climate change · Climate communication · Politics · Rhetoric

DiCaprio’s Oscar Climate Speech – Get Facts Straight Before You Advocate

Leonardo DiCaprio ultimately won an Academy Award for Best Actor.  I missed it, as I was busy listening to a hockey game (in sunny and 75 degree Anaheim, CA).  But this morning I awoke to plenty of discussion about DiCaprio’s Oscar speech.

dicaprio chinook

The key point is this quoted section:

And lastly I just want to say this: Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. 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. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much.

What is most interesting to me about this is that the weather in Calgary during shooting was a well-known issue. Also interesting was that this is not the first time DiCaprio provided this anecdote. He had stated it in a Vanity Fair interview last year.  Following this interview, much response was provided about the commonplace Chinook winds that occur in Canada.  Numerous people corrected him on the statement.

DiCaprio also mentioned that production had to be moved to “the southern tip of this planet just to find snow.” Which was also a bit of a stretch, since traveling east 2,00 miles would have provided plenty of snow.

The Weather Channel provided a recap of the winter, “While parts of the West experienced some of their warmest and least snowy conditions on record, the East meanwhile suffered through one of the snowiest and at times coldest winters on record.”

Not only was DiCaprio mocked for his lack of understanding of the local climate, he also subjected himself to criticism for his statement that the had to travel nearly 8,000 miles to find snow.

DiCaprio was wrong.  So what?

For Those who Argue For Science it is Vital to Never Disregard It

Many in Alberta, for whom Chinooks are a fact of life, took to mocking DiCaprio anew. Sure, DiCaprio is an American, and something all Americans know and appreciate is that Canada is cold and snowy.  If Canada has warm winds that melt the snow, then the stereotypical expectations of a Yankee are not met.  We all understand how this works. We all do this.

But DiCaprio, who was raised in Southern California, should be more than familiar with a localized warm wind phenomenon that occurs in fall and winter.

DiCaprio was mocked months ago for his errors with Chinook winds. That entire row passed, but should have existed as a learning event. It did not. DiCaprio doubled down and said it again on a worldwide stage. It was wrong then. It was wrong last night. All Dicaprio had to do was google “dicaprio canada snow” and find some answers.

It Isn’t Just a Problem for DiCaprio

On the other hand, we can create conflicts where none need to exist.  When an ignorant person erroneously attributes causation to something that is subjectively believed, then the problems start. Criticism of the false allegations creates an issue wherein the larger allegations are viewed with suspicion.

This is not merely the deniers who are upset.

DiCaprio has, in a sense, created a bigger problem for many who are working in the arena. When misinformation comes out, the people trying to inform now have to counter the misinformation. This takes time away from the job of informing.

And in this tweet, Environment Ontario has acknowledged that DiCaprio’s statement is a problem, but that his activism is still great.

DiCaprio is a Climate Change Activist – It is his Duty to Educate Himself

DiCaprio is not just some celebrity bringing up a political issue on the Oscars. There is a credibility to him that is in excess of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, who were introduced by a flippant David Letterman as “I’m sure they’re pissed off about something.” Oscar winners channeling the Dalai Lama or speaking about invasion of Crimea or even sending a Native American to decline an Oscar.

DiCaprio is an appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace. DiCaprio has addressed the UN about climate change. Climate change activism is a second career for him.

Which means that when stating facts about climate change he should damned well be straight about them.  A UN messenger should not be ignorant about the message of peace that he is sending.

Easy Solution in the Future: Just Put it Out There How You Feel

All DiCaprio had to do was leave out the second sentence of his speech. That is it. I know that he attempted to provide a personal anecdote. Personal anecdotes provide the listener with some empathy. A person who provides his or her subjective feelings provide a link for another person to try to understand.

But he overplayed his hand. When putting out facts, make sure you’ve got them straight. For a public figure like Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s not just you who can be troubled by a failing of a basic fact. It can affect everybody who must set out to correct it.

And above all, look at the response to when you said it the first time.




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