Hypocrisy is an ugly vice. And a revealing one. Normally it just reveals that people who make haughty demands of their fellows overestimate what even their own flesh is capable of especially in the direction of self-denial. But climate hypocrisy casts an especially sickly light on what alternative energy is not capable of.
When rich people who claim to believe the oceans are rising inexorably buy fancy properties by the sea, like the clickbait my browser recently dangled before me in a list of “49 celebrities who own private islands: which celeb island is your vacation dream?” it’s just boring everyday hypocrisy. As for boring everyday envy, well, why get distracted? I’m busy denouncing the the “qu’ils mangent de la brioche quality” in the islands that include resorts charging $21,000 a night or more. Talk about unsustainability.
Ditto Sir Mick Jagger, along with his “The Burnt Orange Heresy” co-star Donald Sutherland, trendily supporting climate protestors who took over the red carpet at the Venice Film festival. Given his lifetime and indeed current carbon footprint, has he no shame? Sorry. Silly question.
At least Meghan Markle managed to avoid humdrum hypocrisy when she recently flew steerage to the U.S. Open to watch her “close friend” Serena Williams after she and Prince Harry got the knucklebone shampoo for flying about on private jets including to Google’s ultra-posh celebrity save-the-planet-fest while promising just two kids to save the planet. (Vacationing via Elton John’s jet complete with luxury offsets didn’t help.) And Father Raymond J. de Souza is right to ask why the problems preoccupying the smart set have changed dramatically over the last 50 years or more, but the solution of having fewer children never has. Perhaps, to borrow a phrase from Samuel Johnson, no one is a hypocrite in their obsessions and they really don’t like people. But Greta Thunberg got herself into the much deeper kind of hypocrisy when she ostentatiously took a “carbon-neutral” high-end racing yacht across the Atlantic to yet another climate confab while her boat crew made multiple transatlantic flights. See, there wasn’t any other way to get there.
Of course, as with the U.S. Open, there were ways not to get there. (Or to attend remotely, as Prince Charles once did as a hologram to save carbon.) It’s not obvious what new thing gets said at the dozens of major climate conferences attended by the Orlando Blooms and Katy Perrys of this world. And if we had no luxury yachts, we might get by. But here is where the story really starts.
You see, there are a lot of things we can’t not do. Like heat our homes, especially in a Canadian winter. Cook our food, or most of it. And carry things about including the bricks and timber our homes are made from, and the food we eat. Exploring this problem on Watt’s Up With That? Steve Goreham rightly called modern transportation “a miracle under attack”.
The problem isn’t just that it took far longer to travel by ox-cart than by car and your backside hurt a lot more when you arrived if you even did. It’s that, as Goreham pointed out, total international merchandise trade in 1900 was only US$10 billion (constant US dollars) but by 2000 it had increased almost 2000 times at $19.7 trillion. And most was carried by some form of refined petroleum.
The engines are far cleaner than they once were. We might be emitting less real pollution, volatile organics, NOx etc. carrying that $19.7 trillion than carrying the $10 billion in coal-powered trains and ships. Indeed, he notes, American vehicles now give off about 1% of the common pollutants they did as recently as the first Trudeau era. But what of the deadly new “pollution” known as carbon dioxide?
There’s the rub. Because in the old slogan, “If you have it, a truck brought it.” To eliminate carbon-based fuels from our lives doesn’t just mean having to Skype Serena Williams to say “Who was that Canadian kid?” It means emptying your living room and indeed your fridge, if any, and eating stale turnips all winter. Or running out in mid-January. It means giving up everything important to you.
This point was underlined, in red-face, when Extinction Rebellion zealots messing with traffic in Manchester, England were caught running a diesel generator to power their protest because solar costs too much. “It’s something we really do regret having to use and we feel like hypocrites” said one.
OK. Why do you feel like hypocrites? After all, as you said, “We were desperate to get a solar panel specially made for the demonstrations but it would have cost us £8,000.” No shame in using power you can afford, is there?
Where they should have felt like hypocrites was in insisting that solar was affordable when it’s not. Instead they apparently felt like paranoids. He went on “We’re part of a system that has made it incredibly difficult to use solar panels for these sorts of events and we feel like we’ve been forced to have to use the diesel generator.”
Ah. It’s a plot by them. That explains everything. And nothing.
These people, busy shutting down the hated “system” that overprices solar panels, or at least bothering people trying to buy groceries in Manchester, needed power in a hurry so they reached for fossil fuel because it works. Which makes it especially ironic that one of Extinction Rebellion’s big Manchester banners said “CLIMATE ACTION NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE”.
How about clarity before it’s too late? You could say we must give up power that works because otherwise the planet gets it. But don’t tell us, or yell at us, that we don’t have to give up power if we give up petroleum then plug in the diesel. When you need power in a hurry, to run your car, refrigerate vital medicines, or annoy shoppers, you reach for petroleum products. Because getting rid of them doesn’t just mean no more facetime with Elton or Serena. It means no more cars, fridges or megaphones.
The last sounds pretty good. But the others are intolerable. And that’s no lie.