An End To Environmentalist Finger-Pointing

An End To Environmentalist Finger-Pointing

Becksta's recent article touches on an issue I've been thinking about for a while. There are two trends in the environmental movement which are going to have to stop if we want them to succeed. And we do want the environmental movement to succeed, right? Save the planet? We're all on board with this.

But what if the only way to save the planet was to stop shaking your finger at people who are doing the "wrong" thing? I don't half suspect that a lot of people would quietly drift out of the movement if we suddenly banned "feeling morally superior."

I talk to a lot of different kinds of people in the course of a day. And here's the thing we all have in common: we're all trying hard to do the right thing. Could we try harder? Sure. There is always room for improvement. And that's an issue that we should address with ourselves before we start pointing the finger at others.

For example, someone recently chastised Becksta for flushing a Kleenex instead of throwing it away in the trash. Well, first of all, it's not immediately apparent that sending it to the landfill - where it won't decompose - is actually a better choice than flushing it. Issues are never as clear cut as we like to make them out sometimes. Perhaps the best option would be to drop the Kleenex in the toilet and then leave it there to be flushed with the next, shall we say, "deposit."

Personally, I compost my Kleenex. But that's a luxury that's available to me as someone living in a rural area with access to a compost pile. It certainly doesn't mean that I'm a better person for it. I'll be honest with you: sometimes I don't recycle stuff. I live miles away from the nearest curb-side pickup, so I have to store all my recyclables and haul them to the dump and sort them and walk up and down the ladder beside the huge bins myself.

So sometimes, if I just have one oddball recyclable item? I throw it away.

We all have room for improvement.

The other related trend that's disturbingly popular is what I've heard dubbed "hair shirt environmentalism." Meaning that the more you suffer, the better it is for the environment. A rational environmentalist will suggest you turn your AC down five degrees to save energy. A hair shirt environmentalist will suggest you turn it off altogether. The message is "I suffer more, because I care more."

For one thing, that's not going to lure people to our cause. No one wants to hear they have to suffer. Given the choice between suffering and wasting resources, most people (clearly) will choose to waste resources. Hair shirt environmentalism is just snobbery by a different name, and it actively repels people while distracting efforts to make real change.

Solar panels, for example, often get lost in the discussion about adjusting your thermostat. Why not just install solar panels? Then you can crank your AC as high as you like, for free! Everybody wins!

So the next time you feel yourself about to pass judgment on someone else's actions, do us all a favor, and check yourself.

Photo credit: Flickr/a2gemma