Albert Camus once wrote that the only serious question in life is whether to kill oneself. Not the kind of guy you want to invite over for a dinner party, I’m guessing. Regardless, I often think about that quote within the context of the inevitably conspicuous consumption that entails the modern lifestyle. To kill oneself is the ultimate act of sacrifice for the committed environmentalist!
Okay, okay, that’s garbage. But it gets me thinking, what kind of sacrifices do I really make in the name of our dear friend the environment, and what are my motivations? Here is a hastily compiled list:
“Sacrifice” Impact Motivation
No children Huge Don’t want kids.
Recycle Minimal For the environment!
A/C high, heat low Minimal I am cheap
Ride my bike a lot Modest Exercise
Don’t eat beef Modest For the environment!
No McMansion Modest Too much to clean/insufficiently rich
Try not to buy stuff Modest I hate stuff (except super cool stuff)
Do conservation research Minimal I like birds & being outdoors
Limit my travel Large I don’t actually do this
Buy an efficient car Modest I didn’t actually do this
Keep my cats inside Minimal I don’t actually do this
Become a vegan Large I don’t actually do this
Not terribly impressive! The single best thing I do for the environment is motivated by the fact that I can barely handle a dog and two cats. The two things I do specifically to benefit the environment are neither terribly important nor difficult, in my opinion (although I do miss a good steak). I wholly ignore some pretty big ones. What’s more, I would argue on a per capita basis, the world needs more rather than less resource consumption – who am I to tell a poor Somali/Bangladeshi/insert-impoverished-country-here family not to strive for a longer, easier, more secure life?
But the thing is, I don’t think I’m alone. I think even people in my field largely do what they’d like to do, with environmentally friendly activities largely coincident with other motivations. But maybe I’m wrong. Am I wrong, my fellow professional ecologists/nature lovers/tree huggers? What do you do on a personal level to ensure a sustainable future? What are your motivations? Are we like cops, who should hold themselves to a higher standard and drive the speed limit even when everyone else is going 5 mph over? Do we?