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Climate Change: is Celebrity Climate Activism a Paradox or Wakeup Call?



Extinction Rebellion
Photo / Extinction Rebellion

Does Admitting To Hypocrisy Absolve Celebs Who Support The Extinction Rebellion?

Earlier this week, many celebrities signed a letter admitting to being hypocrites for living high-carbon emission lifestyles while still advocating for environmental reformation. Put together by the Extinction Rebellion climate activist group, the letter speaks from the point of view of a celebrity activist. It acknowledges the fact that celebrities live environmentally inefficient and luxurious lives, often involving private flights, heavy transportation, and immense resources. 

Nevertheless, the letter is not an apology. In fact, it is not even a promise for personal improvement. It is simply a statement, an acknowledgement from those who signed it that despite their environmental imperfections, they will not be silenced and will continue to fight for climate action. It explains that celebrities may indeed be hypocrites, as the entertainment industry oftentimes leaves a huge carbon footprint. However, it states that this should not change the fact that politicians must listen to science and prioritize policies that combat the large, systemic environmental issues at hand.

All of this rings true and fair, but a lingering question still remains—does this admission of hypocrisy really absolve these celebrities from not doing their individual parts and leading such environmentally destructive lives?

Enacting Change takes more than Rhetoric – Action by Governments and Industry must be Demanded

Of course, climate crisis is such an enormous issue that in order to effectively combat it, action must take place on a global, intergovernmental level. At the same time, though, doesn’t every individual also have a responsibility for leading an environmentally conscious life?

The idea that the letter would preemptively remove the accusation, so often used by the media, that celebs are nothing more than hypocrites and should stay out of politics is a good one. Ultimately, even the richest and most privileged among us will suffer when the earth is destroyed. Through their special influence and status they must push even harder for systemic change at the level of government and industry.

Celebrities Can and Need to do So Much More than Bring Awareness

None of this is to say that celebrities should give up their efforts to speak out about the climate crisis. Celebrities can be immensely influential people, and therefore their words could very much instigate positive change. Nevertheless, the letter gesture cannot help but feel a little conceited. After all, given these celebrities’ influences, their personal actions could speak just as loud as their words.

Established actors and filmmakers who signed the letter could create change within their unions to make the entertainment industry less wasteful. The same could go for musicians, athletes, models, broadcasters, designers, and public figures in all walks of life. Given their position, these figures’ actions could do much more than the average citizen’s efforts to turn off the lights, recycle, or invest in a hybrid car. Celebrities can use connections in their fields and beyond to instigate tangible, large-scale changes. This tactic could effectively combat the issue on the systemic level that they advocate for.

Over a hundred celebrities have signed the letter so far. Among the famous names are actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Thom Yorke, and Jude Law, Oscar-winning director Alfonso CuaronAdam Clayton of U2, David Byrne of The Talking Heads, and many, many more. Obviously, we applaud these celebrities for being vocal about the climate crisis and using their influence to combat it. At the same time, though, hopefully that this letter does not act as a modern moral indulgence, and that they realize this admission to hypocrisy is at least a first step in taking on more and bigger ecological responsibilities.

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