In 1997 a video game called Final Fantasy 7 was available on the Playstation console. This was one of the most popular video games of its time, so popular it is being remade for the Playstation 4 in 2020. It is what is known as a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game). These kinds of games are known for their focus on storytelling just as much as gameplay.
I would like to put forward a thought experiment that comes from the plot of Final Fantasy 7:
There exists a planet where its life and all life on it depends on a substance called ‘the lifestream’. In this world, a company controls the world. This world has its own police and army, controls all the resources, runs as a government but is not democratically elected. This company is known as ‘Shinra’. Shinra’s political power would be somewhat analogous to The East India Trading Company in the 1700s.
Shinra provides the energy for the use of technology using MAKO reactors. These reactors suck the lifestream out of the planet, turning it into MAKO. MAKO is then used for energy. As more MAKO is made, there is less lifestream in the planet. So, if Shinra continues to make MAKO, the planet will die and therefore all life on it.
In this world there is a man named Cloud. Cloud is an ex-soldier of Shinra turned mercenary, who is hired by a group of eco-terrorists called AVALANCHE. AVALANCHE is aware of the threat posed by MAKO reactors to the planet, so their mission is to destroy the MAKO reactors and ultimately overthrow Shinra. However, the Shinra army is powerful, so AVALANCHE needs as much assistance as possible to defeat their armies.
In their battles, Cloud and AVALANCHE utilise a weapon known as Materia. Materia are crystals that allow the user to call upon powerful magic. These magics can heal the injured and dying, destroy multiple enemies at once, summon giants to fight by your side, and so on. Utilising Materia is necessary for any reasonable chance of destroying the MAKO reactors and defeating Shinra. However, Materia is created as a by-product of the process of making MAKO in the reactors. Hence, in their battles, Cloud and AVALANCHE are using the products of the resources they are trying to eliminate.
The question I ask from this thought experiment is: Are Cloud and AVALANCHE morally justified in using Materia in their battles? Are Cloud and AVALANCHE being hypocrites for using Materia whilst being against MAKO production?
I would argue that our intuitions would say that they were morally justified and there is nothing hypocritical in using Materia in their battle against Shinra. To hold a strict moral high ground by not using Materia would guarantee their defeat. If one wanted to take consequentialist approach, there is a strong case to use Materia even though it is a product of lifestream sucking MAKO. Not using Materia, although strictly sticking to principles, would result in more MAKO being made due to being unable to defeat Shinra. Therefore, Cloud and AVALANCHE using Materia would ultimately result in a net negative of MAKO production.
Leaving the thought experiment for now, let’s consider a contemporary criticism against politicians concerned about climate change and climate activists such as Extinction Rebellion. Paul Murray from Paul Murray live (Pauline Hanson’s Please Explain, 2019) has been quick to point out that Labor and Greens MPs have frequent air travel. Piers Morgan (A. Adejobi, 2019) had one of the co-founders of extinction rebellion on Good Morning Britain and appealed to the apparent hypocrisy of being driven to the TV studio and possessing her own Television.
It ought to be pointed out that anyone with introductory education in philosophy or logical reasoning would notice that this is what is called an Ad Hominem. Ad Hominems are recognised as bad arguments because even if it is true that someone is being hypocritical, it does not follow that their claims are false. If a doctor who smokes tells you that cigarettes are bad for your health, it does not mean that cigarettes are good for you.
Nonetheless, is it true that if a climate activitist utilises technology that produces carbon emissions does this mean that they are being a hypocrite? It depends. If a climate activist eats ridiculously beyond their daily requirements of red meat, goes for long joy rides in a gas guzzler, has extra long showers just for the pleasure, and so on, then I think charges of hypocrisy are legitimate.
However, lets take the concrete examples by Murray and Morgan into consideration. In this case air travel by MPs and activists being driven to TV interviews. In respect to air travel by MPs, the job of any MP is to engage with the public and advocate for their policies. And the policies of Labor and the Greens in Australia involve action against climate change. As for activists, similar to MPs their role is to spread their message and create awareness of what they are campaigning for. In respect to Extinction Rebellion, their goal too is also meaningful action on climate change.
If the MPs and activists were to take Murray and Morgan’s criticism to heart, then they would be acting in a way which to acheive their goals would be more difficult at best and impossible at worst. If the MPs and activists are successful, even if they utilised technology that relies on carbon emissions to do it, then it would result in a net negative. If we get increased subsidies on renewable energy, fewer mines being built, a tax on carbon, then having some MPs and activists flying planes and driving cars to get it done is more than a fair trade.
This is where climate action is analogous to the thought experiment concerning Cloud and AVALANCHE’s apparent hypocrisy. Left leaning political party members and climate activists are no more hypocrites for utilising carbon dependent technology to fight climate change than Cloud and AVALANCHE are for using Materia to fight MAKO production. To achieve our goals, we use the resources available to us. If we don’t use the resources available to us to bring about government policy that does what is necessary, then it’s game over.
Pauline Hanson’s Please Explain. 2019. Paul Murray calls out hypocrisy from Labor and the Greens. Facebook. Retrieved from, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=620149888516124
Adejobi, A. (2019). Piers Morgan explodes at Extinction Rebellion co-founder in heated debate: ‘Can you answer one question?’. Metro. Retrieved from, https://metro.co.uk/2019/10/09/piers-morgan-explodes-extinction-rebellion-co-founder-heated-debate-can-stop-talking-10886423/