I simply had to copy and paste this column from the National Post (March 2, 2007). It’s a very funny send-up of the two most iconic environmentalists in the USA and Canada. Enjoy.
Two kinds of revolutionaries
In the past few days, the leading environmentalist figures in both Canada and the United States have come under fire for making hypocritical lifestyle choices. On Feb. 22, the Winnipeg Sun’s Tom Brodbeck pitched a memorable fit at David Suzuki in the midst of a crosscountry promotionaljunk et, raising questions about his eight-person entourage and the diesel-powered bus in which they ride. Suzuki’s people parried by observing that the team buys offsetting carbon credits from a Swiss company that funds green power projects in the Third World. Left unsaid was that while the team may be accounting in good faith for every step of its own travel, it is doing nothing to offset the ecological costs incurred by the hundreds of people who are driving across town to genuflect at Suzuki’s feet. In the Internet era, there is no reason he should ever have to leave his house to give a speech in person, let alone travel across a continent to bask in the adoration of foulhippies and pretty undergraduates.
AlG ore attempted a similar defence this week when a conservative thinktank in Tennessee published information about the eye-popping electricity consumption in his Nashville mansion. And in his case, it’s even thinner. The new Oscar winner participates in a green power program offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority, but he joined it only two months ago. And unlike Suzuki, he receives credit from the TVA for a Memphis plant that burns natural gas, on the dodgy theory that it’s greener than coal (i.e., the worst possible alternative).
The whole spectacle is inherently quite galling to those of us who represent the oldest species of environmentalism: being cheap. I’m writing these lines in a sweater and woollen socks because the temperature in my home is never allowed to rise very far above 17 C. As always, my office is sparsely lit, and these days the light’s being supplied by those newfangled energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps. Readers can guess I don’t take these steps because of my “social consciousness”; if I thought there were any in me, I’d ask to have it surgically removed. I take them because electricity is expensive. Actually, when it comes to the fluorescent bulbs, the reason isn’t even that noble — it’s because I don’t have to change the damn things so often. No one saves energy like a lazy person.
What’s interesting to me about this is that I’m in very much the same business as Suzuki and Gore — the business of promoting ideas. On the whole, they’re much more effective at it, but then, they live much more comfortably than I do too. Should this be held against them, considering that they’re preaching a doctrine that combines asceticism for the middle class and pricey carbon offsets for themselves?
There are pretty much two main models of behaviour open to someone who wants to be the leader of a revolutionary socialmovement. One is the religious modelof sainthood or messiahship: setting a personale xample by being more straitlaced, holy and visibly committed than one’s neighbours. And one is the vanguard modelpioneered by Lenin: regarding oneself as part of a professional advocacy clique that cannot afford to be hindered by tight moral strictures, or to be too concerned with hypocrisy, until the New Jerusalem is achieved for everybody.
Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Few were in a position to quarrel with someone like Francis of Assisi, who sacrificed riches for a life of unbelievable misery because he took the Gospel at face value. But the truth of an idea or theory does not logically depend on the consistency of those who espouse it, and if one’s goalis merely to dispel opposition rather than compel true belief, it is perhaps more practical not to saddle oneself with private disadvantages, especially in an age of mass media. In spite of St. Francis, the Pope’s crozier is still made of silver, not reeds. And despite all the scorn rightly heaped upon the comfortable, customized dachas that Lenin and his successors provided for themselves, there is strong evidence that such luxuries of leadership helped them maintain a tougher work schedule.
It cannot be news that the man who rode around in Air Force Two for eight years does not make a particularly good example when it comes to reducing the human footprint on the environment. As for David Suzuki, no one seems to think it should be held against him that he spent decades spreading nonsense about overpopulation and ended up not only being factually wrong but somehow siring five children along the way. Suzuki and Gore are part of the vanguard, and on the vanguard principle, one’s status is determined by the kind of society one says one is trying to create, not by the life one lives. The problem, of course, is that any vanguard attracts narcissists, has a tendency to grow out of controland become paranoid about criticism, and eventually becomes preoccupied with preserving its privileges rather than regarding them as a means to an end.
But surely there’s no danger of that?