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Is Leonardo DiCaprio Really an Environmentalist?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

It took five nominations and over twenty years for Leonardo DiCaprio to win an Oscar. When the moment finally came in 2016, after he practically killed himself eating raw bison liver and sleeping in dead animal carcasses for 2015’s The Revenant, he stood on the stage in front of his peers and millions of viewers, delivering a speech mostly not about the movie but about climate change.

DiCaprio said, “Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted.”

But when he himself is a big contributor to climate change, emitting an estimated carbon footprint of 418 tons of CO2 per year, compared to the average American’s 19 tons, does he have a right to lecture the world on environmentalism?

Let’s examine what he does for the environment. He does have a history of making grand gestures to help it. In 1998, he founded The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which has the personal mission to “support projects around the world that build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.” He also has narrated and produced multiple environmental documentaries, including Before the Flood and The 11th Hour. He also spoke at the UN 2014 Climate Leaders Summit, invests in plant-based food companies, and uses his social media platforms to raise awareness of environmental causes (or of himself hanging out with Greta Thunberg). He generally uses his wealth and influence to support the environment and urge the average listener to think twice about using plastic.

Despite all of this, he uses all this carbon for a reason. DiCaprio once flew on his private jet six times in two weeks, constantly vacations on yachts, and owns several homes. He rented the fifth largest yacht in the world to watch the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Ironically, he once even flew from France from New York and back on a private jet to collect an environmental award, emitting 55 tons of CO2 in the process.

He does live an environmentally conscious lifestyle in a few ways, including driving electric cars and using solar panels. But his few eco-friendly actions, though important, seem more those of a celebrity trying out technology he finds cool when compared to the day-to-day environmental actions he doesn’t take. Saving the planet isn’t just about the glamourous stuff, and he seems to have more trouble with the parts that conflict with his own decadent lifestyle. Of course, DiCaprio himself is aware of all of this, and he plants thousands of trees to offset his carbon footprint, which he estimates to be about 11 tons of CO2 per year. Remember the average American uses about 19 tons per year. You know, people that don’t regularly take yacht rides. Something’s not adding up here…

The climate is changing and Leonardo DiCaprio is well aware, yet he seems to have trouble doing what is right for the planet when it compromises his celebrity lifestyle. Since he has such a large following, he is still doing the planet a world of good by raising awareness of its recent detriment, but I believe the reality would hit his average Instagram follower even more if he was able to quit the gas-guzzling parts of his lifestyle in favor of the planet.

I am so glad that DiCaprio has supported such an important cause for so many years, but I just wish we could see it fully incorporated into his own lifestyle.

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Olivia is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences studying marine science. She loves the ocean and summer more than anything and wants to live somewhere warmer one day even though she's spent her whole life in Massachusetts. She also likes music, night runs, and writing pointless things.
Writers of the Boston University chapter of Her Campus.