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What he said: celebrity voyeur edition


Although he probably wouldn’t bill himself this way, I kind of think of David Roberts as the voice of irritated common sense in the green blogosphere. Here he is displaying irritated common sense on the deeply pointless topic of celebrity “hypocrisy,” a subject that for reasons unclear to me continues to get plenty of play in our own blog comments from seemingly well-meaning people.

There are a lot of people out there — people of all political leanings — who feel that celebrities, however defined, are somehow important. Some of these people further think that when celebrities behave in a less than exemplary fashion, their behavior discredits the causes to which they attach their name. Other people disagree and are able to marshal all sorts of points about human fallibility and the importance of raising awareness and so on and so forth.

All of the people on both sides of this argument should take a long walk, or call a loved one they haven’t spoken to in a while, or work on a chapter of that novel they’ve been putting off. Because this whole debate over celebrity hypocrisy is just so damned dull and irrelevant to anything that actually matters.

It doesn’t matter if Barbra Streisand uses a fleet of coal-powered Hummers to transport her concert entourage. It doesn’t matter if Al Gore relaxes on weekends by clearcutting Amazon rainforest. Mind you, these things would surely be bad, even unforgivable. I certainly wouldn’t defend these actions, and I grant that they would undercut the effectiveness of Babs & Al as environmental spokespeople. But this stuff still wouldn’t, in a cosmic sense, matter.

Here’s what I mean by doesn’t matter:

None of the carbon bills currently jostling for attention in Congress specifically mention Barbra Streisand by name, or make any of their provisions contingent on Streisand’s 2008 concert schedule.

Of the 960 scientific studies of climate change published in peer-reviewed journals in the last ten years, 0 base their conclusions on the size of Al Gore’s swimming pool.

Technological advances have revealed sources of clean energy and low-emissions transportation that are commercially viable today regardless of the location of RFK Jr.’s summer home.

A recent survey taken at the TerraPass water cooler reveals the following breakdown of conversational topics:

  • Voluntary carbon standards: 22.8%
  • Greenhouse gas mitigation strategies: 14.7%
  • Climate change policy: 11.9%
  • Where to have lunch: 8.3%
  • Bumper sticker design: 1.2%
  • New ways to haze our intern: 42.1%
  • Celebrity carbon footprints: 0.0%

Do we avoid discussing celebrity carbon footprints because of an environmental conspiracy of silence? No, we avoid it because it’s an uninteresting topic. Anybody who raised it would quickly be uninvited from lunch and barred from hazing the intern.

Believe me, I’ve heard all of the arguments about why celebrity footprints do, in fact, matter. “If Al Gore is going to tell the entire world that they should live in grass huts, then…” Here’s the thing: you shouldn’t do anything because Al Gore tells you to. You should do stuff because the actual issue at hand is important, and because of all the nice scientists and NGOs and businesspeople doing meaningful work on the problem, and because you’re concerned about the consequences of inaction. And, by all means, feel free to hate on Barbra Streisand for being an energy-sucking hypocrite, just like you might hate on Paris Hilton for being, well, you know. Just stop trying to suggest that Barbra actually matters any more than Paris does.

Some argue that if environmental groups don’t want people attacking their messengers, they should stop using celebrities as spokespeople. This is, in effect, an argument that environmentalists should be stupid:

A phone rings at the headquarters of an environmental advocacy group.

Earnest environmental advocate: Hello?

Leonardo DiCaprio: Hi. My name is Leonardo DiCaprio. I’d like to promote your cause.

EEA: (suspiciously) What’s your carbon footprint?

LD: I don’t know. But journalists follow me around like a pack of hungry puppies. I could put in a good word for you.

EEA: Do you use low-flow showerheads?

LD: Um, I’m not sure. Which house–


There are so many things in this world to worry about. Isn’t it refreshing to know that you can remove the environmental impact of celebrity lifestyles from the list?

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