Earlier this week, Leonardo DiCaprio posted an image of a forest fire on Instagram. In the caption, he explained that the Brazilian Amazon had been burning for 16 days, yet most people hadn’t heard about it.
There can be no denying that the ripple effect of his Instagram post has been impressive. The Oscar winner has in excess of 34 million followers on the platform and within hours, the post had more than 3.6m likes. Other celebrities such as singer Ariana Grande and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo joined the cause and global indignation reached fever pitch. The devastating fire and the Brazilian president’s cavalier attitude towards saving the rainforest could no longer be ignored.
While DiCaprio’s actions have undoubtedly had a positive effect, it has not been without criticism. He has long been an environmental activist – he has spoken at the United Nations about climate change, claims to drive a Toyota Prius and has narrated documentaries on the subject. But like many celebrities who try to move into this space, he has also been accused of hypocrisy – after all, he flies around the world in private jets and holidays on super-yachts (none of which are solar-powered, as far as we know).
He isn’t the only high profile individual to cause consternation over what seems to be a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude towards environmentalism.
Numerous celebrities came in for harsh criticism last month when it emerged they had attended a Google Camp focussed on the climate crisis arriving at the event in Italy by private jet – 114 planes in total, we’re told – and then ferried from the airport to the venue in Maseratis. The Italian sports car brand is not known to produce a hybrid or electric version.
Probably most notoriously, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been roundly lambasted for taking four flights on private jets in the last few weeks, as aviation is one of the leading contributors to carbon emissions. A diverse range of people – from TV presenters to environmentalists - saw the couple’s behaviour as audacious, given they’ve called for people to consider “how they treat the planet” – only to climb aboard a private plane to travel to destinations well served by commercial airlines from the UK.
Celebrities often face this difficult choice: they may want to support a cause, increase awareness, maybe raise some money, help people and use their platform and influence for good. But once they stick their head above the parapet they’re in the firing line.
We, as a society, have become harsher in our condemnation, far less willing to be forgiving and more than happy to judge everyone and everything. The rise of social media, particularly Twitter, has given users a platform to air their grievances – this can come in the form of anonymous abuse, or, in the case of President Trump, in very open attacks on opponents.
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Given the condemnation thrown his way in reaction to previous climate change call-outs, that DiCaprio put the image up anyway shows his unwavering commitment to the cause. His stance highlighted the issue to millions and the story climbed up the news agenda of media organisations around the world.
Days after DiCaprio’s post, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted describing the fire as an international crisis and calling for it to be discussed by the seven most powerful world leaders at the G7 summit this weekend in Biarritz.
Though DiCaprio’s environmental efforts may not be without fault, in this instance his use of his celebrity soapbox should be heartily welcomed. Thanks at least in part to his post, we can be hopeful that something will happen. With the added pressure, action will be taken, and Brazil’s Bolsonaro will begin to see how important the Amazonian rainforest is to all of us.