Eco hypocrisy

In mid May, I arrived to teach yoga and was surprised to find the room so toasty. It was a cold, rainy morning in Vancouver (hey, summer, where are you?), but inside it was downright sweltering: the thermostat read 25 degrees Celsius. Huh? I immediately bumped it down to 20 and told the staff that 25 is crazy, regardless of season.

I was reminded of this interview with Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. A New Zealand native, he criticizes the American model of controlling indoor temperature (and of over-icing drinks) just because we’re rich enough to do so:

An American feels American only when the room is too cold in the summer and too hot in the winter. So every apartment in winter, you have to open the window to try and be less hot, and every apartment in the summer, you have to open the window to get a little less cold.

Unused reusable shopping bags

Another eco issue that ever annoys me? People who “forget” their reusable shopping bags and collect more and more plastic bags. Sure, they come in handy, but who needs dozens and dozens at any given moment? (I admit that I’ve cultivated veritable colonies of paper and plastic bags in my time.)

Worse are those who acquire too many reusable bags, which to me are worse than disposable ones. Reusable bags are typically thick, not biodegradable, and made in China. Most freebies are pathetic, with too-short handles or an ugly design. While disposable bags serve to hold trash or leaky items, unused reusable bags are 100% junk.

And about the claims that reusable bags contain lead or harbor bacteria? Get cotton canvas bags and wash them.

Am I an eco angel? Ha!

Whenever I rail against the crime of forgetting reusable bags, someone close to me points out that I dominate the bathroom cabinets with bottles of lotions and potions, especially hair goop. (With unruly curly hair, going without hair product is not an option. Seriously.)I also often utilize some of the best skin care products, you can click here to see where you will find more info on them.
I might eschew disposable bags, rarely drive my car, recycle the milk cartons, use bar soap, and turn off the light when I leave a room… but in other ways I’m just as guilty of eco damage as the next person.

Eco hypocrisy

Speaking of turning off the light, I once interviewed Ramanand Patel for a magazine article. While we were discussing brahmacharya and ethical (and unethical) conduct of yoga teachers, the conversation segued to eco hypocrisy. Once, he told me, a friend invited him to a gathering of environmentalists at someone’s house in Berkeley. His friend figured that he shared the same values and would find the discussion interesting.

When he arrived, Ramanand found a group of people inside a house ablaze with lights, even in empty rooms. He walked throughout the house and turned off all the unnecessary lights—and then he left. He apparently found the “environmentalists” to be a bunch of hypocrites.

It is an amusing story. But we’re all hypocrites if we think we’re green but also fly or commute unnecessarily, buy yogurt in plastic tubs, drive when we could bike or walk, wear synthetics, and live modern privileged lives.

Images: Whole Foods; TLC Home



  1. buy yogurt in plastic tubs? as opposed to? making it?

    i agree that we need to be a little bit less self congratulating, but also remember (from my time as a preschool teacher) that encouragement helps little steps become bigger ones.


    1. Yes. I have an intention (on the back burner, like my vision of knitting my own scarves) to make my own yogurt. I could also go without yogurt if I really wanted to avoid the plastic tubs. But it’s a slippery slope because almost everything is packaged in plastic nowadays! But you like in the San Francisco Bay Area, don’t you? You can buy organic Saint Benoit yogurt in reusable jars and ceramic crocks!


  2. I have friends who have studied with Ramanand and this story brings back memories of their stories and of them.

    As far as eco…we try to actually reduce, reuse and recycle in our house. It is hard with kids, but I feel like we are teaching them such valuable skills. We love when they point out our mistakes and missteps.

    And we use the plastic grocery bags for picking up dog waste.


  3. I will have to show the Husband this post – he loves catching people being hypocritical.

    I can only get yogurt in plastic tubs. And, if I make yogurt (in my plastic yogurt maker), I still have to buy a small yogurt “culture” – you got it! – in a plastic tub. I’ve tried the freeze dried cultures and they just don’t work or taste right…

    Over icing drinks: more ice = less product in cup = more profit for company because it’s cheaper to make ice than it is to use product. So if more than half the cup is ice, the consumer has to buy a larger quantity to actually get a decent amount of beverage.

    I dislike ice myself and will ask for no ice or “easy on the ice.”

    I refuse to buy an air conditioner for our house. I live in Duluth, MN, next to the world’s best refrigerator. For the 7-14 days each summer that we get above 80*F (26*C), I can turn on fans and open windows for cross breezes. In the winter, we keep our humble abode at 64-66*F (17-18*C). Mantra in our house is if you’re cold, put on a sweater!

    The whole re-useable bag thing can be quite a conundrum. Undoubtably, re-using is best. But there is the problem as you mentioned of the platic being used to make those bags, and they don’t really last very long. The heat in the car (I store my bags in the car) breaks down that plastic and after a while, they need to be tossed. I do use cotton, but there you can get into the whole intensive farming/chemicals/processing bit, too.

    Oy. Enough to make your head spin.


  4. Hmmm… I am Brazilian and I am one of these people that like the room “toasty”. The warmer the better. I guess if it weren’t like that I could not live in Canada. Seriously.

    I recycle as much as I can though and my husband and I always leave a bag in the car in case we decide to stop by the market to buy a couple of things. A couple of times we did not have our reusable bag and we ended up carrying the groceries in our hands.

    I guess the key here is moderation.

    I recycle, I don’t use plastic bags, I don;t waste water with long showers.

    But my room is always warm.


  5. In 7 and a half billion years, our sun will become a red giant and consume the earth. Those non-biodegradable plastic grocery bags will disappear, for sure. Also, no one will need hair goop.


  6. I’ve been meaning to comment here for a while and, keep getting waylaid.

    Yep, we all have our own eco-hypocrisies… but i really am not sure about “balance” and finding a “balance” anymore… I mean: does that mean we balance all the crap we dump into our planet with the good stuff?

    I’m more of a : “Small steps towards complete change” kinda gal. Yes we have moments, but we should all be working towards getting rid of those hypocritical moments, allowing ourselves Grace while we’re on that journey. Instead of just a static “balance of polluting the planet and not” kinda life.


  7. I wasn’t aware that eco bags, when accumulated, are actually not even close to being biodegradable, or even that much of a better choice as opposed to plastic bags and paper bags. Tsk. I think the eco habit is hard to fully distill in our daily lifestyles, if we are not going to incorporate it wholly and entirely.


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