The deluded environmentalist

I’m not an environmentalist.

“Wait, don’t you drive a truck on vegetable oilAnd aren’t you always going off about sustainability? And don’t you have a Master’s degree in Environment & Management?”

Yes to all three, and more. I co-chair a sustainability minded non-profit in Cochrane, bought a bunch of veggies at the farmer’s market this morning, and generally try and live a conscientious lifestyle.

I’ll tell you why I’m not an environmentalist (anymore). It’s because I live in North America, specifically in Alberta, near the capital of oil country (Calgary). I can’t be an environmentalist. The impact of even my most conscientious lifestyle on the planet still greatly exceeds that of probably 80-90% of the world’s population (I’m making up that stat, because it doesn’t really matter). How can I claim to be an environmentalist? What does that even look like in today’s 100mph consumer culture? A new prius? Curbside recycling? Driving a veggie oil truck like it’s my personal carbon offset so that I feel less guilty about taking a holiday to Hawaii?

It’s this very act of rationalizing our actions, offsetting the bad with the image of the good, that feeds our delusional picture of environmentalism. Like the cartoon above so aptly illustrates, our collective conscience is all to easily soothed by the placards of modern environmentalism. 3R’s? Yes please (except for the first two, they’re pretty inconvenient). Ban plastic bags? You betcha! (Except when I forget the cloth ones…)

Stop buying cheap consumer goods transported halfway around the world, used once and then tossed into a landfill? Uhh…hang on a sec.

Stop draining wetlands for those suburbs? Not so fast big guy…I have to put my starter castle somewhere!

Stop bottom trawling the ocean to get every last fish? But I really don’t want to pay more for my canned tuna…

I’ve got nothing against (most) environmentalists. Hell, I used to be one. But if we think that the planetary crisis’ of our time is going to be solved by token acts of conscientiousness, we’re seriously deluded.

And delusion’s a problem, because it maintains for us a belief that the world is the way we want it to be, instead of the way that it is.  It allows us to feel great about recycling our pop cans, while allowing us to turn a blind eye to our SUV’s and iPads. Add a little rationalization (my truck’s not as big as THAT GUY’s) and you’ve got a pretty dangerous combination.

I’m picking on environmentalists in this post, but the same could be said for philanthropy, religion, governance, education, finance…the list of societal systems afflicted by the threat of rational delusion is long.

And a little delusion goes a long way, so we’ll hang on tight.



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