* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Stephen Hawking was the kind of celebrity activist we need more of - and whose legacy Hollywood can learn from.
Hollywood loves nothing more than dystopia and disaster: Deep Impact. Armageddon. Dante’s Peak. Contagion. But the real dystopia is creeping up on us through climate change. The real disaster movie is the slowly unfolding global warming. We are the stars of this movie – but not all of us
The example of figures like Stephen Hawking in the realm of science and Leonardo Di Caprio in the field of clean energy (who incidentally yesterday announced his investment in a landmark eco-friendly hotel
After all, we are living
It is the maturity of something that has been building for over a century:
When Marlon Brando sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to the Oscars in his stead in 1973, it made a tangible difference to how Native Americans were viewed in an industry with a collective memory of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ that it had – at that point – been slow to shake off (Littlefeather was booed by some members of the Oscars audience).
The American comedian Danny Kaye became a UNICEF ambassador as far back as 1954, but the roots of
At the turn of the 20th century, King Leopold of Belgium’s violent rule of the Congo was successfully challenged with the help of writers Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad, and chocolate magnate William Cadbury. This is the equivalent of a coordinated move today by JK Rowling, Michael Moore
Whatever our personal feelings about
This is particularly true of one of the most pressing challenges affecting the world today – climate change and the corresponding need to promote the clean energy transition.
But to make celebrity activism truly worthwhile, more direct engagement is needed. We saw that happen when The Ice Bucket Challenge, decried by armchair critics as a pointless "awareness raising" exercise, raised enough money (over
And crucially, there is a need to ensure
To see how Hollywood can do
He established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (a non-profit organization devoted to promoting environmental awareness) in 1998. It is difficult for us, 20 years later, to realize just how ahead of the curve he was.
And his foundation is far from a PR stunt – that much is clear, even to the most cynical observer. It has worked on projects in over 40 countries and has produced two short web documentaries, Water Planet and Global Warning, as well as him exec producing Cowspiracy and the 2016 film Before The Flood, documentary film examining various aspects of global warming.
In 2013 he held the “11th Hour” benefit, which became the world's highest-grossing environmental charity event ever held, raising nearly $40 million.
And through this all, he has stayed in regular contact with noted researchers - such as Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, who says of DiCaprio “I have talked with him and his folks frequently over the phone”.
Hollywood, celebrities and social media can push the needle on some of the world’s most major issues. But as the example of Stephen Hawking reminds us, it must be backed by real substance and the kind of authentic engagement that makes the difference between those that campaigns that resonate with millions and go viral and those that do not. That is the kind of Celebtivism our planet needs.