It’s difficult to find a common ground for moral behavior in society nowadays. What was standard yesterday isn’t relevant today. Everything that’s fun is permissible. Yet, in spite of this it is difficult to define what is morally desirable. But there is a new field at hand where one can prove one’s virtue: environmentalism! Not only governments and corporations are committed to it. Even the ordinary man – Joe Bloggs – has enough leeway here to appear moral: from separation of waste, use of domestic appliances/car with economical fuel consumption, and CO2-emission-neutral housing construction, up to the use of sun lotion during a beach vacation that won’t harm corals. It’s good to do all these things as long as they are indeed sustainable. But with the topic of sustainability a huge problem shows up for many environmental measurements. A few examples:

• After the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan, nuclear energy was denigrated, and some countries opted out of producing nuclear energy. As a result nuclear energy needed to be imported from other countries. So, producing nuclear energy is bad but importing nuclear energy is ok? And these days nuclear energy is not the big topic anymore but the reduction of CO2 emissions is: Now there are environmental activists promoting the reintroduction of nuclear energy because measurements to reduce CO2 emissions haven’t succeeded so far. In fact, another headline mentioned that scientists have developed a method for producing nuclear energy without nuclear waste. In the end it doesn’t look like opting out of nuclear energy was a sustainable decision for the environment.

• The highly praised – and heavily subsidized – wind energy has recently been blamed for adversely influencing ecosystems. So, what protects the environment in one area by producing emission free energy can significantly harm the environment in another area.

• It was revealed about waste separation systems (recycling programs) that parts of the separated waste were not recycled after separation but exported into countries with little or no environmental standards. This reduces waste only in the country of origin. But in the country where it ends up it’s not only adding to the waste, but the way the waste is treated there is most likely worse for the environment than if it had been treated at the place where it came from.

• Modern housing construction accomplishes remarkable results regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions. But to achieve these outcomes, among other things, highly toxic insulation materials are used which can release poisons in the case of fire and are, furthermore, not recyclable at all. Again, what protects the environment in one area could significantly harm the environment in another area.

This listing shows that not every well-meaning environmental measure is indeed helpful. A sustainable environmental measure must benefit the environment overall and not just shift problems from one area to another area. But such a level of sustainability is seldom achieved. Instead, the topic of environmentalism drifts into mere lobbyism where the solutions from today will be turned around tomorrow and produce only a costly back and forth.

Therefore environmentalism can’t serve as the only benchmark for moral behavior nowadays: The cleansing of the inner man is still as important as the cleaning of the environment around mankind.