I admit it: I'm an environmental hypocrite

Yup, I hang my clothes to dry – right after I burn fossil fuels to get them clean.


Man, I hate being called a hypocrite! But over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize something: I are one!

I have long thought of myself as an environmentalist. I hang my laundry out to dry. I worked in public-land management for the U.S. Department of Interior. I drive a truck that gets comparatively good gas mileage, and my wife drives a high mpg little nothing of a car. I recycle all the boxes and plastic packaging that holds all the stuff I buy that’s been extracted from the earth. I verbally and financially support environmental causes. I bad-mouth oil and gas companies, coal-fired plants, and couples that have a zillion children.

I’ve cut my monthly power consumption to between 150 to 300 kwh per month – far less than a third of the average household – and I buy solar energy credits. I moved to the city so that my commute to work (and to the local brewpub) would be short. I hate HumVees and James Watt. I skin my way to the top of mountains using only human power. I eat very little meat and then only local, natural, humanely raised and grass fed. Why, I’m even writing this op-ed while sitting outdoors high up in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

Who could be a better environmentalist than I? Nobody, that’s who. My friends and I are virtual environmental saints! If everybody were like us, the environment would not be in any trouble at all. I should be president, or at least get some kind of award.

In the name of diversity, I have one conservative buddy. He drives a full-size luxury sedan and a gigantic gas-guzzling truck and he doesn’t talk smack about oil and gas companies. The nerve of him! But I like him anyway.

But here’s what has so rudely and uncomfortably dawned on me: I’m part of the problem, not the solution. That 21-mpg truck I drive and that 40-mpg car my wife drives? They both burn fossil fuels. The hybrids that some of my friends drive? The National Academy of Sciences recently named hybrids, over their entire life cycle and production, the worst vehicle for the environment.

Yup, I hang my clothes to dry … right after I burn fossil fuels running my clothes washer to get them clean. I have no solar panels on my roof.  I avoid chairlifts by driving my fossil-fueled vehicle right by them in order to skin up the mountain in a responsible manner.

I want to continue to drive to my local supermarket or natural foods store and buy whatever I desire to eat. And I want to buy as much as I can from organic, sustainable sources.  Of course, if everybody ate from sustainable sources –– where cows need a hundred acres of sparse grassland and up to 2,200 gallons of water per pound of meat to get ready to be consumed by humans – that method of farming would pretty quickly become unsustainable.  No, you have to be relatively privileged to be an environmental foodie. And speaking of food, I nominate for “Hypocrite of the Year” a new “natural foods” store in Grand Junction, Colo., that sells low carbon-footprint, vacuum-sealed, organic beef -- from Peru. Aaarrrggghhh!

I know of environmental conferences held in Palm Springs – average annual rainfall of 5 inches – a city that, according to National Public Radio, boasts 57 desert golf courses. Fifty-seven! Each one consumes about 1 million gallons of water each day. I wonder when those enviros fly in and confer, if they talk about water conservation. Or the carbon footprint of their air travel.

I wonder about the folks who moved to up-scale Bend, Ore., for its natural, mountain beauty. And then harassed and fined their neighbor, Susan Taylor, for hanging her clothes to dry rather than burning fossil fuels. Or the folks who move to Aspen to enjoy its natural splendor, and then flick a coal-burning switch to melt snow from their extended driveways.

My conservative friend is probably the most honest person among us. Me? I’m a hypocrite. But I am not without hope. We all need to look within. Look at our own actions – at what we do, not what we say. “Well done” is a much higher compliment than “Well said.”

Wayne Hare is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org) in Paonia, Colorado. He is a grouchy hypocrite who writes this from the San Juan Mountains -- which he drove to.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.

The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Feb 11, 2014 07:31 PM
I agree with wayne, we can't totally eliminate being a hypocrite. but we can sure reduce our impact. we've never utilized a powered clothes dryer in 39 yrs of marriage, a no brainer-we live in sunny Arizona. we wouldn't play golf in Arizona at gun point, for all the water they guzzle. we eat leftovers, and when the leftovers are leftover that's why we have canines! I'm typing this rant in the "computer room" which is in the "laundry room" which is also the "freezer room" in our 1400 sq ft "hacienda". no heater used in the winter, that's what blankets are for. everyday feels like we're "camping out"! no night light on to thwart burglars, burning more energy from the grid, that's what we have canines for, and both of them are good "3 meter dogs"! we may not have a perfect low impact, but we think about what we do and what we require like wayne!
Mike Clarke
Mike Clarke
Feb 14, 2014 03:40 PM
To me, calling someone who conserves energy a hypocrite because they use energy, is like calling someone a dental hygiene hypocrite because they both brush their teeth multiple times a day and eat food.
Jennifer's Mobile MacAdam
Jennifer's Mobile MacAdam Subscriber
Feb 15, 2014 08:55 AM
I'm a plant physiologist and I study pastures for cattle production. Here's an addition to your list: most of the water cows drink is returned to pastures or crop land, where the nutrients fertilize and irrigate plants and support their growth. However, one corn plant transpires away about 13 gallons of water and produces just one ear of grain corn. Maybe you should eat those great animal proteins & skip the grains.
Jerry Nolan
Jerry Nolan Subscriber
Feb 17, 2014 08:04 AM
Where you choose to live is one of the biggest conservation choices. Stewart Brand, one of the original environmentalists whose wisdom as an elder should be respected, makes a convincing argument about the choices we face today to save our environment in his book, Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary.