A Little Quieter, Please

Hollywood Stars Might Not Be the Best Public Critics of the Fossil Fuel Industry

Chill A Bit
Chill A Bit

Canada’s new Liberal government can hardly be accused of being soft on climate change: at the recent Paris Summit it endorsed a target of holding global warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius over historic levels. So when you hear this from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, listen:

Most recently in Davos on Wednesday, [Leonardo] DiCaprio used a major speech on climate change to rail against what he described as the “corporate greed” of the energy sector and called for an end to fossil-fuel use….

A senior Liberal official said that Trudeau told DiCaprio during a dinner on Wednesday that the award-winning actor’s comments were causing more harm than good….

‘The prime minister said there’s a new (federal) government, there’s a new government in Edmonton, and they’re both working hard to do something serious about this issue that you care about,’ the official said. He said Trudeau told DiCaprio ‘making statements like that to the media, at a time when a lot of people who are not making the kind of money you’re making and are losing their jobs, is not helpful.’

Trudeau has a point. It’s great that DiCaprio is such a warrior on climate, but there is always a risk when Hollywood gets on its high horse. And that’s especially true given Hollywood’s not-so-great record about, say, racial minorities and the Oscars.

Not King of the World
Not King of the World

Yes, we must end dependence on fossil fuels. But millions of people depend on that industry for their jobs, and when you have a government like Canada’s (or the socialist government in Alberta) that are working hard on the issue, maybe it’s time to tone it down. And that’s particularly true when you are a multi-millionaire. Yes, yes: the burgeoning renewal industry could eventually provide millions of high-paying jobs, more than the ones that the fossil fuel industry provides. But it’s easy to say that from a podium at Davos (or even a professor’s office).

It poses a real political organizing difficulty. It is necessary to call out the people and industries that are melting the planet. Social movements are better galvanized around opposition to something rather than a general hope for change (see, e.g., Keystone XL). But Hollywood stars probably are not the best messenger: they should be spending more time raising and giving money to political organizers (like the Environmental Voter Project). Even DiCaprio, who puts his money where his mouthEnvironmental Voter Project is and is a generous philathropist, focuses more on a high profile projects than long-term funding of environmental political infrastructure.

Climate change is the overarching and searing human issue of our time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be smart about it.


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Reader Comments

6 Replies to “A Little Quieter, Please”

  1. OUF….
    I would have so much to say about this…

    Let’s just remember that «socialist» Alberta has just given itself a ceiling on emissions which is 42% OVER their already astronomic emissions … The richest par capita province with – by far – the worst GHG emissions of Canada, has just given itself a goal which is suitable for LDC’s (Least Developped Countries) that can claim their right to access to basic development …
    Moreover, with their friends in Ottawa, they are putting pressure to pass along the majestic St-Laurence River the longest pipeline of NorthAmerica (twice Keystone…), putting eastern Canada’s environment, biodiversity and economy in danger, in order to be able to ship around the world the worst petrolum that exist in terms of carbon footprint.

    Like for DiCaprio, its easy for Trudeau to say «max 1,5C ! »… Now how the hell can Canada comply ???
    Trudeau gov say they will now put hundred of billions$ in a national infrastructure program… Please, watch them ! Let see if they will invest in infrastructure of the petrolum era or of the post Paris accord era …

    Montréal, CANADA

  2. I agree with you that it may be a bit unhelpful to be so adamant and emphatic as Di Caprio was. On the other hand, because of his celebtity status his voice can get far. And his generosity is clearly inspiring.

    What’s hard to understand is the ad hominem attack you make on Hiollywood stars. What’s the connection between the lack of minority representation at the Oscars and this issue? And why can’t a millionaire have and express strong opinions on climate change? Respectfully, your logic is hard to follow. Unless, of course, it’s meant as demagogy and not logic.

  3. Seriously? Because the fossil fuel industry employs millions of people and Canada just elected a center-left (and more center than left) government that is “working hard on the issue,” rich and famous people like Leonardo DiCaprio should keep their mouths shut about how awful the fossil fuel industry is?

    I’m surprised Prime Minister Trudeau (and Prof. Zasloff) didn’t castigate DiCaprio for his personal use of fossil fuels (private jets, etc) — after all, isn’t the best argument against environmentalism that environmentalists are all hypocrites? “They drive cars, they eat meat, they wear clothes, they live in houses — what they’re saying about climate change has no merit!”

    It’s one thing to disagree with DiCaprio’s message, but quite another thing to (attempt to) invalidate his position simply because of who he is.

    Let’s try focusing on what DiCaprio actually said (and the substantive part of Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments): DiCaprio says that the corporate greed of the fossil fuel industry is destroying the planet (and humanity) and we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground if we are to have any hope. Trudeau thinks that it’s not realistic to end the fossil fuel industry overnight since it employs so many people, so instead of making them the enemy we should make them part of the solution.

    That’s an interesting debate, and one I’d be interested in hearing Prof. Zasloff’s thoughts about. But shooting the messenger? Not so interesting. Leave that to the fossil fuel industry — they love it and are good at it.

    I will thank Prof. Zasloff and Prime Minister Trudeau for bringing attention to DiCaprio’s comments at Davos, which I might not have heard otherwise. Here is a snippet that I found reported in a few places:

    “We simply cannot allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries to determine the future of humanity. Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied and even covered up the evidence of our changing climate. Enough is enough. You know better. The world knows better. History will place the blame for this devastation squarely at their feet. Our planet cannot be saved unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground where they belong. Twenty years ago, we described this problem as an addiction. Today, we possess the means to end this reliance.”

    Say it, Leonardo, say it. And please, keep saying it. Don’t listen to prime ministers. Or law professors.

  4. PS That new damned pipeline project is #EnergyEast:

    A major spill from that pipeline in along the St-Laurence, especially in its gulf, could easily have worst impacts than Deep water horizon in the Gulf of Mexico (as estimated by many scientifics, in particular by the Oceanographic Institute of the University of Québec in Rimouski). See also

    For more context, see Carbon Emissions and the Canadian Oil & Gas Sector, November 18, 2015

  5. I endorse the speech of Di Caprio and their call for the end of fossil fuel use.

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

READ more

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