• Richard

On Common Criticisms (Part 1)

It seems that us folk, who care about the environment, are the subject of frequent criticism. Most of it entirely unfair. This occurs in the media as well as in day-to-day life. Certainly, for now, it feels like one is swimming 'against the current' much of the time. Whether given the label of environmentalist, conservationist, "greenie", tree hugger, obstructionist, "dreamer" or many more unsavoury variations, it seems we are frequently under attack. There are clearly extremists on all sides on most issues; these are not whom I refer to here. It remains the case, environmentalists are maligned widely and on many fronts. Let's address some of the finger pointing head-on.

Conservationist is not a dirty word

How the term "conservationist" took on a negative aura is a quite bemusing phenomenon. It's hard to see why there should be anything radical about conserving the parts of the natural world we have left. All species have an intrinsic right to life, but clearly even individuals focused solely on the homo sapien ought to recognise that a future without the myriad of amazing, wonderful creatures on our planet would be one that impoverishes future generations.

On a side note, it strikes us as odd that few conservatives, relatively speaking, are also conservationists. The root "conserve" is in the name. Of course, this is usually taken to mean traditionalist; a default position to maintain the status quo, resisting abrupt change. Why on earth does this not involve conserving the beaches, streams, forests etc. as conservatives experienced them growing up?

Animals being "more important" than people is a false argument

This is an accusation we hear a lot. "You care more about koalas than you care about people!", for instance. On its face, this is patently absurd. In the Australian context, particularly when you consider the extent of urban sprawl and the staggering amount of deforestation that has taken place, we are fighting for the last remaining, small fragments of living space available to the species we claim to care about. This is akin to eating 7/8ths of a cake and then arguing about how the final portion out to be distributed. It's utter nonsense. Take another example: efforts to save whales. Over the past couple of centuries, mankind managed to almost exterminate the majestic Blue Whale - estimates are around 98% plus. Efforts to protect these species -- even if this means adjustments in fishing practices for example -- are especially justifiable given the damage we have done to the largest animal to ever exist. Per a previous blog post, the same level of horror was inflicted on the Mountain Gorilla. How is working to preserve the very few remaining numbers at all unreasonable?

Accusing environmentalists as being anti-progress misses the point

This argument is often put forward by the top 1% in the social hierarchy along with vested interests. Clearly, greed comes with an appetite that can never be sated. It is a line rolled out where, for instance, protecting rare forest would impact on the company bottom line. But, which is more valuable, really - short term profits in the form of dividends to shareholders, or protecting an irreplaceable natural resource?

At the public policy level, such arguments might be leveled at conservationists when a proposed new mine is protested against with vigour and tenacity. If such a project does not proceed (it must be noted that, due to increasing automation, very few jobs are created by mines nowadays), there will be an impact on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the nation. That is true. GDP growth has become the holy grail for nations. However, does this really represent progress? Does it truly promote the well-being of people, the health of natural systems, social cohesion and so forth? (It does not.) To take an unpleasant, but accurate example, a massive car accident is great for GDP. There are emergency services involved, ongoing medical services, police, possibly legal action ... perhaps someone even died. This will require funeral services. Look at all the services generated. It's terrific for the GDP!

We need to re-examine what it means to progress as a civilisation. There have been some efforts in this direction, such as the World Happiness Index.

No one is perfect: expecting environmentalists to be is just mean-spiritedness

Let's get one thing straight: are there hypocrites among the "green" community? Obviously. Ask the accuser to name one broad community or movement where there are none and you will be greeted with a blank stare. Hypocrites need to be pointed out, wherever they occur. But there's a difference between this -- an intrinsic falseness; being two-faced, dishonest; not caring about the cause/issue or even making a sincere effort -- and someone who isn't perfect.

Not every environmentalist can afford an electric car (even if they can, clearly it's manufacturing has had environmental impacts), or take public transport to work, or use a bicycle to go everywhere. Not everyone can buy organics/bio-dynamics exclusively. Undoubtedly many still eat meat. Their smartphone probably contains rare-earth metals that were obtained in a problematic fashion. And, by breathing, we expel carbon dioxide, thereby contributing to climate change. Clearly the last is absurd, but that's the point.

There's a statement of general principle (aphorism, actually) loosely attributed to Voltaire, that states "Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good." We couldn't put it better if we had a decade worth of meetings. The point is we are trying, every day in every way, to lighten or ecological footprint and do our very best for the health of the planet and, by extension, true well-being of people. An ill thought-out criticism for naysayers that we aren't perfect is not even the shadow of a valid point.

We don't live in a fantasy land, but at least we travel, together, along the path heading in that direction.

To be continued ...

Have you had to respond to any other criticisms? How have you responded? Please let us know in the comments.