Talkback - Arran Whiteford: Are climate protesters hypocrites for using fossil fuels?

Arran Whiteford,
Publish Date
Friday, 13 May 2016, 11:13AM
Greenpeace protesters, who used modern technology to scale the facade of New Zealand's Parliament (Supplied)
Greenpeace protesters, who used modern technology to scale the facade of New Zealand's Parliament (Supplied)

Are climate protesters hypocrites for using fossil fuels?

Tomorrow I'm joining a kayak flotilla to protest at the Kinder Morgan oil sand port, against our addiction to fossil fuels.

I'll drive there with my kayak on the roofrack choking out carbon from my '98 Outback. I’ll don my neoprene wetsuit made from hydrocarbons and will slip into my plastic hydrocarbon kayak. In protesting against the use of fossil fuels I will also be literally coated in fossil fuels.

Am I a hypocrite? I'm protesting against the same fossil fuels that currently enrich my life. Scanning comment lines of articles on divestment protests it’s clear that many people think I am:

“So nobody at this protest drives cars, flies in planes, relies on freight.”

“Hope you all walked there.”

“I bet these protesters have no idea that over half of their possessions are made with fossil fuels. I bet they would not give up their ipods and smartphones even though they are made from petrochemcials”

Apparently, if we’re not puritans in every aspect of life then our opinions are nullified. Having said that, these commentators raise a valid question, if protesters don't like fossil fuel consumption, why don't they opt out of it themselves?

For me, opting out of fossil fuels would also mean opting out of society. I have no idea how to live a normal life without consuming of fossil fuels. A bicycle, bus and running shoes rely on fossil fuels. My toothbrush comes from fossil fuels. I can certainly reduce my consumption but going cold turkey is impossible. I could become carbon neutral by living as a hermit in the bush wearing deer skin hide - but I really don’t want to.

Instead, I want society to change so that I can live a normal life without dirty consumption. I want clean options like hydrogen powered freight, electric cars and organic raincoats to be hassle free norms.

Forcing this kind of change in society has been done before. After decades of opposition governments outlawed lead in petrol and banned CFC emissions. We’re left with a world with less lead pollution and a smaller hole in the ozone layer. I don’t miss leaded petrol nor CFCs but only wish these pollutants were restricted faster. Maybe then NZ wouldn’t be the skin cancer capital of the world.

Most of the technology we need to function without fossil fuels already exists or is feasible in the very near future.  We just have to overcome some political hurdles to break free from the fossil fuel industry and their powerful influence. That’s the objective of these protests.

Protesting against fossil fuels in my hydrocarbon wetsuit, I protest against the lack of choice I am given in this society. That to be part of this modern world, I need to consume and pollute.

I’m not out to criticise individuals for their consumption of fossil fuels  - that would be hypocritical. I’m criticising the way our society works. That we have a nasty addiction to fossil fuels that needs to end.

Arran Whiteford is a New Zealand born student currently living in Vancouver to complete his masters in glaciology.