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On Sunday, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won the Oscar for Best Actor, putting to bed one of the internet’s favorite memes for all time.

A meme that has echoed across the great halls of Reddit, tormenting the actor throughout his five previous nominations…

No doubt DiCaprio is celebrating in his own special way.

But Leo’s win was notable in one other respect: That he would devote nearly half his acceptance speech to climate change and the need to protect indigenous people.

“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history,” said DiCaprio. “Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.

“We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations who speak for all humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children’s children and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed.”

An estimated 34.3 million people watched the 88th Academy Awards, potentially making this the biggest audience to ever be told to take climate action. That’s not even counting the millions of people that will search YouTube just to watch Leo give that speech.

Unsurprisingly, the 41-year-old actor’s impassioned call for climate awareness has stirred up strong emotions. What is surprising, however (at least to those of us handcuffed to Planet Experts’ staff desk), is that DiCaprio seems to be taking flak from not just climate deniers but also so-called environmentalists who consider the actor a hypocrite.

I’d like to address a few of those concerns now.

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Screengrab of Planet Experts’ Facebook wall.

1) What the Critics Say: Leo Is Himself a “Big Polluter”

When Planet Experts published its story on Leo’s speech, Facebook user Jim O’Sulivan commented, “[T]hen got in the back seat of his limo to get to his private jet, to fly to his yacht. Shameless.”

This charge gets a lot of rotation whenever news about Leo and the environment pops up. On Reddit, /u/radii314 called out the Oscar-winner for being “a black-tie environmentalist.”

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“[When he’s getting an award or having his ass kissed he’s into it, and he has money to burn and the money does help but he has little credibility with the jet travel, smoking, yachts, and he drove a big SUV before he discovered environmentalism,” the redditor claims.

So the charge against Leo is that he flies on private jets, smokes, at one point drove an SUV and can be occasionally found atop yachts. All of these things are true. Leonardo DiCaprio is worth a reported $245 million and has a taste for the finer things in life. He also seems to exclusively date mind-bogglingly attractive people, but I suppose that’s just his cross to bear.

Now, here’s the flip side of that: The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), established by the actor in 1998, has donated $45 million to 78 high-impact projects in more than 44 countries across the world. These projects focus on four core areas of conservation: Protecting wildlife, saving the oceans, restoring wildlands and “empowering communities,” which includes helping indigenous peoples defend their land from unscrupulous developers. Through grants, public campaigns and media initiatives, LDF raises awareness about pressing issues like climate change and threatened species like sharks, tigers and elephants.

Last month, the New York Post labeled DiCaprio a “climate hypocrite” because he took six private flights in six weeks, according to leaked Sony emails.

“We might not know science, but we know math,” reads the article. “A plane for one, taken once a week, hurts the environment far more than what regular people who ‘don’t believe’ in climate change can do.”

I won’t argue that DiCaprio has to fly from place to place. As an actor and an environmental spokesman, I imagine he has to fly quite a bit. Now, the alternative to flying is getting in a rowboat and paddling across the ocean, or, in the case of filming The Revenant,  walking all the way to South America from LA. Perhaps these seem like practical modes of transportation to the braintrust at the Post. I wouldn’t know from practical myself, being handcuffed to this desk and all.

(Photo via the Eco Team)

NASCAR’s Leilani Münter. (Photo via the Eco Team)

I will say that this argument reminds me of an interview we did with NASCAR driver Leilani Münter, unique among the NASCAR set for her dedication to environmental causes. Every time Münter races, for example, she adopts an acre of rainforest. She’s also a vegan, a Tesla driver and played a key role in the documentary Racing Extinction. Yet there is a segment of environmentalists that pillory Münter because she drives cars for a living.

In her interview, Münter described a direct interaction with such a critic while attending Al Gore’s Climate Reality Training Corps in Miami last year. “One of the guys that was training there was just fuming at me and so offended that I raced cars and he was flipping out,” she said. “And I was like, but do you not see the bigger picture? I’m burning 30 gallons of gasoline and then I’m reaching millions of people with that race car that you can’t reach by racing a bike.”

See, it doesn’t matter about the acres of rainforest Münter has saved, it doesn’t matter that she advocates for electric vehicles, nor that she is vegan, nor that she’s been named the #1 Eco Athlete by Discovery’s Planet Green. In the same way that Leo needs to jet from place to place, Münter needs to drive in circles, because believe it or not, these are their jobs. It would be nice if you or I or perhaps just celebrities could get by on good looks and green handouts, but that isn’t the way the world works. Yet Münter and DiCaprio have helped raise millions of dollars for environmental causes anyway, in an effort to change the system.

2) What the Critics Say: Leo Isn’t Actually Making a Difference

This one baffles me. In the same Reddit thread, /u/absolutebeginners complains that “[i]ndividual action is pretty much meaningless in reducing emissions. Wide scale international action is needed.”

Wide-scale action is absolutely necessary, but the argument that the actions of one individual – especially when that one is Leonardo DiCaprio – are meaningless is dangerously wrong. One drop of water won’t drown you, but several million drops of water certainly will. You feel me?

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: You, yes you, can make a difference on climate change. No, changing your ways will not suck CO2 and methane out of the atmosphere overnight, but the less you pollute, the more you serve as a model for someone else – and saccharine as it sounds, we can all pay that forward if we actually give a damn.

Now onto Leo. As an individual, it would be difficult to overstate how much social cache a famous, well-liked and, let’s face it, handsome actor has in this day and age. That, coupled with the work of his LDF, is why the UN named Leo one of its Messengers of Peace in 2014.

It’s an honorary title, sure, but it helps shed light on the issue of climate change. And, let’s turn to face another frank truth, the UN is not a beloved fixture of pop culture in the same way that Mr. “I’m King of the World!” is. Or at all, really. Look, no one likes the UN, okay? It’s a boring place that the US doesn’t understand and refuses to listen to. Throwing Leo in the midst of it is like sticking a good looking monkey wrench in an ugly machine with a lot of moving teeth. You might not reach in there to grab it, but it’ll keep your attention until something breaks.

As an individual, DiCaprio has also pushed for environmentally sustainable practices in film production and the Academy Awards, donated $1 million to relief efforts following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and has partnered with Netflix to produce a series of conservation-themed documentaries.

3) What the Critics Say: Leo Doesn’t Care About His Carbon Footprint

You know, with everything that’s happened over the last two days, I’d hate to neglect the 140 essential characters from Twitter’s best and brightest. What did The Real World‘s Chet Cannon think of Leo’s #OscarSpeech?

Right. This again.

Well, I guess you got me there. Leo does like yachts. He does like supermodels. I guess he just doesn’t give a damn about his carbon footprint.

Oh wait, no, I forgot. I read the news.

In September 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio announced to the world that not only will LDF divest itself from all investments in oil, coal and natural gas, but that the actor will also divest his personal wealth from all fossil fuels.

“Now is the time to divest and invest to let our world leaders know that we, as individuals and institutions, are taking action to address climate change, and we expect them to do their part this December in Paris at the U.N. climate talks,” said DiCaprio in a statement.

Divestment takes time, so this will not happen overnight, but it’s a personal commitment from a multi-millionaire who has zero incentive to do so beyond a desire to move the human civilization forward. The global divestment movement now encompasses some $2.6 trillion in assets across various universities, religious institutions, organizations and private individuals. 

Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant.’ (Image is the property of 20th Century Fox.)

That’s the feeling of cold reality setting in. Either that or you’ve eaten the last Krispy Kreme. (Image: 20th Century Fox.)

4) What the Critics Say: Climate Change Isn’t Real Anyway

Some people also say they’re voting for Donald Trump. In both cases it’s a failure of our education system to protect our children’s minds from falsehood and obfuscation.

Look, folks, I write for Planet Experts, and most of the articles on this site will tell you that climate change is real, 97.1 percent of climate scientists say it’s real and that they have spent years upon years doing the research as to why. If you don’t believe that, after all this time, you probably believe it’s a coincidence that 15 of the last 16 years have been the hottest on record.

If you don’t believe in climate change because you think the climate is something you can “believe” in, then I have nothing else for you in this article, save one last gif of Leo looking smug. Feel free to picture this face behind every polar bear that the actor didn’t personally rescue from drowning. 

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2 Responses

  1. Pierce,
    Nice piece. I agree with you 100%. Cynics will be cynics. The bottom line is the choice between the wealthy DOING NOTHING OR DOING SOMETHING to address the pivotal issue of our time.

  2. Andrea Siddall says:

    Well written!!

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