It's not environmentalism

It's therapy: * [Stewart Barr, of Exeter University][1], who led the research, said: "Green living is largely something of a myth. There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights." * Some people even said they deserved such flights as a reward for their green efforts, he added.A lot of people are critical of the blatant hypocrisy of most proponents of so-called "green living," those who fly around the world telling people they can save the planet by only using one square of toilet paper. "When Al Gore turns his thermostat down," they say, "I'll listen to him prattle on about how mine is set." And they are correct; it is profoundly hypocritical and is itself evidence that the green livers are full of crap. But one problem they face in trying to get this logic across to those attracted to sorting trash and giving carbon credits for Christmas is that it's not a matter of logic.In some cases it's a matter of style - like politicians, people want to be seen doing something worthwhile. Yes, it's shallow and vapid, but at least no one gets hurt - not driving your kid 4 blocks to school is a good idea whether you do it to save the planet or because he needs the exercise.But in serious cases, it's not a matter of people cynically wishing to appear caring, but a matter of them fulfilling a desperate emotional need for relevance. They are nothing. They know they are nothing. And they can't handle it emotionally.That's why Gore [says][2], "The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission; a compelling moral purpose; a shared cause; and the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside the pettiness and conflict of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge." He and other green livers need for a climate crisis to exist far more than the rest of us need it solved.Of course, there have been hundreds of religions and philosophies that claim to deal with the essential nothingness of the individual, that universal feeling that "all is vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is no profit under the sun." They remain with us to fulfill a very human need.Environmentalism, as practiced by the masses, is simply another one of them._Yes, I said most. the article notes, "Only a very small number of citizens matched their eco-friendly behaviour at home by refusing to fly abroad, Barr told a climate change conference at Exeter University yesterday." That's science, baby. Don't argue with science._ [1]: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/24/ethicalliving.recycling [2]: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/opinion/01gore.html?ei=5090&en=b53eb681db2b0e17&ex=1340942400&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

Comments

Chris Tackett 14 years ago

from how you've written this, it sounds like you're missing the point. it's about making a positive net impact. if you like to go skiing and have to fly to get to the mountain or drive a long distance, it's better to do enough throughout the rest of the year to balance out your carbon footprint. it's only hypocritical if you're operating under the assumption that these people have said they want to do nothing that harms the planet. I doubt that's what anyone is saying. They just want to do less damage. what's wrong with that?

14 years ago

"it's about making a positive net impact."That may be the point the authors are trying to make, but I think THEY are missing the point. I think "green" is done because it feels good, because it makes them feel like they are doing something important and worthwhile. It makes a positive net impact on their phyche, not the planet. When one of Al Gore's three homes uses 20x the power that the average American uses, it's not about making a positive net impact, because there are a whole lot easier ways to accomplish that. Rather, as the article noted: "Questioned on their heavy use of flying, one respondent said: 'I recycle 100% of what I can, there's not one piece of paper goes in my bin, so that makes me feel less guilty about flying as much as I do.'Even though the authors of the piece skipped over the feelings of guilt pretty quickly, I think that is the bottom line.

alm77 14 years ago

I don't know. I recycle cause I can't stand the thought of all that garbage going into the ground when it could be crunched up and reused. I also use my cloth bags cause then I don't have to pay for the ones at Aldi. I'm just against wastefulness in general. I never really believed it would "save the planet" or anything. But then again, I've never been on an airplane, so I have very little guilt to absolve.

lazz 14 years ago

A dear, dear friend with an incredibly successful self-built PR agency travels the world on business, and her business is to encourage others to eventually make their own trips to these exotic resort destinations ... and at the bottom of e-mails generated by her work account is a plea, "Please think about the environment before printing this e-mail."

14 years ago

Dots: "big mac with a diet coke"As usual, you are able to make the point in far fewer words, while probably alienating fewer people in the process.

DOTDOT 14 years ago

Classic big mac with a coke vs. big mac with a diet coke point you make, my philosophical mentor.Anyway, LB, I hope you are not disregarding the power of righteous indignation. If every body was as comfortable with their own insignificance as (say, for instance) I am, nothing would ever get done.

lazz 14 years ago

As Al Gore's situation so clearly illustrates, collosal consumption far beyond the norm pretty much makes steps such as not using a piece of office paper or recycling tin cans virtually worthless. Or worse, because the hypocrisy is such a turn-off. We all have a lot of hard decisions to make about how we live our lives, personally and as a society, and while these first steps are necessary, they don't yet constitute a self-congratulatory lifestyle ... How many thousands and thousands of people flew to and from China for the Olympics, and yet went out of their way to drop a plastic water bottle in a recycling bin? How many people drive how many miles to drop their household waste at a recycling center, when there's already a huge truck coming by their house once a week to pick up their household waste and deliver it to a safe, well-managed landfill that does its job perfectly well, and (from what I underestand) has the capacity to do so for many, many decades to come?Do what we can, sure, but the "look at me I'm so green" stuff has got to stop or it's going to alienate the huge swath of the world that has yet to understand the need to change our ways ...

14 years ago

"while these first steps are necessary, they don't yet constitute a self-congratulatory lifestyle..."Wow, boom. That's exactly correct and ought to be tatttooed across the forehead of every smarmy wannabe Hollywood planet-saver. The hypocrisy is legion, and it is a turnoff, but I also think it illustrates the underlying unseriousness of it. The reason they do the little things but not the big ones is that the little ones don't require any actual inconvenience. It's fun to save the planet, so long as it doesn't get in the way of important stuff and so long as you are seen doing it. I think a lot more environmentalism will get done when it's no longer so popular. Except Ed Begley Jr, who is to be commended for actually doing the kinds of things he says needs to be done, and is therefore not smarmy.

DOTDOT 13 years, 12 months ago

Oh yeah? Putting aside the fact that you are making Joel Stein's point, I want to know which Chinese work harder than which Americans?Name them.. .~

14 years ago

"So the solution to the economic crises is ????"There is no political solution. None. There will be deflation in proportion to the inflation we have created over the past 100 years, though especially since the 70s, or the government will create hyperinflation. There will be pain and suffering either way.That said, I think Americans have the capacity to adjust very quickly. We already work harder and longer than anyone else in the world, we have a culture that rewards innovation, hell we are the cultural and sometimes actual descendants of people who carved the world's greatest nation out of a wilderness. Half of the colonists died the first winter at Plymouth. Yet here we are. Politicians underestimate Americans' ability to cope, and I think that we in our pussified moments forget that as well. Our parents were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse (John Winger). If anyone can survive, it is us.If there is anything that is to be done politically, it should not be to try to avoid the deflation*, but rather to try to cushion its effects on real people. I would rather spend $700b building roads and on stopping erosion and picking up trash than on trying to take bad debt off the banks' books so they can run out and do it again - the entire purpose of the bailout is to allow them to do it again. Then what do we do for an encore?One old taunt goes something like, "If you try to run, you'll only die tired." There's a lot of similarities to what we are doing to ourselves right now. The system is breaking - actually it has broken - and we are throwing everything we have to try to keep it running. Rather we should take our foot off the accelerator for a bit and try to preserve at least a little financial ability to recover from this. * It is incredibly ironic to me that the government spends so much money to create "affordable housing," yet they will spend even more to keep house prices high.

alm77 14 years ago

Bill, I just can't read anymore of your writing and gloom and doom predictions. If I do, I fear I may find myself moving out into the woods where we survive on rain water and rabbit stew.

Bethany Jones 13 years, 12 months ago

""I foresee a not-too-distant future when Chinese guys complain about how every time their cheap Google phone breaks, they can't understand the tech-support guy because his Mandarin has a thick Minnesotan accent.""He obviously doesn't realize that the Chinese people who own cell phones are the ones who are also more fluent in English than I... Chinese is one of those countries where you can visit and don't need to speak a word of the language to get along just fine. The Chinese are so eager to speak English that they not only teach their children from a young age, but they also jump on the chance to speak it with a "real American."And they're harder workers.They win.

Terry Bush 14 years ago

I am not a sience major so can't say whether all the divergent views are arguing over anything of import, however, I have read/heard that one single large volcanic erruption puts more CO2 into the atmsophere/air then all the human beings on earth ever have (so far). Thus, those making that point believe that our puny efforts to "undo" the harm human beings have caused (or are causing) is kind of (a) pointless and/or (b) caused by an over-inflated sense of self-importance.I tend towards the frugal because my parents were children of the 1st Depression (another is coming I fear). They and their parents did not waste a thing and re-use everything. My dad is wearing shoes that are are 40 years old, having been re-soled. How many people do that anymore? My grand-mother took plastic sacks, cut them into strips tied together, and crocheted rugs out of them. I don't mind the thought of throwing away things that will rot peacefully into the ground, becoming compost. It's the nuclear waste we can't get rid of safely that has more worried.

14 years ago

No, but I can see it from here..."I foresee a not-too-distant future when Chinese guys complain about how every time their cheap Google phone breaks, they can't understand the tech-support guy because his Mandarin has a thick Minnesotan accent."http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-stein26-2008sep26,0,4649598.column

moeia 13 years, 12 months ago

What about people who eat organic foods? Do you think their efforts are worthless, as well? Or what about people who "go green" to help their own families, not necessarily the world as an entirety?

Bethany Jones 13 years, 12 months ago

ElBorak eats organic chicken every night for dinner.is jellus:-(

13 years, 12 months ago

Moeia: "Or what about people who 'go green' to help their own families, not necessarily the world as an entirety... Do you think their efforts are worthless, as well?" Not at all; I commend them. In fact, while I don't eat organic chicken every night, I'm something of a green nut and gardener myself. In addition to making wine from homegrown cherries, rhubarb, and pears this year (in addition to making honey and strawberry liqueur), I have canned homegrown tomatoes, jalepenos, horseradish, and pears, and made jelly from wild blackberries and my own grapes and pears*. I don't say that to brag, but for perspective. I suspect the "Victory Garden" will make a comeback in the next couple years, and I think we'll all be better for it.But I do look at it this way: if we are going to save the planet, it will be done by one person redeeming one acre at a time. If that seems like a lot of work, that's only because it is. What I can't stomach is corporate, cooperative "green," where people who live in mansions tell people in trailers they are destroying the planet, where people who make a lot of money pretending to be someone interesting try to overcome their own psychoses by jumping into something they do not understand and having their publicists declare it to us so we can admire them even more.It may seem rather boorish to say in polite company, but it is best that if we are going to do nothing meaningful, we should know that and accept it. The danger in hypocrisy is that the hypocrite eventually cannot see any reason to change his actions - he is convinced from his La-Z-Boy that he is doing all he can. It is far worse for us to convince ourselves we are already green than to just ignore the issue altogether. contrary to popular rumor.* I had a lot of pears this year though I've always found that slogan to represent the height of arrogance, there is a kernel of truth in it. We can use the earth far better for our own benefit. But without us, the Earth would get along just fine.

Bethany Jones 13 years, 12 months ago

I didn't disagree with Stein's article. I just said people at Tech Support wouldn't need to speak Mandarin to be understood :-).

Bethany Jones 14 years ago

"We already work harder and longer than anyone else in the world,"You've obviously never been to China ;-)

13 years, 12 months ago

Well, hopefully I'm wrong. It's a good idea to plant a tree or ten either way.

14 years ago

alm: "I'm just against wastefulness in general."That attitude is far more useful than all the anti-carbon concerts the world has ever seen.But I actually didn't write this piece to rip on environmentalists*, but because the parallels between the purely symbolic actions of the middle class environmentalist and our congress in regards to the bailout of Wall Street are too rich to ignore. We have convinced ourselves that we can do whatever we want and it will have no real impact as long as we take some offsetting symbolic action. A diet Coke with our Big Mac, $700 billion in ransom to a Wall Street regime that granted itself about $40 billion in bonuses last year alone even while they were sinking the economic ship by loading it down with more than $500 trillion (with a t) in derivatives. http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/derivatives-new-ticking-time-bomb/story.aspx?guid={B9E54A5D-4796-4D0D-AC9E-D9124B59D436}. We have $50 trillion in promised government benefits, $9 trillion in national debt ($100,000 for every family of 3) with plenty more on the way. We have trillions in mortgages to people who can't afford them, sliced up and leveraged and tucked securely into retirement funds all over the world. No country has been deemed too poor to lend to America - to the tune of $60 billion a month. And there will be payback. All accounts must be settled, either through default of hyperinflation.A $700b bailout is a sheet of recycled copier paper that tries to offset an overseas flight. Already, before it's even passed, the head of the world's largest bond fund is saying the banks will need another half trillion: http://www.cnbc.com/id/26885559 More debt is not the solution to too much debt. But hey, this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part. And we have elected the guys who can do it.* You can believe it or not. I have nothing against actual environmentalists, just faux ones. which made $1.7 billion on the nationalization of FNMA

Terry Bush 14 years ago

So the solution to the economic crises is ???? Personally, I don't think there is anyway out of this fire sale except to get good and scorched. I.e. America as we know it is going to have to die before any phoenix can rise (if able) from the ashes. I hope I am wrong.

13 years, 12 months ago

Part III - So what would El B do?Let me just say that I am not smart enough and do not believe anyone is smart enough to come up with a solution that will not cause pain. The question is, to whom should the pain be distributed?Paulson's plan seeks to allocate the pain among everyone, so maybe we can all handle a little bit of pain. But it is only pain that will change behavior, because making crappy burritos is fun and profitable. Therefore the one thing we must not do is separate the acts that created the pain from the pain. those who created the crappy burritos are going to have to eat them.That means that the whole idea of "keeping people in their houses" is faulty. Losing a house is not the end of the world. Hell, most people will move many times over the course of their lives. If they can't afford their house, it causes the most short-term pain but the least long-term pain if they lost the house and start over in a smaller one.It means that those who bought crappy burritos, tranches of crappy burritos, and wrote credit default swaps on crappy burritos are going to have to eat them. They gambled and lost, and no one else should pay their bills. That will cause more short-term pain, and unfortunately there is no long-term gain. They took the gain first, now they may have to put off retirement for a few years, may have to raise taxes or cut spending - in short, they are going to have to use the pain to change their behavior toward a greater consciousness of risk. I caught about 10 minutes of CNBC tonight and saw a commercial for a broker where you can open an account trading currencies. It is no different than betting on dogs. If the guy at the dog track has to pay his bills, then so must the financial speculator, even if he has lost everything he has.oops need a part IV

13 years, 12 months ago

So now we have created a 2-part problem: we have people with more debt than they can manage, and we have that debt sliced up and sold all over, and no one knows where the bad stuff is. It's like a tray of burritos with a bunch of crap baked in. It may be only a small part of the burrito, and you can't see it, but no one wants to eat them.This bad burrito is the part that Paulson's Plan 9 tried to relieve - if the government could take the bad debt off the companies' books, then they could then "trust" the other banks to not stick them with crap burritos as collateral. That's the confidence issue, and if you listen to him and Bernanke, they treat that problem as if it's the whole problem and if we can just solve that - if we can just convince people that the remaining burritos are fine - we can get back to making more burritos. If we do that we will have rewarded their bad behavior (a classic moral hazard), though perhaps that's a price we need to pay to save the economy - at least 205 Reps, the House and Senate leadership, and Bush, Bernanke, and Paulson think so.But I think the lack of confidence is an effect, not a cause, which is why I don't think the plan will help much less save the economy. The problem is that lack of confidence is caused by a real problem, the crap in the burritos in the first place, and the crap in the burritos is caused by the fact that people, businesses, and governments have taken on more debt than they can service. If the government buys those crappy burritos without solving the crap problem, in 6 months we'll just have more crappy burritos.There are only two ways to avoid crap in our burritos, either we are going to have to have less debt (and far higher interest rates) or we are going to have to have higher incomes so we can service that debt. I think we need a combination, but this is not really something we can choose, at least not without changing our collective behavior.To be honest, that's what we don't want to do. Obama aside, we don't want change, we want a government that takes away consequences. If a person spends too much, he goes bankrupt, and it's the same way with people or a nation. We are in the process of collective bankruptcy, and all the government plans thus far have been designed to deal with the consequence - default - and not the cause - debt we cannot service.Part III, solutions - or not - coming up.

13 years, 12 months ago

Final:It means that Wall Street is going to become a smaller part of our lives. For too long we have tried to run our economy by moving money around, betting on stocks* and bonds, taking part in economic activity that adds nothing to our wealth. Wall Street has made billions, trillions, from its own brand of finance. But me selling you stocks or you selling me options does not increase our collective wealth. We are going to have to start making things again, which will not be a problem because things that others make, that we buy on credit today, are going to be all but unavailable soon. Either they will be expensive and we won't be able to afford them (inflation) or they we be cheap and we will have no money for them (deflation), but when a nation goes bankrupt, it suddenly has to start producing for itself. We can and will.Finally, we are going to have to cut government to a level where it can pay its bills. That means we are leaving Iraq (hooray!) but it also means that retirees are going to get less in SocSec (boo!). If the government tries to save everyone, then it will fail, and that is not a fate I wish on anyone. That road does not end at the soup line but the guillotine.But the government, where it steps in - and it will - should concentrate on protecting those on the sidelines. The money markets need to remain open so it can borrow. Interest rates may need to rise to compensate for risk - but the financial infrastructure, the media, the schools, transportation, have got to be kept running. Banks can fail, But people whose deposits are insured need to be made whole, no matter what. Those with more money in banks than is insured should be charged for more insurance or lose it all if their bank fails.In short, our problem is that we cannot pay the debt we have collectively accumulated, and that debt is going to change our social landscape in ways I cannot predict. I hope it is peaceful, I know it will not be painless. If the government will retain its ability to protect bystanders and concentrate on helping those bystanders, I think we'll come out of the other end humbled but fine.If the government tries to buy every crappy burrito in the world at above market prices to avoid pain, then all bets are off. * Don't think I'm moralizing here, I do it every day. I even bought some Lehman Brothers today, if you can believe it, and I hope to sell it on the bounce tomorrow. Or the next day. But I accept that I may lose it all as well.

Neil Rasmussen 13 years, 12 months ago

Bill,Can you give us your take on the financial debacle currently racing round the country and the planet. I always have appreciated your clear concise analysis of financial matter.thanks

13 years, 12 months ago

Thanks, nrazz, I appreciate the confidence and hope I can live up to it.I actually think the problem is quite simple*, and that problem is too much debt fostered by an economy that does not create enough material wealth to support it. Debt can be good or it can be bad. It's good when it allows you to buy or create something of value that will create enough value to service the debt, and so raw measurements of debt can be misleading. So not all debt - what the markets call credit - is to be eschewed.But debt is a tricky beast, because it's always easier to buy something on credit than it is to save for it and then work it off, and this is especially the case with government and consumer debt. Over the past quarter century especially, we have transformed our economy into one that produces debt as its main product, and we use that debt for wars and programs and to get goods from overseas. What we needed was a cost to debt, either it needed to be rationed by price (high interest rates) or by simple unavailability some other way. But what we actually did - especially when Greenspan drove interest rates to 1% to avoid a 9/11 recession, was to change the rules and allow everone more debt than they could afford. Subprime, the process of putting people in houses they could not afford with payments that would strangle them if anything went wrong - and something eventually had to go wrong - was just one fuse, but it was not the bomb.Banks especially, but much of Wall Street as well, in order to make a profit with interest rates so low, leveraged that debt, sliced it up, sold it off. By doing so they created the equivalent of tying all the climbers on a mountain together. It can be a good idea, but when it fails, it kills them all. To further spread the risk, they create all manner of "derivatives," bets really, on defaults and interest rates, and kept some and sold more all over the place. The problem was, because a bond you might buy now had little pieces of a lot of mortgages, you were protected from any one going bad, but you also did not know what was in it. That will become important in part II* not easily solved, but simple to understand. we have to get around the character limit somehow.

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