How can one be a true semi-environmentalist?

How can one be a true semi-environmentalist?

By PINA HAAS

December 7th, 2018

I am confused. In the last years, a fascinating discourse has been taking place in the media. What I am talking about is the discussion about environmental-hypocrisy. On the one hand, frustrated climate activists are accusing others of wrongly praising themselves as environmentalists while they still use a car or buy unsustainable clothes every once in a while. Hypocrisy seems to be the new buzzword environmental activists use to vent their anger about the stagnating or only very slowly advancing agenda of climate protection. These accusations led to a range of responses of people who try to justify their semi-environmental behaviour as an inevitable consequence of having to live in a system build on hard chore consumerism. Accordingly, hypocrisy is better than nothing and blaming people for not doing enough is counterproductive in the quest of trying to get people aboard on the mission to fight climate change.

I agree, it does not help to simply attack people for not doing enough, blind allegations do not lead us anywhere. On the other hand, I can very well understand the anger on the other side of the front line. Being a fully devoted environmentalist requires a lot of sacrifice. It’s not a hobby, it’s a life-time commitment. Seeing others fly around the globe, eat a lot of meat, order new clothes everyday but simultaneously post articles about anti-capitalism on Facebook and attend lectures on sustainability, does have the potential to trigger outrage. 

But rather than accusing these people of not doing enough, I envy them for their skill of self-conceit. It is simply unconceivable for me how people can be semi-environmentalists? How can one be concerned with the environment without becoming a radical activist when faced with gloomy predictions about a possibly very apocalyptic future of our planet?  I am confused.

I am rather a latecomer in terms of climate change awareness, this possibly makes the impact of my confusion even bigger. Why was there no trigger warning? How could it happen, that I was so deeply shocked when I started to learn more about climate change this summer. It really doesn’t take much more than typing the two c-words into google: climate change, and you will find all you need to catapult yourself into a state of depression and anxiety about our future. The recent IPCC report for example paints a very dark picture itself.

The IPCC gives us 12 years to fight global warming to advert dramatic catastrophes. Knowing that the IPCC has showed the chronical tendency to underestimate the effect of global warming in the past however, I decided to dig deeper.

What I found is staggering. People, and not just apocalyptic visionaries but highly qualified scientists, politicians and climate activists, truly believe that the survival of the human species is at stake. The possibility of human extinction is not out of the question anymore, it is central to many people’s visions of the future. Jem Bendell’s paper “deep adaptation” is an example of this. Another prominent actor in this field is the British activist group Extinction Rebellion.  We are in the midst of destroying our very home, we urgently need to question everything possible and deeply change our ways of living to secure the future existence of the human species on this planetary titanic.


This realization threw me off the track for two solid weeks. I was sad, I was angry, I was depressed. But it eventually led me to a crucial point in my life. For me there are only two options now: either I dedicate my life to become a fully committed environmental activist. This means facing the science and the very disturbing idea of possible human extinction.

Or I chose denial. Honestly, I do not blame anyone for choosing denial at this point. It is a decision to turn away from the idea that we as individuals can do anything about our future. It is very tempting and understandable to surrender our responsibility to the idea of determinism.

But what I really do not understand is semi-environmentalism. Believing that buying second-hand clothes every now and then, eating meat only once a week and posting articles about climate change is sufficient to call yourself an environmentalist, requires the for me impossible act of concealing a gap of deep moral dissonance. Hypocrisy in my understanding is thus not a buzzword to throw at people performing a morally wrongful act, but it rather constitutes an art I, in a very screwed up way, admire.

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