This past weekend, my teenaged daughter and I joined hundreds of protesters on the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska to protest the KXL pipeline. To get there, we took a bus from Chicago with other activists. As we rode the bus 12 hours, I was conscious of the fact that we were using fossil fuel to go to a protest of the fossil fuel industry. I chose to take the bus instead of driving (which would have been shorter and would have spared by knees) in part because it was the more environmentally responsible choice, i.e., the cumulative impact of taking the bus was less than everyone driving individually. But I’ve driven to other protests before.
This past January, I helped organize a rally and march near my home in Northwest, Indiana. The action was planned to support activists who had been recently arrested at the BP tar sands refinery in Whiting, Indiana; to protest Trump’s picks for the EPA, Secretary of Energy, and Secretary of State; and to promote a just transition to a renewable energy economy in our region. The event went off very well, and it was reported on by our regional paper, by the Chicago Tribune, and by the local NPR station.
I was riding high the day after the event. And then I read the comments to the Tribune article. Several of them implied that protesters were hypocrites because they drove gas-powered vehicle to the march or because (it was presumed) they didn’t have solar panels on the roofs of their homes. This struck home, because I did drive a gas powered vehicle to the protest—a fuel-inefficient SUV—and I do not have solar panels on my roof. Nevertheless, there are three big problems with these kinds of criticisms: