Life as a member of the middle class can be a tricky thing to navigate. Primarily, you have to appear as though your life is prosperous and full – a hot tub on the decking, an Audi parked in the driveway. Yet at the same time, you have to uphold a strong environmental conscience, because nothing says middle class these days like a Farmdrop box and a garden table fashioned from ecobricks.
If that sounds like a complex sociological rubric (and really, it is) then it’s only fitting that Sir David Attenborough has given it a label: the middle class environment hypocrite. In an interview with Radio Times, Sir David outed himself as a member of this morally confused group – he admitted to “middle class hypocrisy” for occasionally eating free-range chicken while urging others to give up meat.
“Human beings have overrun the Earth,” he told the magazine. “The planet can’t support billions of meat eaters. If we all ate only plants, we’d need only half the land we use at the moment.”
So far, so dinner party in Tunbridge Wells. But then the killer line: “I eat fish and chicken, and my conscience does trouble me. I’m affluent enough to afford free-range, but it’s a middle class hypocrisy.”
There’s no doubt that Attenborough’s words were well intended. Most people’s efforts to save the planet look rather shabby next to a man who has dedicated his whole life to the protection of nature. But he isn’t the only person to fall into the trap of wanting a better world while not always following their own green doctrine. Prince William, who this week spoke about how fatherhood has given him “a new sense of purpose” to protect the environment, once warned of the dangers of population growth – despite having a brood of three children himself. Meanwhile, David Cameron, who wanted to preside over a green evolution while Prime Minister, recently revealed that his daughter Nancy, 16, is an environmental activist and wants him to cut down on meat.
Once few and far between, environmental hypocrites are now as common as the discarded face masks that they litter everywhere. Are you guilty?
1. You have an electric car for the school run, but take at least three holidays a year
Gone are the days when it was acceptable to show up outside the school gates in a gas-guzzling Chelsea tractor. The school mums’ WhatsApp group is rife with facts and figures exchanged about air pollution levels outside schools, and it certainly wouldn’t be in your nature to sacrifice your child’s future for the sake of luxury. Like many of the other sensible parents, you use your Tesla for the school run. On a good day, you even forgo transport altogether and arrive on foot.
That said… you can’t help sharing a photo of your little darling trundling down his first black run in the Alps during February half term, or eating an ice-cream in the Caribbean. Holidays are about making memories for your child’s future, right?
2. You wouldn’t turn down a shooting weekend
In fact, you can regularly be found preaching about how weekends spent chugging around in a vintage Land Rover while swigging hip flasks of brandy are actually a fabulous way of supporting conservation, ensuring nature stays wild, and keeping thousands of rural folk in full time jobs. And it’s fine to break your vegetarianism for an organically reared partridge, right?
3. You use vegan paint, but enjoy roast lamb on a Sunday
This eco-hypocrisy was notably displayed by the Duchess of Sussex after it was revealed that she decorated her nursery at Frogmore Cottage in the Cotswolds with vegan paint (in between taking private jets, of course). And in true middle class style, you followed suit. “Oh, it’s so horrifying how so many household paints use milk or beeswax as a binder – those poor insects,” you say, while viciously scraping away the shameful remains of Farrow & Ball from the dining room walls. It doesn’t really matter that later that evening, you’re serving up a butcher’s cut leg of lamb for six in said dining room. The walls do the talking.
4. You have an Aga…
Said roast lamb just doesn’t taste the same when it’s been cooked in a conventional fan oven. Plus, your daughter loves sitting on it to warm up after a long day protesting with Extinction Rebellion.
5. …and a fire pit
Recycling is all well and good until you have the neighbours around so you can show off your brand new outdoor fire pit. Although the appliance already guzzles an unprecedented amount of coal, you’ve noticed it burns better when it’s full of paper waste, meaning it’s time to empty the recycling bin. Sit in the acrid smoke and enjoy the warmth as you heat up the Great Outdoors.
6. Forgetting your keep cup won’t stop you purchasing a morning coffee
You try with all your might to remember the lurid bit of plastic that helps you get 20p off in Pret A Manger and do your bit for the planet. But sometimes on a hectic morning, the reusable cup slips your brain. And when the caffeine crash hits, it doesn’t matter that 6.5 million trees are cut down each year for coffee cups. You need your fix. Now.
7. You recycle your milk bottle tops… but have a coffee pod machine
Like an urban magpie, you’ve been doing your bit for the environment by squirrelling away milk bottle tops in a shiny stash in the corner of the kitchen. In fact, you’ve taken it upon yourself to become something of a warden in your household, ordering everyone to bin their goods into the seven colour-coded baskets lined up by the back door. So far, so good. That’s until you realise that the coffee pods you use every morning aren’t reyclable and use more energy than you on a morning jog.
8. You replace meaty meals with imported vegetables
Because meat-free Monday is better than nothing at all, right? The one day a week when the whole family chows down on blackened cauliflower might be termed ‘miserable Monday’ in your household, but you insist that everyone does their bit for the planet. However, your eco-credentials are dampened slightly by the fact that your cauliflower is imported from China and your mange tout are from Zambia. You note to always take them out of the packet before serving to guests.
9. You take staycations… at your second home
The combination of a nationwide pandemic and creeping concerns about the environment have led to a staycation boom as happy holidaymakers replace their yearly Eurotrip with visits to the Devonshire coast. So far, so good. That’s until you second-homers have to whack the heating up to 25 degrees in order to battle the freezing English temperatures, and get rid of any damp creeping into your Cornish cottage. Not to mention the fact that you left the heating on in your first home to keep the housekeeper warm. Oops.
10. You indulge in the odd bacon sandwich
Ah, the humble bacon sandwich. With its fatty, rich aroma and doughy white bread, the snack is likely to sway even the most dedicated animal-lover. Indeed just this week Keir Starmer told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that he still pines for bacon sandwiches, despite having been a vegetarian for several years. And if you’ve bitten the bullet (or the pig, so to speak) on a drunken night out, then yes, you are a hypocrite. And no, it doesn’t matter how many Negronis were in your system.