Is it ethical to be an ethical lifestyle adviser?

Our ethical columnist draws the attention of his fellow advisers to some basic rules of the trade.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Dear Ethan,

Like you, we are ethical lifestyle columnists who give advice to the greatly confused people of Great Britain. Unlike you, we write for newspapers rather than the World Wide Web. Does this necessarily make us unethical, though? I mean you might not use paper and print for your advice columns, but you DO use electricity… AND, ha ha, we notice that you have a BOOK coming out!! At the end of the day, is it really ethical for anyone to be an ethical lifestyle columnist?

L.S, L.H, A.S,
Hampstead, Hampstead, Hampstead

Dear L.S, L.H and A.S,

Ah yes, the million-dollar question: is it ethical to dish out ethical advice?

Now, I’m no follower of Jesus Christ – the man was a carpenter for Christ’s sake, which means he spent his 33 years on what was allegedly ‘his father’s planet’ chopping down trees and turning them into furniture without, so far as we know, replacing them with new trees. But he (sorry, but I only use a capitalised He or She for Gaia, not for an unsustainable carpenter from Nazareth) did have a point when he said: ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ I have always considered ethical column-writing to be the literary equivalent of throwing stones – at the eco-unfriendly, the fat, the feckless, people who deserve it – so it is paramount that those of us who write such columns are without sin. Are we?

L.S, L.H and A.S, cast your minds back to the First National Congress of Ethical Agony Aunts, Agony Uncles and Non-Gender Specific Advice Dispensers, which was held in London in 2007. I am pretty sure you were all there, so you should remember the three cardinal rules of our carbon-combating trade which we decided unanimously to adopt: ‘1) No carbon shall be emitted in the process of gathering, collating and communicating information aimed at encouraging carbon reduction; 2) All advice shall be communicated in a friendly but stern style, in the manner of a school nurse advising a child with nits how to use a nit comb; 3) Adviser-reader confidentiality is sacrosanct, and under no circumstances should a reader’s personal details be publicised (unless you have due cause to believe that he is a repeat cheap flyer, in which case you may organise anti-flying protests at his home, place of work and place/s of relaxation).’

Yes I know, the National Congress was a bit of a debacle. Firstly, I was three hours late, having misjudged how long it would take to trek by foot from Kent to central London. Two other ethical advisers were refused entry after being spotted parking their CARS (!!!) near the venue, their eco-crime made worse by the fact that one of them is a cycling columnist as well as an eco-uncle. And at least one ethical adviser took a turn for the worse after eating a Fairtrade cracker dipped in carrot-and-lentil paste and discovering afterwards that the carrots had been flown from a farm in Belgium to London: it was the first item of food contaminated with air miles that she had eaten in eight years, four months and 17 days. It did her reputation as one of the world’s first Locavores no good at all.

Nonetheless, once the Congress finally kicked off, there were some tip-top useful debates. I found the debate on whether it is more ethical for a man to wear Y-fronts or boxer shorts very enlightening. Especially the contribution from the ethical adviser from Wales, who cut through the tense disagreements in the room over whether organic-cotton underpants are better for Gaia than hemp-based underpants by insisting that Y-fronts are ALWAYS better than boxers, because some scientists believe the snug, cloth grip on a man’s testicles causes some of his sperms to die – and thus Y-fronts make men a little less fertile, and a little less likely to contribute to the overpopulation of the planet with snotty, demanding ‘shit machines’ (aka children)! My quite profound column – ‘Burn your boxers! Why Mother Earth prefers men in sexy Y-fronts’ – sprang from that discussion. I also enjoyed the ice-breaking activity at the beginning of the Congress, when we all broke apart some blocks of ice to symbolise the cracking up of Greenland’s ice sheets. And then, of course, we adopted those three rules for our trade, which I have religiously followed ever since. Have you, L.S, L.H, A.S?

The most important rule, of course, is that no carbon shall be emitted when researching, writing and publishing ethical advice. Now I’m afraid, my three (so-called) ethical friends, that if you write for newspapers then you have instantly broken that rule – in fact, you’ve broken it, ground it down, spat in it and turned it into toxic sludge. Did you know that the Guardian, for example, which I know that one of you writes for, purchases 114,000 TONNES of paper a year! Do you KNOW how many trees one must bludgeon, fell, imprison and pulp in order to produce that much paper?! No, neither do I – but I know it is an awful. Probably thousands. Maybe tens of thousands. Maybe trillions. An entire forest, one might say. Twenty forests, perhaps. Are you happy that it takes the sacrifice of TWENTY FORESTS for the communication of your ideas on ethical living?

Then there’s the newspaper print (chemically produced dyes) – eerugh. And the carbon emitted in the production of electricity to power printing presses and the thousands of PCs and laptops used by newspaper journalists. And the petrol guzzled up by the delivery vans that drop piles of these dead trees covered in pointless words at various points around the country.

L.S, L.H and A.S, you accuse me of ‘using electricity’ in the production of my ethical advice, as if that makes me as bad as you. Well, I can assure you that not so much as a milligram of carbon is emitted during my research and writing. The electricity for my computer is generated entirely by physical labour. We Greenharts have a treadle-pump contraption in the basement, which transforms pedal power into electricity for my laptop. Whenever I need to respond to a query or write my weekly column, my two boys go downstairs and start pedalling – it keeps them in tip-top physical shape and allows me to try (and usually fail) to get the nation into tip-top ethical shape. And if my boys are too tired to pedal, of if they go on strike as they once did in 2006, then I simply stop writing. If any of my fans were wondering why I produced not a single word of life-and-death advice between March 2006 and May 2006, it’s because my boys had smashed the treadle pump in an act of rebellion inspired by the Luddites – which caused me to feel a curious combination of extraordinary pride and extreme fucking anger all at once.

As for my book… it is true that Can I Recycle My Granny? and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas will be published later this year. But let it be known that I pleaded with the publishers to print it on rice paper, with food dye instead of ink, so that readers could eat it after reading it and transform it into humanure for their allotments – but they refused, on the basis that it’s too risky to instruct the nation to start eating books. WhatEVER. Besides, such is the end-of-the-world importance of the advice offered in my book – on everything from bottlefeeding (NO!) to working in supermarkets (ARE YOU MAD?) to flying to Prague (DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT) – that its production was worth every tree-murdering page. So there.

Ethan Greenhart’s book Can I Recycle my Granny? and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas is published by Hodder & Stoughton in October (for more details, visit Amazon(UK)). Ethan is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him {encode=”” title=”here”}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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