March 12, 2019
Leonardo Di Caprio: Practice What You Preach
~A first Op-ed~
* in the process of pitching this to news outlets!
Leonardo Di Caprio: Titanic! Actor! Beautiful! Hypocrite? To people passionate about sustainable living and climate change mitigation, Leo’s name is synonymous with ‘hero’ and ‘activist.’ But, what if another word used to describe Mr. Di Caprio was hypocritical? When people begin to piece together his actions, a pattern begins to appear: “There’s Di Caprio, on David Geffen’s mega yacht, alone. And there he is on a yacht in St Tropez. And last week, there he was in Davos, Switzerland, lecturing us all and blaming corporate greed for causing global climate change.” In 2016, he flew a whopping 8,000 miles across the world on his private jet to accept a ‘green award.’ It’s time to come to terms with the double-life that the supposed face of our environmentalist movement is leading.
Unfortunately, this hypocrisy is not just a Leo problem, rather a movement problem. As such, I urge for a reorganization of the Environmentalist movement that values leading by example over hypocrisy and tainted intentions. It’s time to remind ourselves of Gandhi's once-famous quote: “Be the change you want to see in the World.” Leo cannot be the face of this movement.
How do his actions impact the rest of us ‘normal’ conservationists? Do they? Turns out, this issue is not a them problem, but an us problem. The science is conclusive: people are easily influenced by their surroundings. A 2013 study on groupthink found that social influences constitute a ‘major mechanism shaping public opinion about public issues such as climate change. It is this phenomenon that proves detrimental to the environmentalist cause: If someone I idolize is praised for preaching environmental activism, only to then get into his gas-guzzling car afterwards, I might think it okay to do the same. The president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research solidifies this idea as he writes, "If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn't care… But he tells other people how to live and he's not following his own rules." In other words, people in positions of power have a responsibility to lead by example if they want to see real change -- because, whether or not their audience is conscious of it, they will be influenced by it.
Some may argue that this is an unproductive conversation to have. The fact is, Di Caprio’s foundation, LDF, has raised upwards of $100 million dollars. However, this isn’t about discrediting the work he has done. This is about motivating our leaders to better align words with actions, and hold them accountable for the sake of the movement.
What is to come of this hypocrisy in the Environmentalist movement is restructuring. If we, concerned conservationists, are more thoughtful about who we decide to advertise as the leader of this movement, we can accomplish much in the name of environmental conservation. Doing so would give more credibility to our cause, while also warding off criticism from conservatives, who use Di Caprio’s controversial actions to delegitimize the movement. The question then becomes: who should take his place? For one, take Rob Greenfield, the creator of a Food Waste campaign who donates 100% of his media income to grassroots nonprofits and travels across the country -- on a bamboo bicycle -- to spread the word of sustainability. If we come together and put our money in the right places -- that is, sponsor and give attention to the people like Robert Greenfield that we truly do want to emulate -- we will let others know that this movement is valid and rooted in honesty.
In order to continue thriving in our environment, we need the assurance of a thriving planet -- and all efforts to achieve this cannot be half-hearted. And, when there is a way to undo the wrongs we observe in the movement, there is hope.
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