If a Martian were to visit us and report on what we believed in, he or she could be forgiven for thinking that British people are desperately concerned by the environment. I do not wish to set up straw men, but a cursory reading of the newspapers might well convince you that the majority of us spend a great deal of time worrying about the well-being of the planet, emphasising that urgent action needs to be taken to save the planet, and criticising those who seemingly do not care about the needs of the environment.
And so a Martian might expect British people to take extreme care not to do anything that might have an adverse effect on the environment. Some of the behaviour might include the following:
Never using plastic bags
Never using disposable nappies
Always walking or cycling, or taking public transport
Never dropping litter
Never destroying plants or trees.
There might be other things you could add to the list. But the sad truth is that while there are plenty of people talking about environmental action, there are not that many, or so it seems, who walk the walk as well as talk the talk. What I mean is this: if one really cares about the health of the planet, surely the very first thing you would do is try and clean up your own back yard?
I live in one of the most affluent parts of the country, albeit in the most deprived ward in the borough; besides every pathway, along each railway line, behind each fence, and on the other side of every railing, lies tons of uncollected and non-biodegradable rubbish: bottles, cans, and plastic bags. Much of this stuff lies on private property, and much of it is unreachable, but it can all be seen, and it is all hideous. And yet despite all the talk of saving the planet, it seems that no one cares.
This hypocrisy springs from a moral failing. Talk is cheap, and it costs us nothing. Therefore to take up a radical green agenda without actually acting on it in any way – which is possible, if the radical green issues are all ones that have to be tackled by government – gives one the luxury of feeling good about oneself, and the privilege of condemning those who disagree with you as morally bankrupt, all without having to make any personal sacrifices.
If you consider other great questions that generate huge amounts of talk, this situation is replicated elsewhere. One can espouse the necessity of education spending, but avoid paying more tax. One can decry choice in education, but send your children to a school that you choose, while denying that choice to others. You can criticise the Church’s actions in the developing world, while never leaving Europe. And so on. At the heart of this posturing lies the same sin: the desire to feel moral, without paying any price. But the truth is rather stark: there can be no morality without sacrifice. If it costs you nothing, it is worthless.