Northern Advocate Column

It’s hard not to be hypocrite

11 June 2016

I’m a hypocrite. Perhaps for many things, but in this case for flying to Sydney on a working holiday with my partner. God knows how much carbon our plane jettisoned into the skies above the Tasman Sea.

As much as I know we have to collectively reduce carbon emissions, I’m also an individual with personal desires and wishes. I like to have new experiences and catchup with friends who live far away. Travel is one of the modern world’s great pleasures. Unfortunately one that’s in contradiction with a more localised and simpler way of life that my rational brain knows we have to move towards.

The grim mathematics of energy use and dissipation in the earth’s atmosphere is frightening. If we burn all remaining reserves of fossil fuels, or even most of them, the earth will be uninhabitable for humans. This is our version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

I’m not convinced, however, that scary tales of the apocalypse or eternal damnation in hell were ever a big influence on behaviour. Fear of being shunned and shamed by friends, families and your community is far more powerful. That and internalised guilt, when you know you’ve strayed from the dominant morality of the culture you live in. Is it guilt I feel at taking a trip in a plane to another country? There’s an uneasiness to my holiday fun. Living in a global community facing a global problem of excess energy use by a minority seeps into my sense of self.

Is our morality changing then? A shifting morality is going to create anxiety and resentment, plus disbelief and a refusal to budge. There will be leaders of change and there will be laggers, and most of us somewhere in between.

Simplifying my life and renouncing excessive materialism is something I can aim for, but the political path of change is, for me, still concealed in a dense smog. Never-the-less, some good things are happening. Coal-fired power stations are being destroyed in China. Solar power is growing in use. And I keep coming back to one thing I know must happen, from which I think so much more about our lives will change, which is the transformation of the way we produce food. A local and organic small-scale agriculture that integrates tree crops with animal husbandry will mean less fossil fuels are burnt, and crucially, carbon will be taken out of the air and sequestered in organic material. It has to be the future, and soon. 

Tomorrow I’m going to buy some fruit and nut trees and offer them to anyone in Hikurangi who wants them. This will be my version of the carbon credits scheme, currently failing. I’m prepared to offset my air travel, but I want to see real trees for my money. Will this absolve my sense of guilt? Probably not. Is it a small step in the right direction? I think so. I’m still a hypocrite, but I’d rather be a hypocrite than a cynic. British environmentalist George Monbiot recently wrote that hypocrisy “is the gap between your aspirations and your actions… the alternative to hypocrisy isn’t moral purity (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.”

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