THE actor Leonardo DiCaprio came in for a bit of stick on the Today programme last week after his Oscar-acceptance speech, in which he made an impassioned call for the world’s politicians to take action on climate change. “Presumably he got on his private jet the following morning,” said one of the world-weary cynics who was trotted out to comment. “I absolutely agree with you, he probably did,” said the other invited guest, casually branding the actor “a hypocrite”.
The interviewer, John Humphrys, made no attempt to point out that this double speculation was without any evident foundation. Indeed, the BBC’s journalistic flagship programme made no attempt to substantiate the allegation. Perhaps Mr DiCaprio does have a private jet. Perhaps not. Certainly a website that made a similar allegation, that he owned a diesel-guzzling private yacht, was forced to print a retraction the next day when it turned out he didn’t.
The film star had some locus in talking about climate change. His Oscar-winning film The Revenant tells the true story of a fur trapper in the 1820s who spent months crawling through the frozen American wilderness after being mauled by a bear. The making of the film, 200 years later, was twice disrupted when seven feet of snow melted within five hours. “We had to shut down production multiple times,” Mr DiCaprio said. “That’s what happens with climate change.”
The survival story of one man found an unexpected echo in the survival story of the entire planet. “We’ve seen such a tremendous lack of leadership, and we’ve allowed trillion-dollar industries to manipulate the argument about the science for too long,” the actor told the nine million people watching the Oscar ceremony worldwide. Some of those on social media, as well as on the Today programme, responded by calling him a phoney with a carbon-intensive lifestyle.
But suppose Mr DiCaprio did have a private jet, or mega-yacht. Would that invalidate the point he was making? One US eco-website did an interesting calculation. The world emits about 46 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. The United States is responsible for 6.6 billion of that: about 20,000 tonnes per US citizen.
Even if a rich Hollywood star emitted 500 times more than the average American, that would be only a paltry fraction of the kind of reductions that an inter-governmental global agreement could reach. In other words, the website concluded, with a graphic turn of phrase, “DiCaprio’s personal emissions are a fart in the wind when it comes to climate change.”
So the actor may not be a hypocrite so much as someone who has done the maths and understands that effective change will come only if governments act to restructure incentives in such a way that ordinary consumers — and mega-rich ones, too — have their self-interest channelled by regulations that guide them towards choosing the cleanest option.
A man who sips martinis on his private jet and lobbies for that, as distinct from one who drinks high-altitude cocktails and remains silent, may not be a hypocrite. He may be doing the world some service.