Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014c

Planting a Seed for the Environment

Earlier this autumn the well-known Hollywood star Leonardo diCaprio was appointed United Nations (UN) Climate Change Representative. Shortly after, he held the opening speech of the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2014. He is one of many of the goodwill ambassadors appointed by the organization which has a history of appointing celebrities for their causes in order to raise public awareness and media coverage which was enhanced by Kofi Annan in the 1990’s (Wiseman and Allelyne). The idea is that the familiar, and maybe even idolized, face of a celebrity will act as the UN’s mirror towards the public that reflects what the organization is about. But is this strategy effective enough to bring actual change in the matter?

DiCaprio’s speech was very direct. As a member of the civil society rather than a celebrity, he spoke to governments and industries to stop pretending and instead take large-scale action as it is from there the problem needs to be addressed. In the line “Ladies and Gentlemen, I pretend for a living but you do not.” it can be argued that he accuses them for doing just that, an attempt to address the decision makers (Hiatt and Udasin).

But this is where a slight problem can be identified. Can a goodwill ambassador, however strong his or her speech is, where it is really needed? In this case, where such a large-scale action and tough policy making is required (Perlingieri), is a celebrity really going to give the cause an effective push? Mark D. Alleyne writes in his essay The United Nations’ Celebrity Diplomacy that it is essential to differentiate two different types of public opinion, the mass opinion and the elite opinion. The mass opinion has been proven to have only an average effect on executive action. Alleyne states that the elite one on the other hand, which is of the people able to make change, such as powerful politicians or industry owners, has been proven to be little affected by celebrities. Huliaras and Tzifakis put up a similar point (Tsilaki et al., 2011, 38-40) where they state that the efficiency of celebrity diplomats lies in public interest and not political lobbying but also state that it can help an issue climb in the political agenda. Therefore it is vital to keep this difference in mind, when thinking about celebrities and them being able to change the world’s biggest problems.

The environmental crises could very well be considered the biggest problem of man-kind (Perligieri). The UN is the closest thing the global society has to a supranational body and therefore, much is expected by the organisation in this matter (Finizio and French). The goal of this summit was to find an agreement to cut the world’s CO2 admission with 80%, which was not achieved (Booker, 2014). Strong measures are needed and the UN is stuck in its vicious circle of inefficiency (French). So all in all it is unlikely that DiCapario in his new role can do much to improve the current situation, but hopefully he is able to plant a seed in the minds of our future leaders. Therefore, his role is important.

References:

Alleyne, The United Nations’ Celebrity Diplomacy, 2005, Scanned Reading

Booker, Dreary climate summit was surely their saddest fiasco yet, The Telegraph, 27 Sept 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/11124976/Dreary-climate-summit-was-surely-their-saddest-fiasco-yet.html, accessed Oct 2014.

Finizio, The United Nations and Global Environmental Governance: A Human Security Perspective, http://www.academia.edu/1395199/The_United_Nations_and_Global_Environmental_Governance_A_Human_Security_Perspective, accessed Oct 2014

French, The Role of the United Nations in Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development, http://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c14/e1-41-01-02.pdf, accessed Oct 2014

Hiatt and Udasin, Leonardo DiCaprio Charges World Leaders to act Decisively to Save Global Ecosystems, The Jerusalem Post, 23 Sept 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/Peretz-to-call-upon-Ban-Ki-Moon-to-form-multinational-Mid-East-climate-team-376220, accessed Oct 2014

Perlingieri, The Worldwide Environmental Crisis: Gone Missing: The Precautionary Principle, for Global Research Feb 11 2009, http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-environmental-crisis/12268, accessed Oct 2014

Tsaliki et al., Transnational Celebrity Activism in Global Politics: Changing the World? Gutenberg Press, Malta, 2011

Wiseman, UNC Centre on Public Diplomacy, The Public Diplomacy Role of Celebrity Diplomats, http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/research_project/the_public_diplomacy_role_of_celebrity_diplomats, accessed Oct 2014.

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3 thoughts on “Planting a Seed for the Environment

  1. An actor getting involved in politics is a brilliant idea, especially when manipulation is needed. After seeing actors playing politicians so convincingly, why not actually make them part of the political arena. After all, they are used to remembering speeches and acting in front of cameras and public. Yes, the environment is important but let’s not forget to ask ourselves why is Leonardo DiCaprio appointed UN Climate Change representative, why not someone else? What is the actual reason, and what is really expected to be achieved? How well is he informed and interested in reality; and can he be taken seriously? Critically speaking this could be considered as yet another PR chance for DiCaprio, but on the other hand there really might be a chance of popularising the issue of environmental crisis thanks to his fame.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ellipeh on said:

    The point you raised about mass and elite opinion is very interesting. i would agree that personalities like Leonardo DiCaprio are more likely to affect the wide mass rather than the influential elite. However I suppose the wide mass, will not only have a minor affect on executive action, but also might only have the issue raised by celebrities ( in this case the environment) in their short-term memory. The attention span of people is very short nowadays and only lasts until a new issue comes along. Those who admire DiCaprio might be surprisingly aware about environmental issues for a few days, but will they still be thinking about the environment a couple of months after his speech?

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  3. mwheeler833 on said:

    This is a good and effective blog. You use Alleyne’s ideas effectively. I would suggest the following:

    1. It would be useful to consider how the role of Celebrity Diplomats has changed throughout the years. Check Mark Wheeler either Celebrity Politics or Celebrity Diplomacy.

    2. Most recently, the Bonoization of the process suggests a wider phase in which ideologically driven celebrities have engaged in more polemical or policy orientated outcomes. How far are they just normal members of the civil society?

    3. You will then need to address the debate which exists about celebrity diplomacy and whether enhances or undermines the process of international cooperation and democratic reform. Further, you mention whether this has a lasting worth or not. You may want to check Celebrity Advocacy and International Development which examines the work of celebrity advocacy and lobbying in international development.

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