Wednesday 20 April 2011

Embracing our own hypocrisies

Yesterday Ed Gillespie wrote a Guardian column on the hypocrisy of 'green' celebrities. Debate raged in the comment reel, I can't imagine Ed got a lot of work done as he typed up defense after defense of his own behaviour, which according to the accusations chucked at him meant he was no less a hypocrite than Sting, Bono and chums. Ed has responded again this morning on the safer territory of the Futerra blog. I started to comment on it there, but got carried away, so am giving my response here instead.

I find that being honest with people from the beginning that I don't always 'walk my talk' helps temper accusations that I'm giving it the old hypocritical: 'do as I say not as I do'. I do environmentally damaging things all the time, it's not because I HATE the environment, but because I like other things too. I enjoy experiencing what the wonders of the human mind has been able to create and make possible: eg: Reading festival, aeroplanes, wine, iPhones, go carting, etc, etc, etc. As Robert Tressell in 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' described it, I like to enjoy the 'benefits of civilisation' a little bit. To deny ourselves the 'benefits of civilisation' is to deny ourselves what it is to be human. Robert Tressell's painters and decorators, his ragged trousered philanthropists, were being denied this because of the low wages paid to them by those they worked for. Their bosses were milking the profits and enjoying the finer things in life, while keeping their employees in poverty. It is why the central character, Frank Owen, saw himself as a philanthropist. He, his fellow workers and their families were being forced to sacrifice their own basic wellbeing and enjoyment of life by the controlling elite, corrupt forces of business and local government. We all need to enjoy what it is to be human, when people deny us the benefits of civilisation we quite rightly rebel.

Thanks to my ongoing sustainability education, I'm learning how to ensure I meet my basic material needs (food, clothing, shelter) in as low impact a way as possible and am discovering how to enjoy music, travel, drinking, communication, speed etc, etc, in lower impact ways too. I've questioned whether Reading Festival is really that enjoyable compared to writing and playing my own music with friends, whether I need to travel by plane to Morocco, or whether an overland journey might be more fun and whether the satisfaction of ripping downhill at 50mph on my racing bike after a long climb up is more fun than go-carting. This doesn't mean I don't sometimes want to go to a big music festival and still do; or don't enjoy go-carting when I do it, I truly do; or don't use an iPhone (I'm a slave to it). I do do all these things, but a bit less now and it is because I have learned that what it is I get out of them can be found in other, more fulfilling ways. And with some sustainability literacy I'm able to do them in an environmentally more sensitive way.

But, hey, I flew back from Morocco. I want to talk to you about that, not to justify it to you, just to dig deeper into this common dilemma. Exploring why, despite all the physical and emotional discomfort it caused me, it still made the most sense and was therefore ultimately what I wanted to do. In the list of my life's priorities, my environmental concerns are sometimes trumped by my other concerns - I want to talk to you about those other concerns and how they came to be. Exploring with people our own environmentally destructive behaviours and what drives them takes you to a position where your audience feels they can walk alongside you, rather than wanting to square up to you and punch in your hypocritical nosey nose.

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