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So, the stars have called themselves out as hypocrites.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Jude Law, and a hundred other celebrities supporting Extinction Rebellion admitted, yes, they lead high carbon lifestyles – knowing that this was the angle the media was taking to delegitimise the environmental protests that brought climate breakdown into people’s everyday lives.
Earlier in the week, the media exposed one of the protesters, environmental advocate Roland Everson—better known as the viral sensation Mr. Broccoli after a jarring breakfast show joust with Piers Morgan – for his hypocritical behavior.
Mr. Broccoli is a campaigner for government action against climate breakdown. In its Sunday morning paper, The Sun lambasted Everson, a 46-year-old small business owner from Bristol, for driving a van thousands of miles in the course of his job, and so being responsible for significant carbon emissions.
Even Bryony Gordon, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, decided to come out against Mr. Broccoli for his failures in making the case for personal responsibility.
Everson, who volunteers for the grassroots group Animal Rebellion, is not the first climate advocate the media has targeted with this argument.
Just recently, Piers Morgan attacked Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Skeena Rathor for owning a television, and for arriving for her interview in a car (never mind it was arranged by Morgan’s own studio).
Going further back in time, Al Gore has been denounced as a hypocrite by various media outlets ever since he emerged as a climate crusader.
Yet, it’s no surprise that Everson is a hypocrite, as he is a member of modern western society, just like virtually everyone living here in the UK.
Everson’s activism seeks to change society so that it will one day have a more harmonious relationship with nature and animals. But to do that, he must also participate in this society: one which is dependent on fossil fuels, and where the vast majority of people must work within an ecologically devastating economy to feed themselves and their families.
When media outlets call out people like Everson for their hypocrisy, they imply that we should not advocate for the environment at all unless we live completely carbon neutral lives.
This argument is entirely unreasonable, because it demands something that no human being is capable of: perfection. If put into practice, it would also lead to a society where we never make any progress at all.
“If you can’t be an activist unless you have already somehow purged your whole life of fossil fuels, then you’ll have a movement of three people,” said author and social activist Naomi Klein in a recent interview with Channel 4 News.
Like most climate activists, Everson is no doubt aware of his own hypocrisy. Yet, even if he completely rid his life of carbon emissions, this individual change would not amount to very much – because the society and political system around him would still be dominated by the polluting fossil fuel and animal farming industries.
Given the vast reach of these industries and the degree to which they are supported by government, leading a zero-emissions life is entirely out of reach for most ordinary people.
It is hence absurd to suggest that we should solve the climate emergency by having everyone transform their lives on an individual basis.
This isn’t to say that there is no place for individual change. We must all reduce our personal carbon footprints, but this will happen much faster if it is accompanied by systemic change led by government.
It will be far easier for individuals to reduce their emissions related to energy, transport and food if the government radically ramps up renewable energy, massively reduces society’s dependence on cars and planes, and transitions to a sustainable plant-based food system.
Interview scientists, not vegetables
Commenting on his television appearance as Mr. Broccoli, Everson set out to make a point that journalists ‘should be interviewing scientists, rather than giving time to broccoli’.
Instead of shooting messengers like Everson, media outlets must lead in highlighting the need for systemic action on the climate crisis. They must recognize the urgency of the situation we face: that, according to the United Nations, we have 11 years to avoid the worst tipping points of climate change. Or that we have less than 60 years left of soil health.
That if you have grandchildren today, our current path will have them inheriting a world where people in today’s most affluent western democracies may not be able to feed themselves.
Yes, we are all hypocrites. But we are made so by our economic system. It is the system that needs to change, and it shouldn’t take a man in a broccoli costume to make that obvious.