Embracing Hypocrisy To Find A Way Forward On Climate Change

 In Climate Change
Photo by Alessia Rossi

Last week I gave up a diet I had been trying to follow for the last few months. I gave up because I tended to gorge myself on food and drink at weekends and, as such, had come to the conclusion that I was deluding myself if I thought that I had any chance of losing some weight. Unless I committed 100 percent to a concerted weight loss programme, there seemed little point in my doing anything to reduce my calorific intake. I was being a hypocrite if I thought I could continue to stuff my face and lose weight.

Yesterday I was standing in the queue at my local fish and chip shop, waiting to order a large portion of chips, when I had an epiphany – well, more of a realisation. Despite eating and drinking lots at weekends I could still, over time, lose some weight if I reduced my overall consumption. I paid for my chips and walked home. My lapsed diet made me think about the way we approach environmental crises and, specifically, how we view the issue of climate change. It also made me think about the reasons why, over the last few years, I had gone from being a fairly radical environmentalist to a fairly avaricious consumer.

When I lived in Australia, surrounded by some of Earth’s most stunning scenery, there was a real point to my environmentalism. I lived in a beautiful part of the world and I wanted it to stay that way. Beauty, or at least my aesthetic interpretation of ‘wild’ spaces, motivated me to commit to my environmental beliefs (almost) 100 percent. In Australia, I had a lifestyle that allowed me to practise what I preached and there was little contradiction between the way I lived and the values I held – they were largely synonymous. There was no hypocrisy in my life (other than perhaps a love for handcrafted shoes from Northampton – a fetish I seem unable to shirk).

On my return to the UK, I underwent a transition of sorts. I unwillingly became part of a system that held very little meaning for me; indeed, it was alien. Within a few years I had a house, a job and a 3-hour commute each day. I was living a life I had vowed never to live – a ‘normal’ one. As a ‘normal’ person, the environmentalism that had underpinned every aspect of my life started to lose its hold on me. As with my lapsed diet, I began to question the reasons why I would change my behaviour on environmental grounds if I could not commit to my environmentalism 100 percent.


I became a hypocrite: I preached about ‘saving the world’ yet I took very few actions that would help society achieve my lofty aims. I use the label ‘hypocrite’ here rather loosely, and perhaps, incorrectly. I use it to refer to a person who does not practise what they preach as opposed to the ‘correct’ definition, which is a person who pretends to have a belief or view that they do not actually hold and, as such, is a liar. Anyway, back to hypocrisy and environmentalism.

I found that the day-to-day pressures of simply existing in the UK meant that my environmental beliefs were, in a sense, less valid – almost pointless. I existed in a world where people did not seem to care and, as a result, I too started not to care. The most worrying thing was that I started to understand why people did not take action to address issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, or the pollution of oceans and skies. It was simple; most people did not have the time or space in their busy lives and minds to act on these issues.

Over time, I became like many other people – too tired to act. I still cared but this hope for a better future did not translate into action. There was no will, only hope, and this was because deep down I started to believe that my individual actions could do nothing to avert catastrophic climate change or save the golden toad from extinction. I lived in this ‘haze’ for a couple of years. I still preached about the environment – the need to protect it and all that – but my words were hollow because they were not backed by actions.

Then, one day, as I was about to board a plane to some distant destination to give a talk about the demise of the planet, I realised that my hypocrisy was not such a bad thing. Not a good thing, but definitely not a bad thing. The fact is, I was getting on that plane because I cared. I know it sounds hypocritical but it is true!

I think many people are hypocritical environmentalists. They care about the state of the planet but they are living in societies that do not allow this environmentalism to manifest as action. Those who care about climate change, but do not take action, should embrace their hypocrisy and not beat themselves up too much. In our market-driven, growth-obsessed economies, we have little choice but to be hypocrites. It is, after all, extremely difficult for most people to operate outside the system, even if they would like to.

Herein lays the challenge! How do we go about changing the system so that we automatically becoming activists rather than hypocrites? Of course this is an extremely difficult question to answer. However, the change will begin if the values that underpin our societies change. If we can (re)connect with nature then I think things will begin to change ‘naturally’. If we all had more aesthetically pleasing and wild places in which to sit, contemplate, and ponder the meaning of life, we would be more motivated to protect these areas. This protection will yield prosperity, love, meaning and a gentler way of living that is sustainable for all.

The real tragedy of the current ecological crisis is that the more we destroy the environment, the less connected we are to nature and the less importance we attach to the very systems and processes that make life on Earth possible. At present, we have a globalised political and economic system which promises a world of eternal growth, untold riches and prosperity for all. The lure of riches gives people a myopic view. The meaning of life becomes the domain of economists and so nature becomes a mere commodity. As a commodity, nature’s value is set by those who will exploit it for short-term economic gain.


We need to wrestle the environment back from the economists and politicians and give it a new voice – a voice that can be heard by all, a voice that has meaning to all and a voice that speaks of a future where nature is valued not just for the ecosystem services it provides to humans. If we are to motivate people to move from hypocrisy to action we need a new way of seeing the world and a new way of engaging with, and not destroying, nature. This will only be achieved if we ensure there is still nature to enjoy in all parts of the world. If we continue down the current development path, based on a very narrow Western conception of growth, there will be no space for ‘wild’ nature. All that will remain is a semblance, or vestige, of nature – a ravaged ‘space’ that does little to stir the heart or soul and, as such, continues to be destroyed as it does not merit protection.

Unless there is something worth protecting, people will remain hypocrites rather than activists. Last week I gave up my diet because I thought it was pointless trying to follow it unless I was 100 percent committed. I gave up my environmentalism a number of years ago because I could not commit to it 100 percent. Giving up on both these endeavours was a mistake and was based on a misguided line of reasoning. Now that I have embraced my hypocrisy, I feel empowered once again.

Mike Edwards


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