The leading spokesperson of today’s enviro-chic celebrities is Al Gore, whose face is everywhere from his award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth to Norway where he recently received the Nobel Peace Prize. Many Americans would naturally assume Gore follows the green lifestyle he widely promotes, and they would be wrong. Gore and his wife Tipper, whose children all live elsewhere, reside in a behemoth 20-room mansion outside of Nashville that used nearly 23,000 kilowatt-hours last August, more than twice the annual—yes, annual—energy usage of a typical American home. Gore’s preferred mode of transportation between stops on his international publicity tour is his private jet, which spews out CO2 emissions at the rate of a small army of SUVs.
Hypocritical enviro-advocates abound these days, constantly reminding us to make sacrifices in the interest of the earth while forgoing few comforts themselves. Green activist and actor John Travolta likes to spend his free time toying around in one of his five private planes, including a commercial Boeing 707, racking up 800 tons of carbon emissions in the last year. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has managed to promote his idea of an environmentally friendly lifestyle by creating a hydrogen-fueled Hummer—a car that gets a whopping 10-15 miles per gallon—while crisscrossing the country in his private jet. Last year, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (D-Il.) gave a speech in Washington D.C. emphasizing the need to drive more fuel-efficient cars before hopping into his own hybrid car. Several blocks away, he was caught switching from his environmentally friendly ride into a gas-guzzling SUV.
These celebrities and politicians justify their unnecessary consumption by purchasing carbon credits, which many of the nouveau-conscious acquire in order to offset their excessive energy usage. Carbon credits were established by the Kyoto Protocol, which established limits on carbon emissions for most countries (incidentally the United States has still not signed this agreement even though it is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases). Countries and companies who fall below their established limits are free to trade their credits in the global emissions market to other parties—including individuals—who have exceeded their emissions limits. When celebrities today buy these credits, they are allowing themselves to continue their disproportionate consumption while somewhere else in the world carbon emissions are reduced by other societies to make up for American excess.
While these superficial efforts by stars to offset their consumption are admirable, they are not a lasting solution. The average American household would have to buy $276,000 a year in carbon credits to counteract their carbon emissions, a price tag few Americans would be able to afford. Moreover, even if every American household could afford carbon credits, the result would be that Third World countries would bear the burden of our excessive lifestyles. While carbon credits are a viable short-term option for industry and an important step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the corporate sector, they are not practical for American families.
Hollywood stars have long used their fame to advocate changes in our society. Today’s stars are falling short in their environmental efforts, holding a double standard that allows them to continue to fly private jets while imploring other Americans to drive hybrids and turn down their thermostats. In today’s celebrity obsessed society, where pictures of celebs are splashed across dozens of magazines, websites, and newspapers, this failure to practice what they preach detracts from their message. Americans want to emulate the stars, not just obey them.
The American lifestyle is built upon overindulgence; from McMansions to SUVs we love our conspicuous consumption. That way of life is no longer sustainable. Our planet is disintegrating, and unless we begin to change our ways—and not just talk about changing them—those $10 million dollar Malibu homes will no longer exist for Hollywood’s celebrities to frolic in. America has plenty of these phony Hollywood enviro-celebswhat it needs now is someone who actually practices what he preaches.
Peter W. Tilton ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Adams House.