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Eco Hollywood

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Environmental polluters escaped being singled out on stage during the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony. Not so lucky were Wall Street speculators, who were incriminated in the winning documentary entry, Inside Job, and denounced for good measure by the film's producers in an acceptance speech.

Four environmentally-oriented documentaries were runners-up for the Oscar. But just their very presence in the competition is enough to set off conservatives' long held antipathy toward Hollywood environmental activism. A gaudy Oscar night orchestrated by an industry that is a major contributor to Los Angeles' air pollution simply reaffirms to the Right Wing its dismissal of movie star activists as would-be do-gooders who don't practice what they preach.

Many conservative critics regard the national environmental movement as a thinly-veiled front for democratic liberalism and socialistic values. Thus, they tend to react rancorously to such environmentally outspoken movie stars as Robert Redford, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Travolta and Cameron Diaz. These celebrities are pilloried for advocating a lean, green lifestyle while tooling around in gas-guzzling limousines and private jets.

It's true enough that one rarely will find as dedicated an environmental activist movie star as Ed Begley Jr. He comes as close as just about any environmentalist to practicing what he preaches. Begley lives in a modest solar heated two bedroom house and bicycles or walks instead of driving an electric car to his destination whenever possible.

Most movie stars are far removed from Begley's "Spartan" existence. They make a lot of money and spend it. Their profession can also demand extensive travel to sets on location. But that doesn't mean they cannot contribute to the message that Begley is conveying through his daily routine.

Because many activist celebrities' high energy lifestyle is bound up with their image that attracts a large public following, toleration of such a lifestyle is a small price to pay for assuring a vital but often elusive message is heard. Publicity is hard to come by in a computerized era of 20 second sound bites and short attention spans. Thank heavens that the excesses of the messenger usually do not detract from the message in this case. Adulation has a knack for anesthetizing the public to a celebrity's unflattering contradictions.

There are some movie stars who are trying to scale back their lifestyle along the lines of Begley. DiCaprio, for example, was one of the first Americans to acquire the hybrid Toyota Prius automobile, and he is known to take commercial flights in lieu of private jets whenever possible.

Nonetheless, lifestyles are not transformed overnight by celebrities or anyone else. An attitudinal change of such magnitude generally occurs by osmosis. In addition, a movie star is never going to live at the same level as a twenty thousand dollar a year blue collar worker. That having been said, both individuals can make sound environmental choices within their respective social circles to help advance humanity towards the ultimate goal of sustainable prosperity.

What remains unanswered is whether attitudinal change proceeds at a sufficient pace to avoid further widespread environmental damage.

Edward Flattau's fourth book Green Morality is now available.

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