An Inconvenient Truth…but a Very Convenient Travel Schedule

What is it about the most prominent environmental activists? Especially those who speak out on climate change? Why do they need private planes? And so much air conditioning?

I realize this op-ed was written by someone who is hostile to liberals, so it’s fine to take it with a grain of sea salt. Maybe everything he says about Al Gore is a pack of lies, although I’ve yet to hear anyone refute it:

private-plane.jpgFor someone who says the sky is falling, (Gore) does very little. He says he recycles and drives a hybrid. And he claims he uses renewable energy credits to offset the pollution he produces when using a private jet to promote his film. (In reality, Paramount Classics, the film’s distributor, pays this.)

Public records reveal that as Gore lectures Americans on excessive consumption, he and his wife Tipper live in two properties: a 10,000-square-foot, 20-room, eight-bathroom home in Nashville, and a 4,000-square-foot home in Arlington, Va. (He also has a third home in Carthage, Tenn.) For someone rallying the planet to pursue a path of extreme personal sacrifice, Gore requires little from himself.

Then there is the troubling matter of his energy use. In the Washington, D.C., area, utility companies offer wind energy as an alternative to traditional energy. In Nashville, similar programs exist. Utility customers must simply pay a few extra pennies per kilowatt hour, and they can continue living their carbon-neutral lifestyles knowing that they are supporting wind energy. Plenty of businesses and institutions have signed up. Even the Bush administration is using green energy for some federal office buildings, as are thousands of area residents.

But according to public records, there is no evidence that Gore has signed up to use green energy in either of his large residences. When contacted Wednesday, Gore’s office confirmed as much but said the Gores were looking into making the switch at both homes. Talk about inconvenient truths.

Eco-celebrities’ use of private planes was chided a bit more gently in this editorial in today’s LA Times:

In Hollywood, carbon offsets are the successor to the Prius: the hippest way for stars to flaunt their conspicuous non-consumption. Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters offset tour emissions by protecting forests. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt invested in trees too. The producers of “Syriana” got into the act. This year’s Super Bowl was “carbon-neutral” — and so was the World Cup.

But why let the famous people have all the fun? Regular folks can buy carbon offsets too, using any of a number of Internet-based calculators to measure their own carbon footprints and purchase affordable mini-offsets, which might run anywhere from $30 to a few hundred dollars. Some websites will even send a decal or sticker suitable for the bumper of a Prius. Or Hummer, as the case may be.

It’s a nice idea, as far as it goes — a little consciousness-raising can be a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to get more windmills spinning on the grid. But as some environmentalists have noted, this kind of do-gooder consumerism doesn’t necessarily achieve an overall net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (which is, after all, the ultimate goal).

That will take regulatory oversight and global coordination. Not to mention a dose of real sacrifice from all of us — including those of us who live in 15,000-square-foot estates in Beverly Hills and travel in private jets.

Unless you are travelling to extremely remote places, private planes are utterly dispensible. If you’re doing a PR tour to launch a movie in major metropolitan markets, you can probably get there on a commercial flight.

It seems bizarre to have to explain this, but in case Arianna Huffington, Al Gore or Cameron Diaz are reading: Commercial flights are like mass transit, except in the air. The idea is, for the same amount of fuel (and pollution) that your private plane uses to get you, your make-up artist, your flack and other members of your entourage from LAX to JFK, a commercial carrier can take hundreds of people!

“B-b-but what about carbon offsets? I’m cool if I use those, right?”

Well, as the LA Times says, yeah, I suppose, technically. But how about this idea? Calculate how much carbon offset you would have to buy if you took your private plane, and go buy it. Then, take a commercial flight anyway. That way, you haven’t just evened the score — you’ve actually made a difference.

More importantly, global warming skeptics won’t be able to dismiss your cause by pointing out what a big hypocrite you are.

Hear me now and believe me later: Celebrities who claim environmental leadership but take private planes hurt the environment. They hurt it. I’ll say it again: You’re hurting the environment. You might as well just vote for Republicans. You might as well be in a secret meeting with Dick Cheney. You might as well be BP, spending millions on the “beyond petroleum” PR campaign while skimping on Alaska pipeline inspections. You make the real environmentalists, the men and women who work for grassroots organizations for low wages, look foolish.

If you just have to take private planes, if First Class just isn’t first-class enough for you, that’s okay. There are plenty of other good causes to choose from. But stay away from the environment.

Now don’t get me started on the stars with multiple residences who keep all of them air conditioned like meat lockers….


20 thoughts on “An Inconvenient Truth…but a Very Convenient Travel Schedule

  1. Good stuff. While I appreciated “An Inconvenient Truth” and think it is a useful tool, one of the images that stuck in my mind was of Al Gore being driven around in a limo. That didn’t seem very “green,” and seemed hypocritical.

    One of the frustrations of trying to encourage others to become more sustainable is that no one is environmentally perfect, and when you point out the twig in someone else’s eye, they almost invariably respond by pointing out the plank in your own. However, the fact that other people are not perfect does not excuse us from trying to reduce our own bad habits. My wife and I recently exchanged all of our lightbulbs for flourescent bulbs, which last significantly longer and use significantly less energy. The great thing about them is that they even cost less than the regular bulbs, once you factor in their lifespan and reduced energy costs.

    The bottom line, though, is that there is a need for massive changes in our collective mindset and culture, and our leaders need to get involved. That’s clearly not going to happen as long as the oil companies (and others like them) are essentially running the country.

  2. D4P is exactly right and Stodder is exactly wrong. Who cares if 20 movie stars drive Hummers or occasionally take a private jet? It’s not even a small part of a small drop in the bucket compared to the waste generated by our America as inspired by the Grand Oil Party. Cher may need to shed her SUV but she’s not President. Bush sets the tone and he’s doing a horrible job, especially by taking that CO2 belching, planet killing 747 around, like a family car, to do his secret fundraisers with corporate America’s special interests.

  3. To clarify, I wasn’t disagreeing with “Stodder.” I think there’s a need for both government AND individuals to make changes, and I think that blatant hypocrisy on the part of public figures who tout environmental causes is used by their audience to justify maintaining their consumptive, wasteful lifestyles without having to make any sacrifices or modifications. While individual efforts may constitute “drops in the bucket,” I reject the notion that “I shouldn’t change my own behavior because it won’t really make any difference in the big picture.” We should change because it’s the “right” thing to do in and of itself, whether or not my contribution actually “makes a difference.” Course, there’s also the possibility that enough individual efforts can add up to a large change.

  4. 257… I’m not interested in the politics around environmental issues. I realize Bush is terrible on global warming and zzz zzzzz zzzzzz … I’m sorry did I doze off?

    The reason why Gore or the movie stars who preach environmentalism but don’t practice it are more damaging is that they are conveying that the issue doesn’t really mean what they say it means. An advocate’s hypocrisy is far more damaging than a out-of-the-closet foe’s opposition. I can best Bush/Cheney by debating them on global warming, using facts. I can’t undo the damage when people read about Gore doing nothing while claiming that reversing global warming is a generational imperative.

    Everybody needs to make changes. But the average person reacts quite negatively to “do as I say, not as I do.” It undermines the cause, which is why I said what I said. Gore might as well team up with Cheney. He’s doing exactly what Cheney wants him to do — making global warming look like a trendy way to get attention, rather than a serious issue facing global society.

  5. Yes, Gore may use a jet to preach about Global Warming and Kerry famously had that fleet of SUVs but shouldn’t this argument look to a higher source for clarification than Cher or Martin Sheen? Bush, who claims to be guided directly by God, clearly isn’t heeding his word.

    Let’s look at this issue on Bush’s home turf – the Bible. Ezekiel 34: 17, 18 says “As for you, my flock . . . Is it not enough for you to feed on good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?”

    Bush & Co. should be the dominant subject of any Global Warming debate. After all, Bush’s inseparable marriage to big oil gives him a unique Nixon-in-China opportunity. And Bush, alone, has the power of the pulpit when it comes to setting policy, not Jon Stewart. If Bush were to follow his higher source by speaking out against the despoiling of the earth, and backing powerful anti-Global Warming legislation, many many others would follow, including Cher.

    Focusing on a few hypocritical celebs, however fun, gives many Americans yet another reason to keep driving 14MPG SUVs while our planet continues to melt.

  6. I don’t think either Stodder or myself is denying the responsibility that Bush and others like him have. But the fact that he has a responsibility does not absolve the rest of us (including celebrities) from doing the right thing. We are all part of the problem, and we can all choose to be part of the solution.

  7. Bush’s, or any president’s, responsibility outweighs celebrities so much so that it seems nearly immoral to suggest that we are inherently equal as Americans. I use the word immoral not as a personal attack but in the way Gore uses it – to redefine the whole “values” and “personal responsibility” partisan concept and redirect the Global Warming debate toward making substantial change, not just PR spin or attacking celebs.

  8. I guess what Gore (and Arianna Huffington, and Robert Kennedy, Jr.) remind me of is the Soviet-era nomenklatura. In the great socialist state, its leaders were able to shop in special stores that sold western luxury good that were unavailable to the masses. So you’d see the wives of Soviet premiers walking around in fashionable mink coats. It was just supposed to be understood by the Soviet people and Communists around the world that the burden of leading a socialist paradise needed to be alleviated by exclusive access to a few trinkets. Gore and the others I’ve mentioned come off to me as people who have no problem with telling others of the urgency need for their sacrifice, and then going home and living like royalty — and completely miss both the irony and the intellectual dishonesty. It breeds nothing but cynicism, at a time when cynicism is highly counterproductive.

    257, your position seems to be that because Gore and other celebrities are just better people than we are, they deserve not to be bound by their own alleged principles. We saw how well that worked in 2004 with John (“Do you know who I am?”) Kerry. I don’t think we have time to fool around with that kind of thing anymore. The public will only respond to transparency and integrity in the calls for sacrifice.

  9. Stodder says “257, your position seems to be that because Gore and other celebrities are just better people than we are, they deserve not to be bound by their own alleged principles.”

    Not at all. Indeed, there’s much truth in your remarks but . . . to compare Al Gore to Soviet elite hypocrisy seems as silly comparing Iraq to WWII. I guess what I object to is that it seems so inefficient to attack various celebrities while Rome burns.

    D4P has it right when he says that everyone needs to do better. I just think the best way to help that happen right now is to pressure Bush (and other politicians) to lead first. We can attack Cher second.

    Incidentally, I didn’t mean to suggest that celebrities are better people. I don’t think they are inherently morally superior. If anything, it’s the opposite. They’re certainly better at acting. I think that, while some celebrities are maddening hypocritical, attacking them ad hominem on Global Warming or anything else reveals a misdirected anger or resentment, perhaps even envy. Pretty soon, intellectuals are attacked and there you are headed for Russia or China.

    One celebrity you didn’t mention by the way, in your somewhat emotional piece, is Ed Begley Jr. Begley seems to really walk the walk. He doesn’t even gloat about it. In fact, his story would not fit very well into your thesis. Perhaps that’s why he was left out?

    I would challenge Stodder to write a piece attacking hypocritical politicians of both stripes, the main culprits, while praising Begley. It would broadcast Stodder’s truly fair and balanced views and offer a positive example for other selfish or misguided celebrities to follow. Begley is an amazing role model for true personal responsibility and sacrifice – the very things that seems to threaten so many Americans and our President.

  10. Who is Ed Begley Jr.?

    There are “Mother Theresa’s” of environmentalism but they tend to toil at very local levels — saving particular geographical areas from developers, pollutants and so on. They sit through hours of tedious city council and planning commission meetings. They lose their sense of humor while others around them try enjoy the good life.

    I haven’t seen Imperfect Truth or whatever the Gore movie is called but what might have an impact is if he championed these people rather than steal their thunder for his presidential campaign.

  11. I must say — that this post is even remotely controversial surprises me. True, I didn’t use this post to attack (directly anyway) the current administration’s policies on global warming. I also didn’t use it to remind everyone to floss after every meal. However, for the record I am opposed to the administration’s policies on global warming, and I am strongly in favor of flossing after every meal. Like Al Gore, however, my position on flossing doesn’t seem to govern my own behavior. Luckily, since I’m not asking anyone else to pay my dental bills, my hypocrisy on flossing is perhaps forgiveable. But the case for why it’s okay for Al Gore, or Pearl Jam, or Arianna Huffington to indulge in the most lavish and wasteful personal usage of energy while claiming leadership on the issue of global warming doesn’t seem to me to be makeable. Bush’s bad policies don’t excuse it; bringing them up is a non sequiter.

    Now I realize, in this polarized blogosphere, only right-wingers are supposed to bring up left-wing hypocrisy, and vice versa. However, I am seeking an exemption from this rule.

  12. Remember when Gore famously had to take his shoes off going through security? He was flying on a commercial flight.

    Let’s cut to the chase… do you admit or deny that the Gore was incredibly biased against Gore (moreso than any candidate in modern history) and that these kinds of mischaracterizations were rampant in 2000? It’s a compound question, so I invite you to deal with them separately.

  13. “Let’s cut to the chase… do you admit or deny that the Gore was incredibly biased against Gore (moreso than any candidate in modern history) and that these kinds of mischaracterizations were rampant in 2000?”

    I assume your question is a misprint and what you meant to say was “the media was incredibly biased against Gore…” not that Gore was biased against Gore, although I think there is some truth in your Freudian slip.

    Moreso than any other candidate in history? That’s a ridiculous claim. Media bias today is nothing compared with previous generations. The media compared Abe Lincoln with an ape. The prevailing conservative media of the 1930s viewed FDR as a dictator. The liberal media bias against Barry Goldwater was legendary. He was portrayed literally as a madman. Nixon and Reagan had to overcome far worse media bias than did Gore.

    As I recall 2000, the bias against Gore did not strike me as particularly notable. There wasn’t a lot of love for either Gore or Bush in the media.

    Gore ran a terrible campaign in 2000, for which there is no convenient alibi. If he had run as himself, rather than this manufactured creation of his overrated consultants, he probably could have won. I found him completely unlikeable during the 2000 campaign. I like him a lot more now, and if he chose to run in 2008, he could easily prevail over HRC, Obama and Edwards. But (back to my post) I think he’s more comfortable being a rock star, so he won’t contend.

  14. “Moreso than any other candidate in history? That’s a ridiculous claim.”

    You conveniently left out the modifier from my statement, i.e. I said “modern history.” I assume that was an innocent oversight on your part, as was your omission of mentioning that I already corrected my “Gore” typo by supplementary reply.

    I am old enough to remember the Nixon and Reagan campaign coverage and there is no comparison between that coverage and Gore’s 2000 coverage, which was far, far worse. Please see the archives of and you will find it replete with dozens of fabricated, spun or distorted stories.

    For example, the Invented the Internet urban myth was created by “mainstream” sources. As was Love Canal, as was Love Story. As was Farm Chores, etc., etc.

    The Columbia Journalism school in conjunction with the PEW Foundation, did a real time statistical analysis of coverage in 2000 which empirically demonstrated a marked disparity in treatment between Gore and Bush.

    Also, the press publicly booed Gore in the first New Hampshire Gore-Bradley debate (October 27, 1999 if memory serves) as reported in Time Magazine and Slate among other sources.

    I would be very interested if you could provide one instance when the press publicly booed Goldwater, Nixon or Reagan. Please advise.

  15. Even still. I will say unequivocally that the following presidential candidates were hit by more media bias than Gore 2000:

    Starting with 1960: Both Nixon (“Tricky Dick?”) and Kennedy (religion).
    1964: Rockefeller (personal life) and Goldwater (questioning his sanity).
    1968: Johnson, til he quit
    1972: Muskie, McGovern
    1976: Ford (clumsy, stupid), Carter (“lust in his heart,” “born again”), Dole (mean)
    1980: Reagan (dangerous), Carter (mean, incompetent), Kennedy (continual reinforcement of the disasterous Roger Mudd interview)
    1984: Hart, Reagan (senile), Mondale (boring, too liberal)
    1988: Dukakis (hapless), Bush (out of touch, elitist), Hart (sex), Quayle (stupid, unqualified)
    1992: Clinton (sex, corruption, Hillary too assertive), Bush (out of touch), Perot (crazy), Buchanan (protectionist, anti-Semite)
    1996: Dole (old)

    Now, given your website, I’m sure you will retort that all of the above “deserved it,” while poor Gore did not.

    The fact is, he ran away from his own best issue, the environment; he ran away from Clinton; he was boring as hell; he alienated enough of his base to cede a crucial increment of the vote to Nader; and a guy who loses his own home state is clearly affected by something more than biased press. Even still, he “won” the election, essentially achieving at least a tie. So whatever the bias was, he overcame it.

    Gore isn’t running in 2008, which I think is unfortunate. I can understand it, however. He had his best chance in 2000 and blew it. That’s traumatic, and something I’m sure he doesn’t want to relive.

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