The most obvious form of environmental hypocrisy is along the lines of "do as I say, not as I do." We covered some examples of such environmental hypocrisy from those on the left side of the political spectrum in Part 1 of this series (see
If you enjoyed Part 1 because we were dissing some favorite punching bags of the right-wing spin machine, we hope you also noted the part where we pointed out that even though environmental hypocrites are wrong in some of their behavior they are generally right in terms of their message, and that we all need to work harder to achieve true sustainability---even if eco-proponents sometimes don't measure up to their own standards.
Today in Part 2, we look at some forms of environmental hypocrisy that are practiced with great aplomb by right-wing politicos and corporations. We also examine one touchy topic that is likely to stir ire in some. All we ask is that readers judge this article on the merits of its arguments---on it's eco-logic.
There are politicians who are flat-out anti-environmental---they just don't buy the argument. As long as they state their case plainly and honestly, we can at least respect their right to their opinion, however misinformed it may be. Others, however, have taken to deceit, crafting back-room deals that are a negative for the environment but then trying to sell the public on the new regulations by claiming they're an environmental improvement. We think that's a clear form of environmental hypocrisy and can be described as "listen to what I say, but don't watch what I do." Let's go through a few examples.
In campaign speeches prior to the 2000 election, George W. Bush promised to do something about global warming if elected president. The insincerity of the promise was made clear shortly after he took office when he reneged on his pledge, claiming that joining the Kyoto protocol would hurt the US economy. In reality, doing something about global warming would hurt only some industries---notably Big Energy and Big Auto, both heavy contributors to the Bush campaign. Overall, delaying action on global warming will cost us far more in the long run. Making a promise to do something about global warming without any intention of keeping the promise it was a form of environmental hypocrisy.
Related to the global warming story is the administration's 2003 introduction of The Clear Skies Act, a piece of legislation designed to roll back the regulations associated with the Clean Air Act and help the electric power industry avoid fines and future costs associated with improving pollution controls on old, dirty power plants. Had the administration tried to justify their plan on the basis of our air being "too clean" and US energy companies being "too poor"---and, thus, air-quality regulations needed easing---they wouldn't have gotten very far in the public forum. So, instead, they crafted a greenwashed program name---"The Clear Skies Act"---and tried to use the name as a euphemistic shield against public disapproval
of their actions. Further, the administration told the public their plan would improve air quality in the future, which was true, but they conveniently left out the fact that their plan would improve air quality LESS than would the existing provisions of the Clean Air Act.
GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL HYPOCRISY
Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has stated that he believes global warming to be the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind. He just doesn't buy the science, and he opposes any laws or regulations designed to address greenhouse gas emissions. Here at Grinning Planet, we think the bigger hoax may be that there is a brain inside Inhofe's skull---it's more likely a team of chipmunks with a set of levers that operate his mouth. But at least he states his position on global warming clearly and honestly, not hypocritically.
On the other hand, the Bush Administration, which already earned an environmental hypocrisy award in 2001 when it nixed US participation in the Kyoto accord after having made a campaign promise to do something about global warming. Since then, the administration's tack has been to pump lots of dollars into studying global climate change while staunchly refusing to change energy or pollution policies in a way that has any positive impact. In fact, while they have been saying that they're doing what's necessary on climate change, they have pursued policies that have actually caused higher emissions of
greenhouse gases in the US. Further, they have done everything in their power to downplay the overwhelming scientific evidence that says clearly that we know global warming is a problem, we know we're the main cause, and we know that action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. They have even gone so far as to edit scientific documents in a way that unfairly changes scientists' opinions to be more in line with the administration's political views.
Vice President Cheney and others have used similarly dishonest rhetoric when supporting more drilling in the United States as opposed to conservation measures like increasing vehicle fuel economy. It's a geological impossibility that the US can find enough new domestic oil reserves to meet its ever-increasing thirst for vehicle fuel and other petroleum products.
Increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles can, however, go a long way to solving the problem. For instance, raising the fuel efficiency of all US vehicles by 3 miles per gallon would save as much oil as could be pumped out of the pristine, much-contested Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Cheney knows this, but he is an oil man, and there is no additional money to be made by the oil industry by having the public burn less of its product. So, he derides conservation as being inappropriate as a core part of a sensible energy
DRIVING THE SUVs TO THE CAFE
Increasing fuel-economy standards does not mean that we all have to drive Yugos. As early as 2003, engineers at the Union of Concerned Scientists had designed an SUV that could be built using off-the-shelf technologies to increase mileage by more than 30%. And that was without applying hybrid technology!
See the UCS
Fuel Economy page
strategy and instead promotes approaches that he knows can't succeed at anything other than making his energy-industry pals even richer. Given the approaching peak oil crisis, we think that's a very dangerous instance of environmental hypocrisy.
We admit that politicians justifying positions on environment or energy issues with arguments that reflect neither reality nor the politicians' real opinions is not an unusual tactic, but this article series is about exposing environmental hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle. For more on how language is used by politicians to obscure and confuse environmental issues, see the GP article
Those who govern must often take scientific results into account when making decisions. The appropriate way to do this is to...
- let the scientists do their work and publish their reports;
- read the reports and digest the facts; and then
- determine an appropriate public policy based on the science and other, non-science factors.
If those in charge decide that non-scientific factors outweigh the facts of the science, they can say so when they announce their policy. Unfortunately, these days there is a dramatic trend toward suppression and alteration of science. Rather than saying they're overriding the science by making a political decision based on other factors, right-wing political appointees in the various federal agencies have manipulated the scientific process itself by inappropriately editing scientific language and results, with the end goal of intentionally making the science look like it supports their political position, even though it doesn't.
It would be easy for these folks to avoid such environmental hypocrisy---they just have to quit messing with the science and frame their arguments honestly, politically. But they know they will be less successful selling their ideas to the public if their policies are constantly being contradicted by scientific facts, so don't look for them to abandon this practice anytime soon.
(For more info, see UCS's
Whether someone is pro-choice vs. pro-life, we think they should be consistent in their view of the importance of protecting children---unborn or already-born. But it seems that some conservatives will argue strenuously against abortion but then be silent on the right of children already born to have healthy lives.
Shouldn't we all be concerned about things that affect infants and children, such as the availability of affordable health care or the vast income disparities in the US that keep a shocking number of children below the poverty line? On the environmental front, there are a number of things that people who care about children, born or unborn, should be aware of:
- Children in the womb are at risk of central nervous system damage from mercury poisoning. The primary source of the mercury is
mercury in fish
eaten by the mother. Many large predator fish like tuna and swordfish are now contaminated with mercury that originates as air pollution from power plants and industrial processes. The Bush Administration's proposed mercury standard is weaker than the existing one in the Clean Air Act, and weaker than the mercury standards enacted by a number of states.
- Children and adults all carry a "body burden" of chemicals, many of which are
Such chemicals particularly affect fetuses and infants, increasing their risk of lifelong disease. Yet there is no push from EPA to do a better job of getting these chemicals out of our lives.
- Children in the US are experiencing an alarming increase in asthma and allergies, which may be due to a variety of environmental issues:
Instead of dealing with this emerging childhood pandemic, our leaders talk of follies like a manned mission to Mars. Perhaps to visit their brains.
- air pollution;
- exposure to fragrances (which seem to appear in nearly every product, with very little regulation);
- genetically modified foods;
- general toxic overload on young immune systems from these and other types of industrial pollution;
- overuse of antibacterial products.
- Industrial agriculture
has lowered the nutritional value of staple vegetable crops compared to what was grown many decades ago. Decreased nutrient content in food puts children's health (and adults' health) at risk.
To those people who take a pro-life stance, we ask: Is the health of a child already born not just as important to you as the health of a child still in the womb? If so, do you voice your opinions on childhood health care and the above environmental issues as strongly as you voice your opinions on abortion?
Our intention here is not to debate the merits of pro-choice vs. pro-life but rather to say that it is hypocritical to be supremely worried about the fate of unborn children while being unconcerned about things (environmental or otherwise) that affect already-born children.
Groucho Marx once jokingly asked, "Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?" Few of us would think such a callous thought seriously. Children are our future, and we should let our politicians know we think they should be "in our children's pockets," not in the pockets of polluting corporations.
It's tempting to argue that the environmental hypocrisy coming from conservatives is more dangerous that the flawed behavior we observed in some
on the left. But that would miss the point---there's plenty of room for both factions to be less hypocritical in the future.
In the end, the best thing to do is to stop worrying about hypocrites altogether and start thinking about which ideas are the best ideas and what actions are the best thing to do, regardless of which party proposed them, regardless of which prominent people are supporting or opposing the ideas, and regardless of whether the lives of the proponents are fully in tune with their own statements.
The "gotcha game" that the bottom-feeding press so readily promotes today simply isn't helpful in the effort to move toward a better future. So, let's unplug from the antics of the
bozos and focus our attention on doing what's necessary to live gently on the land and preserve it for future generations.
This ends Part 2 and concludes the left-right aspect of the issue. In the third and final part of the series, to be published in a future issue of Grinning Planet, we will look at free-market hypocrisy and corporate greenwashing---advertising and initiatives designed to give companies a green image while they continue doing dirty deeds.
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