 6000, taking trains to Europe etc is viewed as an extreme, somewhat crazy environmentalist. I achieve this by eating mostly vegan (my grandma does not serve me meat), living in a small flat sharing a room with my boyfriend, buying 90% secondhand clothes and stuff, repairing instead of buying new, paying extra for renewable energy, moving mostly by cycle and train. I am not perfect at all but I can’t help but wonder why I should sacrifice even more when most people in Europe don’t. I can’t save the climate alone, and by showing people that its better to even go from 11000kg co2 to 8000kg co2 than to do nothing, I think I can reach more people than if I said they would have to become perfect at once. In an ideal world, your argument works. In reality, we are already pretty fucked and if we don’t start getting the majority on board soon, I don’t know what we are going to do!

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