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Opinion: Don’t Claim to be Green, if you’re "Living the Dream"

If you have arrived at this blog post, dear reader, you almost surely identify as an environmentalist, conservationist, or the like. That is a wonderful thing - it really is. We are part of a growing, global community that cares for the planet and knows we need to collectively find a true path to sustainability.

There is a harsh truth that ought to be recognised, however. I submit that one cannot sincerely identify with any of these value systems if one lives a life profligacy; even an upper-middle class level of consumption as we know it in the west today is inherently incompatible with a sincere concern for the state of our planet.

Yet, in my estimation, far too many delude themselves into thinking they can have their cake and eat it too.

I refer here not to a reasonable level of comfort, security and enjoyment that comes with a full life. But if one doesn't actively exercise restraint in the consumption of goods and services (more than just what's financially possible), then - there’s no way around it - that's a kind of hypocrisy. It’s signalling a set of values without living by them. A humble life rejecting materialism is the only way to be ethically consistent. (The things that make life worthwhile can’t be bought anyway.)

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed." - Mahatma Gandhi

In short, profligacy and caring for the world around us just doesn't go together. There are over 7.5 billion of us, with projections showing Earth's population will likely exceed 10 billion in the next several decades. Overpopulation is suffocating us as well as the natural world, slowly but surely. Having many children, therefore, is morally questionable.

The more you consume, the greater your ecological footprint. If you have a large home (larger than you need), you can't reasonably claim to “practice what you preach”. Is it responsible to drive a large car like an SUV because it's fashionable, not out of necessity? Is it ethical to replace your smartphone year after year, not because it's broken but because there's a flashy new model? Consider other areas of consumption: high-end, wasteful, meat-rich meals; a diet high in dairy products; holidays with an enormous carbon footprint; investments prioritising profitability over sustainability, and so on. To the extent an individual lives in this way, I would question their sincerity.

The intention here is not to shame anyone. But we can’t avoid the ethical tension between the lifestyle society conditions us to desire and environmental imperatives. To use an overused expression nowadays - though I believe it is particularly relevant in this case - my assertion is that far too many people engage in virtue signalling (expressing values with the primary purpose of maintaining or enhancing standing in a social group) on sustainability issues. Only, we are too “polite” to point out the obvious contradictions.

It has been said that the things you own end up owning you. There's much to be said for simplifying your life; consider what you truly need in your life for yourself and your family's well-being. If we refuse to recognise that hyper-materialism is simply wrong, we're ethically confused in the best case and just plainly uncaring in the worst. One thing is for sure: you can't claim to be a friend of the planet.

The views expressed are my own - no one else's. Make of them what you will.


6th May 2018


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