Climate activists need to be a little tougher on themselves and each other

People who speak out about climate are often accused of being hypocrites. Dozens of responses appear under each message from activist Hannah Prins, along with screenshots of her earlier air travel. Opinion maker Sandor Schimmelpennink can’t say a word about the climate without holding back the fact that he lives in Sweden for half the year.

And last week, the official BBB account tweeted about a photo of Extinction Rebellion members taking a walk. The comment read: ‘Protest against the fossil fuel industry with a polyester bag and a plastic lunch box. it’s possible.’

Climate activists are a little disappointed by this criticism. Like you’re only allowed to say something about the climate if you live naked in a cave, living on blackberries and figs. Furthermore, they do not address their personal emissions to other people, so they are not hypocrites. They argue for systemic change, a radical revolution in which big companies and government should take the lead.

Until then, there’s no point in measuring each other about a Bali holiday or a lunch box. After all, we are all victims of the system.

All of these arguments are perfectly valid, but it also begs the question: where is the line here? Don’t you always have a personal responsibility even when you think the system should change?


Sander Schimmelpenninck certainly thinks not. When De Telegraaf interviewed him about his many flights, he said that even the plane would take off without him. Although factually correct, it is a very easy way to avoid responsibility.

You won’t easily find an animal activist at Kentucky Fried Chicken with this rationale: ‘Otherwise someone else will eat that bucket of chicken’.

Or as arms dealer Guus Kouwenhoven says: ‘Otherwise someone else will sell those weapons to African children.’

Actress and climate activist Katja Herbers also believes you should be able to do everything in private. When asked about Leonardo DiCaprio (a climate activist, but who travels around the world on his yacht) in an interview with NRC, he replied: ‘I’m glad Leonardo DiCaprio is doing something for the climate. Have been, because many people are just on their lazy asses. So thumbs up for that.

Not taking responsibility for one’s own or each other’s behavior takes very bizarre forms. Lewis Hamilton is also an important member of the climate movement. The British driver gets paid millions by the world’s most polluting companies, but apparently it doesn’t matter.

You wonder what’s stopping someone like founder Jeff Bezos from becoming a climate activist. Isn’t he too a helpless victim of a system that has made it all too tempting to shoot rockets into the air rather than invest in stability? Otherwise someone else will sell those lakhs of packages.

Climate activists need to be a little tougher on themselves and each other. Just measure each other!

elite that calms the conscience

If you want to move towards a new world order in which we all consume less and live with less luxury, you have to show people that such a life is possible. Play an exemplary role in this.

Otherwise, the image of an aristocrat who maintains his privileged jet-set life and occasionally eases his conscience by standing with a protest sign on the A12. And in this way you will never be able to involve people in green change.

Joop Eikelboom is a historian and writer for De Spald and De Avundshow with Arjen Lubach

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