Stark hypocrisy of celebrities eclipses climate change coverage

30th Aug 2019
Stark hypocrisy of celebrities eclipses climate change coverage

(image: CC)

“Do as I say, not as I do” was the message high profile celebrities attending this year’s lavish Google Camp in Sicily told the world. The annual event that hosts A-listers like Barack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Prince Harry is extremely secretive and costs the tech giant upwards of $20 million. This year’s theme, somewhat ironically given the extravagance of the event, is climate change.

Sicily, which has hosted the summit for the past six years, reportedly had to make room at its airport for more than a hundred private jets. Other stars arrived on multi-million dollar yachts. Though major news outlets didn’t cover the event much, since it’s nearly impossible to access, there was heavy criticism online for the hypocrisy of guests in how they transported themselves there.

It was the ultimate show of ‘business as usual.’

For someone seeking investment for anything, ‘wining and dining’ are necessary – one must set the stage, make the potential sponsor feel important; and then they can make their pitch. But for an issue so dire and with such a necessity for frugality and efficiency to solve, this event was just another slap in the face of climate activists who are willing to sacrifice.

Individuals who care about climate change are willing to eat less meat, drive energy-efficient cars, and buy more sustainable products, but there is always the elephant in the room – industry. These rich and powerful Google Camp attendees are the ones who can make a sweeping impact, by changing the way they run their businesses, invest their money, make their movies, etc.

The conversation among those who can afford private jets and yachts often comes to carbon offsets – investing in someone else to cut emissions rather than doing it themselves.

Google Camp is a 3-day event where invitees’ costs, other than transportation, are covered. Past meeting topics have included feminism and the role of sports in modern culture.

The hosts, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, describe the event as a “meeting of the minds” between powerful people from the technology sector as well as business and thought leaders.
“It’s all about optics.”

No one knows this better than A-list celebrities. Unfortunately, most of the media coverage for this event, scarce though it may be, focused on the stark hypocrisy of the guests’ actions versus the topic at hand. Certainly, attendees theoretically understand the dire consequences of climate change and are even willing to throw money at the problem, investing in efficient gadgets and green organizations, but in terms of living by example – taking the less convenient but more energy-efficient route – not a chance.

Perhaps Google would have taken its theme more seriously had it invited the press to observe as some of the world’s brightest business minds discuss the issue of climate change. Without the media, though, it looks more like a Coldplay concert at a UNESCO World Heritage site. (The lead singer of the group, Chris Martin, is reported to have serenaded guests at the Valley of Temple ruins.)

Private industry plays a major role in how the world is run. These days, space exploration isn’t even being left to governments. As of now, the largest and most reputable climate change conferences are hosted by the UN.
World leaders come together and negotiate, set common goals, and frame commitments – some of which are legally binding (if rarely enforced.) Imagine if a parallel conference could be held by the private sector – what would the world see?

What could governments learn from the way industry leads? Governments care deeply about their national economies, and businesses make no mistake about their obligation to their bottom line.

The goals are not that different – public opinion still plays a major role in the willingness of each stakeholder to act. Why not show the world in a more concrete way how the private sector – those who influence the average consumer – tackles a problem?

The innovators of the tech and business spheres can make anything appealing and sell it; maybe if they do, governments will catch up and make such changes mandatory. The world needs all hands on deck if humanity is going to survive climate change; instead of taking extravagant vacations to talk about the problem, perhaps the rich and powerful could act on it instead.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, Environmental Columnist, English Language Teacher


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