Thursday, May 21, 2015

Floating Hypocrisy?

Last week there was a big protest in Seattle of some 500-odd kayakers surrounding an oil rig of Shell's that is destined for the Arctic; this was the result of President Obama giving the go ahead to Shell to start doing deep water drilling off the coast.

Disappointing at best, considering that a) the US is already the number one oil producer these days, b) oil is already at quite-low prices, meaning that large investments in both real capital, political capital, and environmental risk have a higher likelihood of not paying off, and c) despite the rhetoric that Obama has employed about the effects of environmental degradation and increased global warming associated with non-renewable resources he went ahead and allowed this to happen, without EVER calling for any kind of concept of energy conservation nor being a true visionary, man-on-the-moon style leader on increasing renewables in this country.  I could go on and on about this, but Eugene Robinson nailed it well here and that's not the point of this post.

So what is the point? Earlier this week I saw a facebook post by someone who referred to a picture of the protesters and said "and look!  Their kayaks are MADE OF PETROLEUM!"  To which someone else replied "yeah, and they probably all drove there in their gas-guzzling SUV's too!"  to which some fairly progressive-minded thinkers thought "yeah, that's pretty hypocritical; paddling a plastic boat to decry the extraction of the raw material necessary to make their plastic boats!"  And of course, pictures of a determined, righteous protester like this:
who is clearly oblivious to the irony of having sHell NO" on her plastic paddle blade contributes to the perception of hypocrisy.  

But does hypocrisy preclude activism?  There is no doubt that yes, boats are made of plastic, and yes those protesting recreators (or is that recreating protesters?) did drive there in their cars, sucking down gas because electric cars don't have the range for them to drive all over hell and yonder for their pristine rivers and lakes and Smart Cars don't have roof rack space.  So yes, they are part of the problem, but....we are ALL part of the problem!  Any human being in a developed nation is a resource-suck and a big one:  the average North American consumes ten times that of a African.  Yes, a kayak is conspicuous consumption:

But living is conspicuous consumption!   

So the question is this:  does being part of the problem preclude being part of the solution?  I don't think so.  It strikes me as awfully smug form someone to sit in front of a screen and sneer at environmental activists who "should" be paddling canoes made from Douglas firs that they towed from the forests to the sea behind their bikes (eating moss for sustenance on the way) for their passion to try to stop the endangerment of pristine Arctic waters and nothing themselves, except continue to add to the problem.  

It begs the question:  is hypocrisy worse than apathy?  I think not; at least the former manifests itself in action; the latter is just....lame.  

There is always the opportunity for a bit of self-reflection, habit-reforming, and lifestyle-changing, and hopefully some of those folks in Seattle looked down from the oil rig to the bow of their boats and maybe gave a bit of thought to their own culpability in what was going down.  

Ironically, the day after I saw that exchange, a pipeline blew a hole in Santa Barbara, a beautiful place I used to live and home to tons of sea life.   And 26 years after the devastating Exxon Valdez
spill and a few years after the Deepwater Horizon accident there is not any more assurance that oil extraction/transportation is any safer than it used to be.  

So if you find yourself in an opportunity to be an activist to try to affect some positive change (and if you are into anything, there is opportunity for activism in it!), don't let the concept of "hypocrisy" that will invariably be brought up deter you from being part of the solution.

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