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.
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.