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Lifestyles of the Rich and Green

By Keith Kloor

Remember the days when environmentalism produced ideas that were really chewed over and debated? People once took seriously E. F. Schumacher's manifesto, Small is Beautiful. Deep ecologists duked it out with social ecologists. Heck, Barry Commoner was a presidential candidate before Ralph Nader! 

Today, who are "greens" paying attention to? Is it Paul Hawken and the path to sustainability he has charted? Is it Jesse Ausubel, described in a recent Popular Science profile as a "technology-loving futurist and an ardent naturalist?"

Celebrities who use private jets, like this Gulfstream V, make for awkward environmental role models. Credit: Kevin Boydston/flickr.

No, it's stunt artists and Hollywood celebrities. Both chart compelling personal paths to sustainability: One offers deprivation, the other excess

The latter seems to be winning out as the preferred lifestyle choice for the earth-conscious demographic. But it's the rich and famous greens who are the poster children for this brand of 21st century environmentalism. Lately, however, there seems to be a backlash in the making. For example, one environmental activist has just penned a scathing denunciation of environmental celebrities in the Guardian:

The green scene is littered with compromised, hypocritical celebrities. Poor Prince Charles preaches and pontificates about harmony and simplicity, then ties himself in masochistic bondage knots of inconsistency by spending £100k on a biofuelled train tour to promote cycling. Famous frequent fliers abound, from Coldplay's Chris Martin — who opined about global warming in song then racked up a personal carbon footprint massively bigger than the average Brit — to Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, who flew her entourage (including hairdresser) by private jet from New York to Washington so she could go to a party. Most brilliantly, John Travolta encourages us all to "do our bit for climate change" while owning five private jets. As with the pejorative "champagne socialists", the message is very much "do as we say, not as we do".

That message won't carry the day, and it's hard to see how that lifestyle will carry the planet far into the future. As we approach Earth Day tomorrow, is there a compelling vision for sustainability that allows people to go green in style with a modest carbon footprint? If so, who's both articulating it and leading by example?


Keeling Curve Charles David Keeling's measurements provided the significant evidence of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration

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