This week thousands of people have engaged in peaceful protests to highlight the urgent need to address climate change, and their actions combined with David Attenborough’s documentary on Thursday and the persistence of teen activist Greta Thunberg, have put the climate emergency firmly on the news agenda. Responses to the protests have varied, ranging from enthusiastic support to the inevitable trolling, but the organisers Extinction Rebellion suggest that the media coverage has been mixed but fairly positive.
One of the more persistent criticisms has been one of hypocrisy, that those who are campaigning are not living by the values they espouse. This criticism was not helped by Dame Emma Thompson flying a reported 5400 miles to join the protest. While wholeheartedly supporting the protests, I struggled to understand her rationale, but in our age where celebrity is power and guarantees a headline, her decision may have been the right one.
As a Christian, I tend to live by the axiom “Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.” I am in no position to judge Dame Emma. I'm aware that there are aspects of my own life that wouldn’t stand up to much “Green” scrutiny. I am a committed non-flyer, buy most of my clothes second hand and have reduced my consumption of lamb and beef to almost nothing, but I am far too fond of Diet Coke (I know, I know) and hot baths (I have a chronic pain condition and a bath helps) to say I live a “Green lifestyle”. I drive a van, because my husband is disabled, we need to get the wheelchair in and we can’t afford two cars (and would two cars be “greener” anyway?). Public transport is not sufficiently frequent or available in rural North Yorkshire to make that a viable option on a daily basis.
I know I use far too much carbon, but sometimes I haven’t got the time or effort to research, plan, and enact the things that will make the difference. This is because I have to keep on living, working and caring about other things and other people. It does make me feel guilty and I long to be carbon neutral. I have made a decision to pay for the planting of mangroves but I’m not sure this really lets me off the hook.
It would be easy to accuse me of being a hypocrite. I blog about environmental issues, I make speeches, my Church is an Eco-Church, we mentor other churches, we run training days, (although our area of specialism is bio-diversity not carbon-reduction) but just because I can’t live up to my ideals, just because the structure of the world in which I live makes it so hard, doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in those ideals. It just means that I’m human and not perfect.
Christians have long faced accusations of hypocrisy, people saying they don’t come to Church because they look at the people who do and find them wanting. They fail to understand that simply because the ideals we espouse are difficult to live up to doesn’t mean they aren’t great ideals to aspire to. When people say “I can’t be a Christian because they are all hypocrites,” my standard response is “join us -one more won’t make any difference.” Trying to live by Christ’s values, and sometimes ( even frequently?) failing, receiving forgiveness and trying again is, in my book, preferable to not trying at all.
Many of those protesting this week have made costly lifestyle choices which minimise their impact on the environment. For them accusations of hypocracy must sting. Others, like Emma Thompson, will be making compromises between their ideals and other pressures in their lives, but just because people don’t always practice what they preach doesn’t mean we should stop listening to their plea for action. Especially when they are right.
Despite failing to live up to my “Green” ideals, I still want action from my government, from the governments of the world and from the businesses that I use. I want them to make it easier for me to live the lifestyle I want. I hope, indeed I long, for them to create a world where it is simple to live a lifestyle that doesn’t not damage life on the planet, that isn’t stealing from the future, that ensures a good life for my grandchildren (as yet unborn) and that doesn’t make me feel guilty all the time. I am prepared for the cost, I am prepared for radical change, but I don't want to have to think about and research every tiny decision I make.
MPs, MEPs, CEOs, I want you to make it easier for me. If my actions are so damaging to the environment make them illegal. If the products I buy are causing ecocide don't sell them. If I'm using up more than my fair share of resources then ration them. Invest in public transport and clean electricity. Do whatever it takes – you have my consent, you have the consent of all who protested and all who support the protestors. If after you've done that, I complain, I cheat the system, I break the new laws, then I'm a hypocrite, but until then I'm just a person doing my best while asking for things to be different, and so is Dame Emma.