Leonardo DiCaprio critics say climate change comments ignore his industry's impacts

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio's speech calling on "ending the corporate greed" of the coal, oil and gas industries may have garnered polite applause at the World Economic Forum, but it's getting a skeptical reception in Alberta.

Critics say The Revenant star's comments against Big Oil in Davos miss bigger picture

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, foreground, reacts during the Crystal Award Ceremony on the eve of the opening of the 46th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone/Associated Press)

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio's speech calling on "ending the corporate greed" of the coal, oil and gas industries may have garnered polite applause at the World Economic Forum, but it's getting a skeptical reception in Alberta.

The speech came during a ceremony where DiCaprio announced his foundation would donate $15 million to environmental projects.

"Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied and even covered up the evidence of our changing climate," said The Revenant star.

Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, a professor at the University of Calgary, says this kind of commentary is what's to be expected at the forum in Davos, Switzerland, calling it "one heck of an expensive, carbon-footprinty cocktail party" for the wealthy and their favourite celebrities du jour.

"It just keeps on being this group of stateless elites who feel that, by virtue of their wealth and their power and their status, that that makes them experts," said Sullivan. "And it doesn't."

Not to say Sullivan doesn't think there's room for celebrities to talk about what matters to them, but it's about how they do it.

Sharing the spotlight

"I think what celebrities can do is bring the spotlight that follows them and shine it on important social issues, like climate change. But celebrities do this best when they move the spotlight off of them and on to the people that know better."

The frustrating part, says Sullivan, is it seems DiCaprio doesn't want to share the spotlight.

"That becomes problematic because he's not an expert. He doesn't know what he's talking about all of the time. He's learning along with the rest of us."

Gwendolyn Blue, an associate professor of Geography at University of Calgary, says she's glad DiCaprio is bringing more attention to climate change but she thinks his comments are missing the big picture.

"He's not being reflective about his own industry. And, given his platform, a more important role for him to play would be to look at the implications of the media industry and the film industry in terms of their climate impacts rather than tying into a moralistic discussion," says Blue.

"Not just looking at his lifestyle, but pointing a finger to the industry practices he's involved in is a much harder conversation, and an important one. And because he has that platform, he could do something about that. But he's choosing not to and choosing to feed into rather simplistic types of soundbites. And that's unfortunate."

DiCaprio was one of several celebrities being honoured for their charitable works by the World Economic Forum, including musician, Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and Chinese actress Yao Chen.