Hollywood's elite regularly warn us about global warming. In movies and in speeches at the Academy Awards they tell us it is a "moral issue" that we must make sacrifices for. But few issues demonstrate the difficulty of "doing what you preach" better than climate change and environmental protection.
Indeed, the very industry that lectures the rest of the world on "carbon neutral" lifestyles and energy efficiency ranks among the worst when it comes to environmental pollution. The film and television industry runs second in total air pollution emissions, behind only petroleum refining, according to a report from UCLA's Institute of the Environment in 2006.
It turns out making movies is an environmentally nasty business. Transporting actors, actresses, directors, and crew to locations uses lots of jet fuel, especially those private jets. Film crews use vast numbers of cars and trucks to move equipment. Special effects and explosions send up dust and toxic chemicals.
The film industry in Los Angeles annually emits about 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas. That's a little less than the aerospace industry, and more than the regional apparel, hotel and the semiconductor industries.
Some producers and actors have made real efforts to change their practices. Roland Emmerich, the director and co-writer of the apocalyptic film "The Day After Tomorrow," spent an additional $200,000 to make sure the movie had a "carbon neutral" impact on the environment. But, as the authors of the UCLA report write, "our overall impression is that these practices are the exception and not the rule."
All this shouldn't denigrate the value of raising public awareness about the importance of protecting the environment, or taking reasonable steps to lessen our footprint on the Earth. There is a role for all in the debate. But how many of them will risk their own professions and financial futures to achieve the changes they want others to accept?
Will Leonardo DiCaprio boycott studios that don't meet "green" production criteria? Will Melissa Etheridge withhold her next CD unless its production, distribution, and marketing are "carbon-neutral" and pollution-free? While DiCaprio and Etheridge do more than most to live "green," including driving hybrid cars, most Hollywood executives and actors don't take these steps.
In the real world, the people that will bear the real costs of proposals to fight climate change – things like restrictions on travel and household energy use - will be the vast majority of us with precious little discretionary income to pay carbon penance. No one offers you or me free transportation, or environmentally conscious products at prices well below their actual market cost.
Instead of imploring us to do something, Hollywood should focus on its own pollution. Moviemakers should pioneer new technologies and strategies for protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gases that are both practical and cost effective. Those advances could then make it possible or more realistic for the waiters, bartenders and sales people who haven't been discovered yet to "do their part" as the stars like to say.