When I was in elementary school, recycling was a grand idea destined to solve Canada's waste problems. The entire school would cram into our small gym, and our herioc teachers would provide demonstrations on how to crush cans, remove paper labels, and read recycling symbols. It was all very envigorating for us children; here we were, the future generation, sacrificing our compulsion to litter. The world was going to be a better place.
When I finished elementary school in 1995, we hadn't had a recycling rally for about 3 years. I suppose the excitement was tied in with the then optimistic understanding of the Rio Convention, a UN sponsored meeting which would discuss and hopefully resolve the environmental problems of the entire world. By 1995 however, Rio was deemed to be a failure by most, it's most important contribution to environmental conservatism was the term 'sustainable development' and popularizing the idea of biodiversity. The problem with Rio, and all other international environmental law, was that there was no way to make the states participating actually follow through on their commitments. Why should a state, the argument goes, risk its financial assets because of the looming extinction of tree frogs in the Amazon whom few had even heard of before? Unless there was some sort of international body with some authority, few states were and are wiling to independently risk economic strain for the sake of the environment.
Rightfully, this is a sad situation. States are comprised of people, and people need a healthy environment to be healthy themselves. Pollution and waste go against common sense. For the sake of our children and our world, we need to engage in radical environmental conservatism.
But here's the sticker: How can a society which rejects social conservatism embrace environmental conservatism? Both require sacrifice for the good of the community, and naturally authentic expressions of both are rather unpopular. Being socially conservative requires a massive amount of self-honesty and criticism, as does being authentically environmentally conservative. One cannot protest the deforestation of British Columbia's forests while using condoms and pharmaceutical birth control, both recently discovered to be extremely harmful to our water supplies, without firmly cementing themselves on the patchouli steeped plateau of low-brow hypocrisy. For some reason I'm reminded of the unfortunate theif, Svend Robinson.
In effect we have a grand problem, for this type of hypocrisy is natural to us all. It is harder to practice abstinence than it is to compost your leftover spaghetti or cut back on paper use at the office, yet the two sacrifices are interrelated and interdependent. Making the personal sacrifice requires an acceptance of imperfection, a realization of authority and a proper understanding of autonomy. I have not adopted social conservatism because it makes life easier for me, and nor does the other adopt environmental conservatism because it makes life easier for him. This decision comes for accepting my own responsibility to ensure the safety and sanctity of myself and the other. Likewise for proper environmentalism, it too stems from the same sources. Anything else is shallow and incapable of effecting actual change and improvement.