Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Facing Hypocrisy

Last month, I read an article by the redoubtable George Monbiot that left me both shaken and, for a period of time, quite depressed. It forced me to face some unpleasant and inconvenient truths about people like me, and left me with the realization that when all is said and done, I am a hypocrite.

Entitled Too right it's Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet, the article took away what little comfort I felt about my own 'green' practices. Hardly a rampant consumerist, I believed I was doing my part by respecting the earth's limited resources, buying only when necessary, being prudent about my water usage, driving only when walking is impractical, and being mindful of the overall environment.

In the overall scheme of things, it turns out those efforts are largely illusory in impact:
The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who don’t. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.
How can that be, I asked myself. Monbiot has the answer:
Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had “relatively small benefits”.

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings a hundredfold. I’ve come to believe that the recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people they’ve gone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.
While I am hardly one of the wealthy Monbiot identifies, that last paragraph gets to the heart of the matter as it pertains to me. Air travel is the poster child for greenhouse gas emissions.

Back in 2013, The New York Times put it this way explained it this way:
One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.

Though air travel emissions now account for only about 5 percent of warming, that fraction is projected to rise significantly, since the volume of air travel is increasing much faster than gains in flight fuel efficiency.
David Suzuki explains it this way:
...since 1990, CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased 83 per cent. The aviation industry is expanding rapidly in part due to regulatory and taxing policies that do not reflect the true environmental costs of flying. “Cheap” fares may turn out to be costly in terms of climate change.
And even more alarmingly:
A special characteristic of aircraft emissions is that most of them are produced at cruising altitudes high in the atmosphere. Scientific studies have shown that these high-altitude emissions have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect. The IPCC, for example, has estimated that the climate impact of aircraft is two to four times greater than the effect of their carbon dioxide emissions alone.
In 2017 I had, in total, four air trips: two to Cuba (one last January and one at the start of December, one to England, and one to Edmonton, where my son lives).

Here's the thing: I want to have at least one escape from winter each year. I want to visit my son out West. I want to see more of the world before I depart from it.

Of course, the problem here is obvious. Each of the above sentences begins with the same subject and predicate, and that gets to the heart of the problem (elevating my wants over the needs of the collective) and hence, my own hypocrisy (take a look at how many post I have under the climate change rubric), doesn't it?


  1. Hmmm, your hypocrisy is not unique nor is yours especially egregious. I may have given up air travel but I got "my share" in during the late 60s to the late 90s. And, given the persistence of greenhouse gas emissions you may have been passing through my leavings as you winged your way to Cuba.

    Don't worry too much about "the collective." That's been bred out of us. We're all individuals now, don't you know? We have rights and steadily fewer responsibilities. Rights without commensurate freedoms. Interesting times.

    Monbiot has been warning about commercial aviation since 2006. and yet that hasn't kept him or others such as Naomi Klein grounded.

    When I was a kid, growing up in southwestern Ontario, all but a couple of my relatives - grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins - lived within a 30 mile radius. Hop in the car and 20 minutes later you would be on their doorstep. My siblings have settled further afield, a 3 hr. drive from where they were born and raised. I live on an island in the Pacific. Your son lives in Edmonton. And yet we're all diligent recyclers and environmentally conscious, I suppose. We try to eat locally, that sort of thing.

    I'm getting pressured to visit the kin in Ontario, the one last time arrangement. I've put it off for years but I think I'll go next year. Only I'm taking the train. A small compartment with privacy, a couple of good books, a glass of wine and a huge window from which to observe Canada as you'll never know it from the air. Now that's travel.

    1. I guess I have been aware of the greenhouse cost of air travel for a few years, Mound, but it wasn't until reading the Monbiot piece that I saw my own modest environmental efforts as the shallow attempts they really are. Of course, I will continue to be mindful in my practices, but now I know how little they account for in the larger scheme of things.

      All of this goes to show that strong government action to force change is the only thing that has a chance of having any impact, but, of course, we know the dance of the seven veils the feds do on this issue ultimately reveals the nakedness of their most real and most prized goal, reelection. No balm in Gilead to be found there.

  2. Lorne you might like todays post on Charles Hugh smiths, of two minds blog. his description of the holiday season mirrors what you said and expands more. For many years now my best part of holidays was getting together with family and friends over good food. the rest was almost an annoyance. Now that I have a granddaughter the whole Santa thing is fun again but when I realize that the collective destruction of the planet in a few short days far exceeds anything we can do over the year to help still makes me a bit sad.

    1. Thanks, Bill. I will check it out right away.