Do Celebrities Really Buy the Climate-Change Story?

Actress Emma Thompson attends the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in France. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

On the hypocrisy of celebrity activists

I love Emma Thompson’s acting. I wish somebody would tell her about Skype.

The great English actress is a climate-change activist, “activist” here meaning “a celebrity who cares about popular causes in public.” When she recently was accused of hypocrisy for jumping on a jet to attend a climate-change rally — international air travel is one of the most carbon-intensive things a person can do — she attempted to justify herself, saying: “For decades now we have been asking for clean energy, and this has been ignored.”

That is some grade-A magical thinking: The constraints involved in the problem of moving x pounds of people or freight y distance at speed z are questions of physics, not questions of ethics. “Asking for” things to be different does not remove those constraints; for decades now, I have been asking for a way to live off bourbon and cheeseburgers without getting fat and unnecessarily dead but, so far, no dice. Physics always wins.

Thompson argues that she simply must travel: “I have to when I’m working,” she says. But she is as rich as Croesus — she has Harry Potter money, for Pete’s sake — and does not “have to” work at all. And if by “work” she means “seeing some friends and basking in the warm glow of public approval while enjoying some champagne and canapés in support of a very popular cause,” then she could teleconference in if her voice is really so irreplaceable.

It isn’t, of course. If Emma Thompson fails to show up for the party, there are a thousand celebrities ready to take her place, to say nothing of ordinary schmucks. Climate change is one of the most popular causes in the world. There isn’t anybody who hasn’t heard about it and is just waiting on that nice lady from Nanny McPhee to share the grim news.

But nobody really believes in the apocalyptic story that celebrity activists such as Emma Thompson and Greta Thunberg tell. Emma Thompson does not have to travel. Greta Thunberg does not have to sail in a boat made from petroleum to perform a publicity stunt and then fly crew around the world on a big-ass jet to fetch the silly thing. We have the Internet. We have TikTok. Got something to say? Twitter is ready when you are.

If you want to know how deeply people really believe in this stuff, look at the real estate. New York is a national and world leader in building energy-efficient “net zero” office buildings — and, as of summer, it had . . . four of them. The celebrities keep promising us rising seas, but real-estate prices remain quite high in Malibu, Miami Beach, and the Hamptons. Jane Fonda recently lectured readers of the New York Times: “We have to live like we’re in a climate emergency.” Apparently, “live like we’re in a climate emergency” means living in a 7,100-square-foot mansion with an elevator, pool, fountains, motorized blinds, etc.

“Alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable,” writes David Wallace-Wells, also in the Times. He has a book on climate change he’d very much like to sell you. Available in both hardcover and paperback. Don’t ask what it is printed on.

He should send a copy to Jane Fonda, at one of her expansive, energy-hogging homes.

It’s not just the real estate. Gulfstream sales were up 31 percent in the first quarter of 2019 — and some of those private jets are taking greenie-weenie activists to climate-change conferences, to be sure . . . or to Cannes, or shuffling them between Beverly Hills and London, etc. An activist’s work is never done.

My point here is not the hypocrisy and stupidity of celebrities, Leonardo DiCaprio sailing around on the world’s fifth-largest yacht and all that. I don’t mind hypocrisy all that much — it is right up there with alcohol among the most valuable social lubricants.

I just wish DiCaprio would pay more attention to his own movies: You know that scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in which Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt at his best) walks a gauntlet of hysterical, screaming acolytes of Charles Manson? That’s modern celebrity-activist culture in concentrated form. You think Quentin Tarantino cast Lena Dunham of all people as the subaltern of that sorry little cult for no reason? Everybody seems to have been in on that joke except her.

There are many, many cult members who know in their hearts that the cult and its beliefs are bullsh*t. But they need something to which to submit and do not have the strength of mind or character to face up to the facts.

But everybody apparently needs an apocalyptic story to get them through the tedium of these prosperous and peaceful days, this “weak, piping time of peace.” For some people, that need is filled by actual apocalyptic fiction, The Walking Dead or The City Where We Once Lived. For right-wing talk-radio hosts, it’s a story about the coming American civil war. For nice urban progressives, it’s climate change. Why all the doom and gloom? Because the end of the world is the ultimate moral permission slip, the all-trumping “desperate times call for desperate measures” ethical get-out-of-jail-free card. Antifa goons aren’t putting on black masks and engaging in political violence because they’re convinced that the United States is about to turn into a neo-Nazi hellhole — they’ve convinced themselves that the United States is about to turn into a neo-Nazi hellhole because they want to put on black masks and engage in political violence.

And what does the global-warming gang want? There isn’t any mystery about that. You can ask them. They want political power. They want the power to reorder economic and social life along the lines they see fit, rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies, and they want to enjoy the ultimate pleasure that they can imagine — self-righteousness — while they are doing it.

I myself have more or less conventional views of climate change and believe that adapting to it will be a challenge that imposes real costs. But I’ll believe that the celebrity activists believe in it when they start acting like it and the general-aviation section of the Pitkin County Airport looks like Rick Husband Amarillo International (!) Airport. I’ll believe they think we’re in an emergency when they start acting like we’re in an emergency.

What they act like is people who want power. Because that is what they are.

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