Afew weeks ago, I wrote an item about Barbra Streisand, who was on tour in England. Though she’s a big backer of environmental causes, and even offers tips for low-carbon living on her personal website, she was busted by the British press for touring in a private jet with a massive entourage that required 13 trucks and vast amounts of laundry—in other words, for sponsoring a traveling CO2 extravaganza.
I e-mailed my item to an editor at Grist, a popular environmental website and blog. The editor promptly sent back a sarcastic reply accusing me of “trolling for links by carrying right wing water.” In his view, only conservative blogs would be interested in a snarky item about a liberal totem like Streisand; left-leaning sites protect their own. And here I thought hypocrisy was a non-partisan punch line.
This was no isolated incident, but part of what’s becoming a tediously familiar pattern. It starts when Celebrity X clambers up on a soapbox to tell the rest of us what we ought to be doing to Help Stop Global Warming. In short order, News Outlet Y reveals that Celebrity X is, in fact, a hypocrite, owing to her frequent private jet travel, energy-sucking McMansion, and generally outsize carbon footprint. Right on cue, supporters of Celebrity X counterattack, alleging that News Outlet Y is a tool of Right-Wing Corporate Interests, which merely want to obscure the debate over climate change with a lot of he-said-she-said crosstalk so they can continue with their nefarious, polluting ways. At the end of it all, Celebrity X, feeling vindicated, is free to carry on with her Earth-defiling behavior.
Over the past couple years, as global warming has become the fashionable cause among the bien-pensant class, this scenario has played out with increasing frequency on blogs, in gossip columns, and on cable TV shoutfests. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston, Barbra Streisand, John Edwards, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Laurie David, Jann Wenner, and even Al Gore himself have all taken turns being accused, with varying degrees of justification, of failing to match word to deed.
That’s not surprising; anyone’s life, placed under a microscope, is bound to yield embarrassments. What is surprising is the way celebrities react to such charges: sometimes by ignoring them outright, sometimes by spouting lame self-justifications, but rarely, if ever, by acknowledging the disconnect and vowing to lead a humbler, cleaner, more sustainable existence. It’s as though they believe their well-intentioned words are the equivalent of carbon offsets (though, to be sure, many of them are buying the real thing as well).
Take Laurie David, soon-to-be-ex-wife of Seinfeld co-creator Larry, and producer of An Inconvenient Truth and other save-the-earth extravaganzas. Though she boasts about using recycled toilet paper and compact fluorescent lightbulbs, David has been pilloried for, among other excesses, flying on private jets. Here’s what she has said in defense of her travel habits: “I’m not perfect. This is not about perfection. I don’t expect anybody else to be perfect either. That’s what hurts the environmental movement—holding people to a standard they cannot meet.”
Apparently, when you’re worth a few hundred million dollars, being asked to refrain from the most carbon-intensive indulgence known to man qualifies as “holding people to a standard they cannot meet.” Note, too, her use of emotional jujitsu: the ones who are really hurting the environment are the ones who are so impolite as to point out her bad behavior.