Celebrities sound off

Brian Jones
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It’s too early to declare officially, but northern Alberta’s oil sands could replace Newfoundland’s seal hunt as Canadian moneymaker No. 1 for the international environmental movement.

When A-list celebrities fly in for a photo-op, you know an issue has reached the environmental big time, and this week Hollywood director James Cameron did for the oil sands what Brigitte Bardot, Pamela Anderson, Paul McCartney, et al have done for the seal hunt.

He came, he looked, he condemned.

But to be fair to Cameron, he seems far more cerebral and fair-minded than most celebrities who take a running leap onto a speeding bandwagon. Cameron’s star power pulled Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and company executives into meetings with him, where they defended the various oil sands projects.

That willingness to hear both sides of an argument would have been welcome if it had been displayed by Sir Paul, who, while visiting Canada a few years ago on an anti-seal hunt tour with then-wife Heather Mills, wasn’t even aware of which province he was in.

Cameron’s final verdict, however, was never in doubt. He met with local native leaders, and then sided with the environment.

Who wouldn’t? He’d have looked ridiculous if he declared, “Gee, there’s lots of jobs for people up here, and they’re helping to fill the need for oil, so keep digging,” and then jumped back onto his private jet for the trip back to L.A.’s freeways, smog and ocean-side mansions.


Exploiting fame

Too often, celebrity activism involves people using their fame and fortunes to force their way onto the stage to make declarations about this or that issue. Think George Clooney pontificating about Darfur, or Angelina Jolie spouting about the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, acting as a United Nations “ambassador” or opining on any one of 100 other topics.

They have a right to their opinions as citizens, of course. But there is something unsettling about how easily celebrities can exploit their fame to turn it into political power.

The most obvious example is U2’s Bono, who merely had to pick up the phone to command a meeting with former prime minister Paul Martin or former U.S. president George W. Bush. Those would have been fascinating calls to eavesdrop on.

“Mr. President, Bono on Line 1 for you.”

“Laura, I gotta go.” Click. “Bono, buddy. How’s my favourite Celtic tiger?”

“Good, George, good. I need another hundred mil for Africa.”


Ironic action

There seems to be an inherent irony in celebrity activism — it is often plagued by contradiction or counterproductivity, or both.

Bono rails against leaders of the developed world to spend public money and forgive the debts of Third World countries, yet his uber-band U2 infamously moved their assets to Holland to avoid Ireland’s hefty taxes.

Clooney, Bono, Bob Geldof and a long list of others deride the greed and riches of the First World for keeping Africa destitute. But anyone who follows the news can reasonably conclude it is the corruption, autocracy and sheer cruelty of African leaders that is to blame for most of Africa’s ceaseless poverty and violence.

Celebrities with a social conscience face a dilemma. Do nothing, and they’re accused of being apathetic or uncaring. Get involved, and they invite criticism that they are abusing their influence, meddling in issues they know little about or trying to breathe new life into a gasping career.

Perhaps the A-listers could learn a lesson from Cameron. He seemed genuinely knowledgeable about oil sands issues, and willing to hear arguments from all sides.

If he ever comes to Newfoundland, maybe he’ll spend time in, say, Twillingate or St. Anthony, and listen to opposing opinions rather than merely spout statements prepared by celebrity handlers.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: United Nations, Bono on Line 1, Third World The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Northern Alberta, Hollywood Africa Alberta Canada L.A. Darfur Gulf of Mexico U.S. Holland Ireland Twillingate St. Anthony

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Recent comments

    October 01, 2010 - 21:08

    Hey Paul, I take it you haven't tried seal meat. A delicious meat indeed.With onions and potatoes, it makes a great Sunday dinner!! "Unlike the sealers who purposely kill animals" Geees Paul, who kills the chickens and the cows and the geese and the sheep,etc,etc???Sealers??? Time to realize that the sealers harvest and in your words - "kill" seals for meat and money, just like any other "killer " of animals. Those cute,big,tear dropped eyes, of the seal, have sucked you and a lot more of your ilk , into giving generously to the animal wellfare groups.They have you - hook line and sinker!!!Fortunately, most rational thinking people, see the seal hunt as a seasonal hunt, which brings food to the table and money into the pockets of the sealers. You Sir are the redneck dimwit , for not thinking for yourself!!! Keep posting, your irrational rants, are certainly amuseing!! GEES YOUR NOT A BEATLE ARE YA??

  • Paul
    October 01, 2010 - 14:39

    Mr. T - I am all for using animal skins, as long as people skins are included - after all we are just another animal and it is definitely wasteful to bury human animal skins, especially since there are so many of us. When I was was young there were 2 billion of us - now there are 6 billion plus. What a waste of green resources! There are a few million seals and 6 billion people - strange that some of us only want to kill off the seals!

  • Mr. T
    October 01, 2010 - 12:56

    Hey Paul, The pollution in the Oilsands isn't just affecting wildlife, it will affect people. The chemicals I'm sure will kill many people in the long run. Killing a few hundred thousand seals isn't going to give anyone cancer. The seals are not in danger of going extinct any time soon. Actually I think we should use animals for clothing, their skins are a natural part of the environment, and at some point will break down. The process of creating synthetic clothing is also polluting the environment, also this clothing will not break down, further polluting our land fill sites. Have you ever seen the pollution coming out of the factories in China, where these clothes are made?

  • Shannon Reardon
    October 01, 2010 - 11:42

    "Clooney, Bono, Bob Geldof and a long list of others deride the greed and riches of the First World for keeping Africa destitute." (And live disgustingly wealthy lives themselves, especially Bono and Clooney.) "Bono rails against leaders of the developed world to spend public money and forgive the debts of Third World countries, yet his uber-band U2 infamously moved their assets to Holland to avoid Ireland’s hefty taxes." (This is just vile.) I have never taken these self-aggrandizing, self-indulgent celebrities seriously because that is all they are. Bono is in it for the Nobel Peace Prize one day. I believe he already got his honorary knighthood, did he not? He does his "charity work" for his own glory, power, and legacy. And he uses African children and others suffering on that continent for photo ops and for the aforementioned personal glory such "charity work" brings to him, that sense of global (self-) importance. And don't even get me started on Mother Angelina Jolie.

  • Paul
    October 01, 2010 - 09:19

    The differences between the oil sands and the seal hunt are: - while the oil sands kill animals, they are a lot fewer than the 100's of thousands killed by the sealers; - unlike the sealers that purposely kill animals , the oil sands do it without malice; - but most importantly, the oil sands are a multi-billion dollar industry - and that is each year, unlike the seal hunt that last year struggled to make one million. So it makes some sense for Canada to deal with the bad press associated with the oil sands, while it remains a dumb waste of taxpayers' money to support the stupid seal hunt that embarrasses Canada without producing any benefit. The right thing to do is to end the seal hunt forever more and to seriously work on improving the environmental footprint of the oil sands, even if it costs a few billions. Canada need not be the yokel country that annually kills hundreds of thousands of seals and pollutes the world, regardless of the consequences, just because we can.Surely we are more responsible! Why are we not leaders in animal husbandry and pollution controls instead of being the rednecked dimwits at the end of the line,hoping we can kill and pollute at will and forever, without consequence. Our politicians truly are a sad bunch!

    • Graham
      October 01, 2010 - 12:41

      Ah, no, the difference between the seal hunt and tar sands is that everyone wants oil so it would be almost impossible to get any country to agree to banning oil from the tar sands. The seal hunt on the other hand is for the benefit of a small group of sealers and buyers and easy to beat up on. Lets not kid ourselves, the tar sands cause far more injury to the planet than the seal hunt ever did, or ever could.