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Q & R: Am I a Hypocrite?

Here's the Q:

I read your post about a “Plant-Based Diet” a few days ago. Then yesterday, you posted your upcoming book tour dates, and I am a little perplexed.

Do you see the contradiction of worrying about the carbon footprint of your diet, while ignoring the gargantuan (by comparison) carbon footprint of just six weeks of travelling?


Eating an 8 ounce steak would yield about 8.8 lbs of CO2 emissions. If you ate a 3 ounce serving of broccoli instead, that would produce about .3 lbs of CO2 emissions – a difference of 8.5 lbs of CO2 per meal.

BeFrugal.com has a tool that calculates the CO2 emissions for driving and flying. By adding up the emissions from your itinerary, you will probably be creating a carbon footprint of around 7,500 lbs of CO2 (assuming you will drive a Prius on the West Coast, and fly everywhere else). That 7,500 lb CO2 footprint (for just six weeks), would be the equivalent of eating an 8 ounce steak (instead of broccoli) for about 880 meals! That’s a steak dinner (instead of broccoli) every night for almost 2 ½ years!! And we are not even adding the extra fuel consumed by every participant who will attend the events on your book tour.

While straining out the gnats, have you noticed the herd of camels you have swallowed (figuratively speaking, since I do not know the carbon footprint for a serving of camel)?

It’s OK if you believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, but at some point if you really believe we are destroying the planet with CO2 then your actions must also be congruent. Otherwise, you sound pharisaical advancing an agenda, which you yourself refuse to follow.

Here's the R:
First, thanks for this data. It's very clear - and helpful. I suspect the impact of a meat-based diet is worse than you estimate, when all factors are taken into account - Carbon Dharma does a good job of assessing that impact.

Be that as it may, you would be right to imply that I'm a hypocrite, if by that you would mean that I myself contribute to the problems I am concerned about. I do see the contradiction of being dependent on a fossil-fuel-based travel system to get a message out about (among other things) the dangers of this system - painfully, in fact. This is part of the mess we're in ...
- Even using these electronic devices implicates us in the extractive economy, since so much of our electricity is produced by oil, coal, and other fossil fuels (not to mention the problem of conflict minerals in our devices).
- Similarly, paying taxes implicates us in a military-industrial complex that has features many of us would not affirm.

While I've tried various means to reduce my carbon footprint, including offering video/skype presentations, none of them has been very effective, and I have pondered whether the benefit of my being on the road compensates for the harm done. If I weren't speaking up about the problems of our consumptive and unsustainable way of life, I would feel even worse - although that highlights the inconsistency even more.

I feel in this a bit like Isaiah in the Bible who admitted he was "a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips." On the one hand, as you suggest, I highlight an inconsistency whenever I speak - but on the other, how can I stay silent? The only way change will come in our system is by more and more of us speaking up about it, even as we live within it. (That's not to deny the important work and witness of those who live outside the system - like the Amish, for example.)

But as you imply, we need to struggle with how to minimize our impact, and be assured, I do.

To bring about needed change, I think we'll need to move beyond the simple, dualistic "good-guys/bad-guys" narrative that often polarizes and paralyzes. Few of us can claim to be purely a good guy, and I don't think it's step in the right direction to minimize the tension by denying anthropogenic climate change.

I think we need the kind of nuanced thinking that you see reflected in this piece about miners and climate change:
http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/fighting-coal-while-supporting-miners?utm_source=wkly20120803&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=titleBerg

And I think we need to see the value of all actions - even symbolic ones - that help strengthen our commitment for change.

And I think we need to point out - as you have done - that our lives are filled with tensions, and we have to let that tension move us to ongoing action.

So - thanks for your question. It's an uncomfortable one for me, and I hope I can find more and better ways of reducing that discomfort in the years ahead.