Admirably sustainable lives on the rumps of hippos and hyenas


–Lauren Ruhland, Science Editor and 2008 MCPP itnern

“Ask Ethan,” Spiked Online’s satirical ethics column, is one of my favorite reads.  Its author, the pseudonymous Ethan Greenhart, has come up with sustainable solutions to dilemmas like “Is it ethical to use toilet paper?” and “Is it ethical to use pig fat for fuel?”  Greenhart doesn’t limit his column to merely ecological issues; for instance, he recently commented on the financial crisis.  To mark the release of his new book, Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas, he sat down with a Spiked editor to talk about his work:

Brendan O’Neill: Ethan, there’s a recession looming. People are worried about their jobs and homes. They’re fretting over the money in their bank accounts. Yet in your new book, you have a chapter on ‘mosquito rights’ and whether it is ethical to send bed nets to Africa! Doesn’t this show how petty environmentalism is, even how anti-human it is? You’re having a laugh, right?

Ethan Greenhart: I never have a laugh. And if you got as far as the chapter titled ‘Is it ethical to laugh?’ you would know that. Look, nothing better sums up the need for my brand of environmentalism – what I refer to in the book as my zero-carbon, no-driving, faeces-recycling lifestyle – than the current credit crunch. Who do you think brought about this recession? It wasn’t mosquitoes. They live admirably sustainable lives on the rumps of hippos and hyenas. It was human beings – overweight, overdressed, overrated human beings and their insatiable lust for new-fangled mod cons, like smoothie makers or life-support machines.

BON: To avoid confusion, let me clarify something: are you saying people should be bumped off? Allowed to die? That things like the ‘credit crunch’ might be avoided by reducing the number of people? If you think humanity is a plague on the planet, as someone like John Gray at the LSE does, then there must be a cure of some kind… Tell me, what’s the cure for the human plague?

EG: No, no, no! You are not going to corner me into saying something scandalous! People try that all the time. They send me letters asking the most outrageous things, like ‘Is it ethical to murder my mother?’ or ‘Is it ethical to import apple-flavoured beer from Belgium?’, in the hope that I will say ‘yes’ and shame the environmentalist cause forever. No, I am not saying people should be killed off. Per se. I’m saying it would have been better if they had never existed. And it will be a glorious day when they no longer exist. The measures through which their non-existence might be brought about are far too complex to go into in a telephone interview.

I would call “Ask Ethan” great satire, if it weren’t so well supported with real-life examples of people who are making similar declarations.

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