Climate laggards demand perfection from activists or take advantage of it to cry hypocrisy. But until the structural challenges of the climate emergency are addressed, it is impossible for individuals to be fully coherent.
In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult for opponents of climate action to maintain a position of outright denial.
Some do, but in a context where, as Mark Lynas articulatedit is likely that there is over 99% consensus that human-caused climate change is happening, many have gone to the politics of delay.
At this point, climate delay is a familiar approach for opponents of action. For the “latecomers”, making meaningful changes would simply be “too expensive”.
An argument that is easily countered by facts about the devastating environmental, social and economic cost of climate breakdown. But the policy of denial and delay was never based on rationality or reasonableness. This is the ultimate in short-termism.
Against a backdrop of scientific consensus, pervasive climate activism, and regular reminders from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the peril facing humanity, there is one tactic that laggards, deniers and opponents of the action love to use: charge hypocrisy.
For those who want to use it, touting hypocrisy is an easy-to-use argument. It’s the ‘how can you be taken seriously in the climate while you’re flying?!’ argument. Or is it Piers Morgan attacking George Monbiot’s position on the need to reduce his meat consumption because he was seen carrying leather shoes and a leather strap.
It’s a simple tactic. It demands perfection from those who demand and strive for change. It also conveniently individualizes a set of fundamentally structural problems. He sidesteps the arguments made and instead insists that the person making them should not be trusted or listened to because they are a shameless hypocrite.
But here’s the thing: we all live and operate in an imperfect world. The nature of our economic and social systems means that it is almost impossible not to engage in certain high-carbon activities.
A small number of people are deciding to live off the grid and as close to the earth as possible, which is great, but if you want to bring about change and push for real structural solutions, you need to be more actively part of society by general.
Anyone who argues for leaving fossil fuels in the ground or cutting meat consumption — or for that matter any number of other critical facets of tackling the climate emergency — will be contradictory at some point. But the fact that someone flies twice a year does not detract from the veracity of his arguments.