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Environmentally conscious celebrities

Source: Office of the Governor-General

By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio

The horrifying images of the Amazon burning, seen across both mainstream and social media, reinvigorated public concern for the welfare of the environment – pushing environmental issues to the top of a very crowded news agenda. In part due to years of activism and media coverage, the public, as well as celebrities, have started to become more environmentally conscious.

Complementing years of grassroots activism from members of the general public, celebrities are using their platform and status to raise issues around the environment. The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle recently guest-edited an issue of British Vogue, titled “Forces for change” where she promoted women who she found inspirational, as well as spreading awareness and raising issues that are close to her heart. Climate change formed an integral part of the issue, with her husband, Prince Harry, interviewing renowned ethnologist and primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall – where both stressed the importance of protecting the environment for future generations.

In the wake of the issue’s publication, both Meghan and Harry have come under intense scrutiny and criticism from both the press and the public due to their lifestyle. The Sun accused the couple of taking four private jets in the space of 11 days, sparking accusations of hypocrisy. The same type of criticism has been thrown at other environmentally conscious celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Harry Styles.     

Are these celebrities not practicing what they preach? Is this type of criticism fair and justified? The obvious answer is yes, it definitely is hypocritical, but it’s complicated.

Nobody likes a hypocrite, and living a lifestyle of flying private jets and yachting across the world whilst also imploring anyone who will listen to help fight climate change doesn’t necessarily help the cause DiCaprio and the royal couple are fighting for. However, whilst their message is somewhat diluted by their actions, their net impact is doing more good than harm. Their own individual impact is helping rather than hindering their cause, as the platform and influence these individuals have are impacting the planet more than their carbon footprint is. Whilst their carbon footprint is undoubtedly much higher than the average person’s emissions, in the grand scheme of things, their impact on the destruction of the planet as a whole is minuscule. Plus, whilst DiCaprio isn’t perfect, he has set up a non-profit that promotes environmental awareness, and has also invested millions to help fight for the cause.

Whilst in the case of the royal couple, it can be argued that due to their status and their notoriety, it may be appropriate for them to use a private jet – which I agree with – the whole affair just comes across as a bit clumsy. Could they not have spent a few more days in each individual place, or made use of other, less polluting means of transportation instead of taking four flights in the space of eleven days?

Climate change is extensive. A single human cannot directly generate big enough emissions to make an impact. Even if DiCaprio or the Royals – or every celebrity imaginable – become carbon neutral, climate change concerns will be just as pressing as they are now. I’m not trying to defend celebrities for poncing around in yachts and jets, but their status and power, and the sway these individuals have on those world leaders who do have to power to combat climate change with pledges of systematic reforms far outweighs the costs of their lifestyle. Scientists have warned that we are past the point where individual change can save us. It’s about systematic change, which can only be achieved by those in power, and if these hypocritical celebrities can help to achieve that – while it doesn’t excuse their emission-loaded lifestyle – then it’s a good thing.

Perhaps once we have got to a point where we have protected our planet, when can then focus on celebrities and their lifestyles. But until then, there are more pressing issues.

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