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We like to laugh at the eco-hypocrisy of stars because deep down we know we're all guilty

Liz Kearney


 

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Conflicted: Prince William with activist and frequent flyer Joaquin Phoenix. Photo: Jeff Gilbert/Getty

Conflicted: Prince William with activist and frequent flyer Joaquin Phoenix. Photo: Jeff Gilbert/Getty

Getty Images

Conflicted: Prince William with activist and frequent flyer Joaquin Phoenix. Photo: Jeff Gilbert/Getty

Is there anything as much fun as playing 'spot the eco-hypocrite'? The more glamorous they are, the more enjoyable it is. And we've had rich pickings this past few months as the Greta-fuelled environmental wave gathered momentum.

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While they may no longer be technically royalty, Harry and Meghan are the honorary king and queen of this brigade, pontificating piously in the September issue of 'Vogue' about limiting the number of children they will have in order to save the planet.

Unfortunately, their good intentions were instantly undermined by their much-publicised new living arrangements, which have so far involved copious amounts of jetting back and forth across the Atlantic, trailing tonnes of carbon in their wake.

Back in August, some of our most glamorous concerned citizens, including Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio, attended the annual Google camp in Sicily. The theme might have been climate change but that didn't deter many of the celebs from arriving in typically glittering style, with more than 100 private jets touching down at the local airport.

And who can forget Emma Thompson's contribution to the cause? The actress was a vocal supporter of Extinction Rebellion and even joined in when protesters took to the streets in London. It later emerged she had flown 8,000km just to be there.

This current movie awards season is yielding some excellent examples, too.

As event organisers rushed to rid meat from the menus and plastic from the tables, behold Joaquin Phoenix, who hopped on a flight to London to attend a vegan protest and then pick up his Bafta wearing, if we are to believe designer Stella McCartney, the same tuxedo he wore to the Golden Globes. Truly, Greta must be so pleased.

But perhaps we're all a little bit guilty on the eco-hypocrisy front.

Lately I've been feeling pleased with myself about the fact I've dramatically reduced the number of flights I take. Now if I'm entirely honest that's chiefly because, with two small children, flying anywhere is more trouble than it's worth, but that hasn't stopped me boasting about my new-found eco-credentials to anyone who will listen. While I can count on one hand the number of flights I have taken in the past five years, at the same time I have to own up to an abiding love affair with my car, I nearly always forget my KeepCup and am too embarrassed, not to mention lazy, to unwrap all my plastics at the supermarket and leave them there.

Other people might judge me for this, but while we're all silently clocking one another's eco-failures, stealthily in the background the real damage is being done by billion-euro corporations whose carbon output dwarfs those of ordinary consumers.

In the words of the great environmentalist George Monbiot, the biggest achievement of the world's big fossil fuel polluters is to convince us that it is us who needs to change, not them.

"The impacts of most of the world's people are minimal," he writes.

"Even middle-class people in the rich world, whose effects are significant, are guided by a system of thought and action that is shaped in large part by corporations."

We are trapped in a consumerist culture, he says, that "is locked in by transport, town planning and energy systems that make good choices all but impossible".

How right he is. Most of us would prefer not to be clogging up the M50 each morning or jetting to London for yet another business meeting but, hey, late-period capitalism means we are primarily economic units of production and we have to work in order to feed our families.

And if those families are fed with supermarket produce flown halfway round the world, what meaningful choice did we really have in that either? Most of us can't afford the type of organic marketplace where you shell out a tenner for a few locally grown garlic bulbs.

Even Joaquin and his Hollywood pals accept that in order to keep working in their industry, they will have to keep flying while taking other steps to mitigate their eco-footprint. We are all victims of circumstance, no matter how rich or poor.

It has become commonplace in recent years to talk about the impact of small changes, whether it is our health or the planet we are trying to rescue.

It gives us the illusion of control and a sense of being able to manage the unmanageable. Never mind that it is patently not working - global carbon emissions are going up, not down.

And so we buy a few more KeepCups and stick to meat-free Mondays and plant a few trees to offset our air miles, because there's literally nothing else we can do. Perhaps, after all, we're not so much hypocritical, but human.

Irish Independent