HOLLYWOOD - It’s not easy being green, especially for Hollywood A-listers. Solar panels on a 50,000-square-foot home in Malibu just don’t scream “Live simply!” Ditto hopping onto a private plane to get to the Live Earth concert.
Of course, celebrities don’t let their lavish lifestyles stop them from preaching temperance. Eco-friendly living isn’t about great sacrifice, they contend, it’s about making small changes. It’s about voting green. It’s about buying green. Besides, they say, they’re doing their part by using their fame to broadcast a pro-Earth message. Isn’t that enough?
It might have been, once. But then, the green movement became part of the mainstream. For the rich and famous, the competition to out-green the next guy got so fierce that the next logical place to take the Greening of Hollywood was the exposé: sussing out the hypocrites. Media outlets are scrutinizing green-speaking stars. Your teeth-brushing ritual is tied directly to our dwindling water supply, so the lives of green stars are expected to be especially transparent.
Even passive support of the cause is reason enough for a celebrity’s carbon footprint to be inspected. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can adopt three children from poor nations and travel the world to promote humanitarian aid, yet still have to answer for a recent helicopter ride they took from Manhattan to a Hamptons fundraiser for Pitt’s green-home-building project in New Orleans.
On the surface, celebrities have become prickly when the subject of their green habits comes up. “We’re all trying the best we can, truly we really are,” Leonardo DiCaprio said in May. But even the subtext of that quote reveals genuine confusion. Does one cross-country ride in a private jet cancel out the vegetarianism and the bamboo floors?
There’s no shortage of outlets eager to chronicle every green move a celebrity makes in the now-standard “green issues” of general interest magazines, TV shows and Web sites such as Treehugger.com, Dailygreen.com and Grist.org. Some activists even say the scrutiny is a boon to the cause. Green gossip tells us that Julia Roberts brings her own metal cup to coffeehouses, that Pitt and Jolie bought an organic vineyard, that Matt Damon bought his entire family Priuses.
But to many, this all looks like window dressing.
Take Ecorazzi.com, which launched a year ago. The primary mission of the green Web site, co-founded by Michael d’Estries and Rebecca Carter, is to track the green habits of celebrities. “If people in the spotlight are going to get up there, they’re going to have to come prepared,” d‘Estries said. “They’re going to have to look at their own lives first. Otherwise it’s just green washing.”
The day after “An Inconvenient Truth’s” Oscar win in February, political blogger Matt Drudge posted an item from a conservative think tank claiming that the former vice president’s 20-room mansion and pool house in Nashville, Tenn., consumed 20 times more energy than the average American home. Gore’s camp didn’t deny the claims, but quickly issued a news release explaining that he offsets with carbon credits and solar power.
At the Cannes Film Festival in May, DiCaprio couldn’t secure a hybrid, so he insisted his driver drop him off out of sight of reporters so he could walk up to the premiere of his new eco-crisis film, “The 11th Hour.” A British reporter asked him whether he had taken a private jet to France.
“No,” he quipped. “I took a train across the Atlantic.”
This summer, the backlash was deafening in response to Gore’s Live Earth concerts to raise awareness of global warming. Reporters calculated the tons of garbage, CO2 emissions and energy consumption the event would generate. They dug up anti-environmental details about performers. Madonna was savaged for participating in an eco-friendly cause when she owns nine homes and a fleet of cars. The star later said she had committed to educating herself and her family and vowed to “make changes.”
Many assert that to be truly green, celebrities must not just carbon-offset or advocate for the cause, they must relinquish the private jet, the massive square footage that must be heated and cooled, the second homes, the garages full of cars.
Ecologist Glen Barry, a blogger and occasional media spokesman for green causes, criticized Live Earth as “shallow reformist tokenism (that) reinforces current blind faith in technology, capitalism and corporatism that has brought us to our current situation.” He has targeted DiCaprio in particular, he said, because the actor hasn’t given up private jet travel. One hour flown in a private jet emits the pollution equivalent of driving an SUV for a year, Barry said, so any benefit from DiCaprio’s Prius and home solar panels is more than canceled out every time he travels by private jet.
“We’re sending the wrong message that you can consume opulently like a movie star and still protect the planet,” Barry said. “You can’t.”