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Environmentalism: ‘Green’ versus ‘Good’ (in search of real environmentalism)

By Ben Acheson -- July 30, 2014

Environmental lobbies need to work with industry and encourage sustainable practices. Hysteria, dogma and hypocrisy will not save the planet. Neither will thousands of retweets. Balanced approaches separating real green from pretend, crony green is the true pathway to ecological progress.

Environmentalism is now firmly entrenched in our daily lives. It is part of pop-culture. It is even a marker of identity for some people.

Yet is the widespread support given to the environmental movement anything more than supercilious tokenism? Is being ‘green’ just another fashion statement, rather than any laudable drive to protect fragile ecosystems? Are we now at a point where the word ‘Green’ has wrongly become synonymous with ‘Good’?

That’s the topic of this new video: “Environmentalism: Why Green Isn’t Always Good.”

Obviously, there are elements of the environmental movement which are committed purely to protecting our precious environments. They are vital and they should be supported. However, it seems that we often forget that the green economy is an economy like any other; there are parts of it which are focused purely on making money.

Patrick Moore is one of the original founders of Greenpeace. He defected when Greenpeace lurched away from it’s the original eco-centric intentions of ending the threat of global nuclear war and thus the destruction of human civilization. He laments the drift of the environmental movement to where it now “characterizes people as the enemies of the earth.”

Moore has a point. Now it seems that many environmentalists approach environmental issues from an anti-science, anti-business and even anti-human perspective, rather than a pro-environment one.

As touched upon in the video, green campaigns have become more about planet-saving than anything else. We, as the general public, often adhere too dogmatically to their messages. That’s what happens when you pay a celebrity or some other icon of pop-culture to back a campaign or provide some sort of ‘sexy’ yet scaremongering catastrophe theory to prompt action.

Yet while they may garner thousands of ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and shares, these types only serve to demonise any form of industry which is seen to impact the environment, despite those industries often being the ones who fund the environmental controls and pay to reduce their environmental impacts.

As the video suggests, much of the modern environmental movement panders to what we want to believe. It makes it ‘cool’ to be perceived as an environmentalist. It makes it a fashion statement. Such a view has been quietly creeping into the debate in recent years. Even noted green activist and former UK Green Party Chair Jonathon Porrit agreed that environmentalism has spent 30 years going in and out of fashion.

Yet do we live up to our own planet-saving hype? What if environmentalism really required us to make serious lifestyle changes and give up our comforts? Would we really be so green then?

For many of us, the answer would be a resounding ‘NO’. Reusable shopping bags, recyclable cans and hybrid cars are one thing, but we are all addicted to our computers, tablets and wireless devices. The world runs on them. They are also not very environmentally friendly. The same goes for air-conditioning systems, fluorescent lightbulbs and most other home comforts. We are never going to limit our water use or take cold showers. The list is endless. The point is that the laudable intentions that the green movement espouses will never be backed up with concrete action if it requires the general public to move outside of their consumption comfort zone.

That’s why environmentalist agendas must be reconfigured. We can no longer dogmatically adhere to the one-sided propaganda peddled by the green lobby.

 Yes, there are certain industries that produce negative impacts for the environment, but it is counter-productive to demonise and excoriate them. We must remember that they are the stewards of the environment as much as anyone else. They are also the ones who generally fund and manage any mechanism which reduces negative environmental impacts.

Environmental lobbies need to work with industry and encourage sustainable practices. Hysteria, dogma and hypocrisy will not save the planet. Neither will thousands of retweets. Balanced approaches separating real green from pretend, crony green is the true pathway to ecological progress.


Ben Acheson, a Parliamentary Assistant to Struan Stevenson (Member, European Parliament) in Brussels, specializes in energy and environment issues. His previous post at MasterResource was Believe or Know? Modern Environmentalism Reconsidered.



  1. John W. Garrett  

    One cannot help but admire Patrick Moore’s intellectual honesty and courage. Anyone who has attempted to speak truth and, in so doing, incurred wrath and abuse as a result, will be especially appreciative. It’s not any easy thing to do.


  2. Wayne Lusvardi  

    An inconsistency between our beliefs and reality is called “cognitive dissonance” in social psychology. “Green Isn’t Always Good” would be a classic example of such cognitive dissonance. A real world example is trying to explain in California that tearing out lawns to reduce water usage isn’t a good thing to do for the environment. Much of California depends on imported water from hundreds of miles away. Most of the rainfall is stored in snow pack in the north easterly part of the state in the Sierra Nevada Mountains while Southern California is semi-arid.

    Thus, it is critical that homeowners who use imported water and live in areas where there are sandy, alluvial soils, water their lawns and yards in order to recharge the huge underground water basins in Southern California to recycle that imported water. However, if one lives in downtown Los Angeles on clay soils or nearby the beach on sandstone soils, watering lawns won’t recharge the water basins because the water can’t percolate into the basin.

    Trying to explain to an ultra-liberal city council and environmentally brain washed residents in my home town of Pasadena, California that tearing out lawns and putting in drought gardens is not a good idea was met with shock and resistance. This is a classic example of “cognitive dissonance” where when met with information that is inconsistent with one’s beliefs, the beliefs get stronger not weaker.

    Even the silly water agencies provide incentives for homeowners to replace their lawns with rock gardens. A hydrology study noted that the Raymond Basin in Pasadena depended on 15% recharge each year from landscape watering. A 15% loss of recharge over 6 years would deplete the basin to below its “safe yield” or point where it won’t recharge anymore. But nonetheless, the cultural belief that watering lawns is not good is so entrenched that it is impossible to overcome.

    Rooftop solar installations are another classic example where homeowners who want to feel good and morally superior about saving energy cannot be dissuaded that they are merely cost shifting higher electricity system costs from the 3% of those who install solar panels onto the 97% of those who don’t or can’t. Homeowners are quick to say “but look my electricity bill is either very small or zero so it must be good because it is good for me.” This is like eating the seed corn. Once everyone installed solar panels the higher cost would become apparent but as long as a government policy can “rob Peter to pay Paul it can be assured of the support of Paul.” On top of that, politicians are only concerned about vote buying despite all the environmental rhetoric.

    Environmentalism isn’t always good. It was the German historian Max Weber who wrote: ” It is not true that good can only follow from good and evil only from evil, but often the opposite is true.” This is certainly true with government environmental policies. There are some things that are undeniably absolutely evil or good, but most government environmental policies fall into the category of the paradox: “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”


  3. Ray  

    Years ago Michael Crichton wrote an essay on environmentalism as religion. The environmentalist know they are doing God’s work and they will be redeemed.


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