First, the facts: A major report last month from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that to stabilize levels of greenhouse gas emissions would require investments of about $13 trillion through 2030 and transitioning from fossil fuels to low-carbon sources of energy will cost about $44 trillion between now and 2050 (Technology Review). Climate change is expensive, and the longer governments wait to do something about the worsening issue, the more costly it will become.
Where is this money going to come from? People tend to forget that climate change is currently affecting the lives of many people around the world. The most vulnerable targets of the climate crisis are people living in poverty. Climate change causes food shortages, displaces entire populations, and threatens people’s livelihoods. “Three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive,” according to Mercy Corps. As there is an increasing amount of unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons, and natural disasters, these vulnerable populations are threatened. This means that climate change is a matter of life or death.
But what about the 1%? The richest people in the world who, conveniently, live on top of tall hills out of reach from floods, or the people who travel on private jets everywhere they go? I have yet to hear of one of these rich celebrities who doesn’t claim to be a climate change “activist” (except maybe Donald Trump). Most celebrity “activists” are not only inactive when it comes to making a significant donation or cutting down their excessive carbon footprint, but also extremely hypocritical in how they live their lavish lives.
For example, in 2017 the famous English actress Emma Thompson flew on a private jet to attend a climate change rally. According to the National Review, “International air travel is one of the most carbon-intensive things a person can do,” which puts a lot of celebrities who claim to be climate “activists” at a loss for excuses. A similar hypocritical event occurred when the British Royal couple, Prince Harry and Megan Markle, lectured the world about climate change. “With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference,” said Prince Harry, although he and his wife fly practically everywhere on a private jet. Forbes reported that in late July, Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry, Chris Martin, Harry Styles, Nick Jonas, Priyanka Chopra, and Orlando Bloom flew by private jet to a Google conference about climate change .
This is the problem. Celebrities don’t just fail to act in a meaningful way on climate change issues, but they also preach to everyone the seriousness of climate change while they simultaneously make no effort to follow their own dire warnings. As much as I find it positive for celebrities to be spreading these messages through their large public platforms and spheres of influence, it is troubling that they, themselves do not make an effort to reduce their own carbon footprints. How can the public be expected to change their way of life when celebrities, who have a considerably larger negative impact on the environment, refuse to give up convenience for more eco-friendly choices?
As Ricky Gervais comedically and scathingly pointed out in his opening speech for the Golden Globes, “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.” Gervais’ comment is on the nose; celebrities should use their power and privilege to actually change the world, not to lecture the public when they don’t follow the advice themselves.
An example of celebrities who have actually practiced what they preach is the world-famous band Coldplay who decided to suspend their world tour because of environmental concerns. Although the band has grossed more than $500 million, they sacrificed their tour and earnings to make sure that they could make the tour more sustainable and carbon-neutral. If more celebrities like Coldplay would treat the climate crisis like the actual crisis that it is, the world would be in a much more positive trajectory towards fighting climate change.
Fighting climate change takes an influential platform to spread awareness, sacrifices, and money. Celebrities tend to get stuck in the spreading awareness phase by preaching about climate change on their social media or during award shows. Although this is an important step, if we don’t begin to make actual changes, it will eventually become too late.
Celebrities are more than capable of donating large sums of money to organizations that are fighting climate change on the front-lines like helping flood victims in Haiti or Bangladesh or to scientists who hope to create products that are more sustainable, reusable, and eco-friendly.
Celebrities are also more than capable of sacrificing convenience in their lives for the greater good. Impoverished populations across the world are already suffering, and climate change has already taken lives so the least that wealthy people of power can do is to cut down their carbon footprint. And honestly, do celebrities really need private jets, 10 pools, and motorized blinds?
Sacrifices have to be made for there to be any progress fighting climate change and, naturally, the people who have the most should sacrifice the most instead of the people with the least, sacrificing the most.