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Public has vast contempt for champagne environmentalists

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Curtis Lantinga/Harper Collins

This is part of Fort McMoney, an interactive documentary game that lets you decide the future of the Alberta oil sands, and shape the city at its centre. Joining the fray – and sharing their views along the way – are Globe columnist Margaret Wente and business reporter Eric Reguly. Read the introductory columns written by Mr. Reguly and Ms. Wente.

This week they they talk about: Celebrity environmentalists who get it wrong. Read Mr. Reguly's view.

Last February, a gaggle of celebrities led by Daryl Hannah (last seen playing a mermaid in 1984) and Robert Kennedy Jr. (the environmental activist and anti-vaccinator) got together for a piece of familiar political theatre. They chained themselves to a fence outside the White House to protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, which, they said, will ruin the planet while enriching billionaires. Cameras rolled as police showed up to arrest them, and everyone was happy. The anti-Keystone faction got their message out, the CBC got a story, and the fading celebrities got some much-needed screen time.

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But the members of public aren't buying it. They have vast contempt for the long list of champagne environmentalists – Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Redford, Kevin Bacon, Neil Young and on and on – whose idea of environmental responsibility is flying commercial instead of chartering private jets. They doubt that these folks have a monopoly on the truth, and they're right.

For example, fossil-fuelled electricity is a much bigger greenhouse-gas emitter than the oil sands. But there's no glory in going after state utility companies. Nor are these celebrities about to tell us that we should live without cars, computers and lights. They'd rather vilify greedy billionaires who want to destroy the planet.

Celebrity environmentalists may actually be hurting their own cause. A new Bloomberg poll found that a majority of Americans – 56 per cent – favour the Keystone pipeline. And 61 per cent blame the delay in approving the pipeline on environmental politicking, rather than on "legitimate concerns" about an increase in carbon emissions.

If the stars really want to help the cause, maybe they should just stay home.

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About the Author

Margaret Wente is one of Canada's leading columnists. As a writer for The Globe and Mail, she provokes heated debate with her views on health care, education, and social issues. She is a winner of the National Newspaper Award for column-writing.Ms. Wente has had a diverse career in Canadian journalism as both a writer and an editor. More

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