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Abstract

Given the increasingly pervasive and spectacular role of celebrities in humanitarian and environmental campaigning since the late 1990s – as spokespeople for NGO campaigns (Anderson, 2013) and as creators of their own organizations (Alexander, 2013) – it is surprising that relatively little research has been undertaken to explore celebrity involvement in climate change campaigning and communication. Indeed, as the COP21 Paris negotiations in December 2015 indicated, high profile A-list celebrities were the “charismatic megafauna” (Boykoff et. al., 2010) lending global star power to this high-profile political event, ‘expertly’ navigating the intersections between media, politics and science through speeches at the UN conference from actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Alex Baldwin, and former celebrity politician and actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. With the rise of “Celebritus Politicus” (Goodman, 2013) in recent years, it is not surprising that a global political event about the future of our planet would garner elite celebrity endorsement, yet research on understanding this growing “celebritization of climate change” (Boykoff and Goodman, 2009b, p. 395) is relatively scarce.
Celebrities and Climate Change
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Summary and Keywords
Since the mid-2000s, entertainment celebrities have played increasingly prominent roles
in the cultural politics of climate change, ranging from high-profile speeches at UN
climate conferences, and social media interactions with their fans, to producing and
appearing in documentaries about climate change that help give meaning to and
communicate this issue to a wider audience. The role afforded to celebrities as climate
change communicators is an outcome of a political environment increasingly influenced
by public relations and attuned toward the media’s representation of political ideas,
policies, and sentiments. Celebrities act as representatives of mass publics, operating
within centers of elite political power. At the same time, celebrities represent the
environmental concerns of their audiences; that is, they embody the sentiments of their
audiences on the political stage. It is in this context that celebrities have gained their
authority as political, social, and environmental “experts,” and the political performances
of celebrities provide important ways to engage electorates and audiences with climate
change action.
Celebrities and Climate Change
Julie Doyle, Nathan Farrell, and Michael K. Goodman
Subject: Media and Public Opinion, Climate Change, Case Studies, Climate Change
Communication
Online Publication Date: Sep 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.013.596
Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science
Celebrities and Climate Change
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More recently, celebrities offer novel engagements with climate change that move beyond
scientific data and facilitate more emotional and visceral connections with climate change
in the public’s everyday lives. Contemporary celebrities, thus, work to shape how
audiences and publics ought to feel about climate change in efforts to get them to act or
change their behaviors. These “after data” moments are seen very clearly in Leonardo
DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood. Yet, with celebrities acting as our emotional
witnesses, they not only might bring climate change to greater public attention, but they
expand their brand through neoliberalism’s penchant for the commoditization of
everything including, as here, care and concern for the environment. As celebrities build
up their own personal capital as eco-warriors, they create very real value for the
“celebrity industrial complex” that lies behind their climate media interventions. Climate
change activism is, through climate celebrities, rendered as spectacle, with celebrities
acting as environmental and climate pedagogues framing for audiences the emotionalized
problems and solutions to global environmental change. Consequently, celebrities
politicize emotions in ways that that remain circumscribed by neoliberal solutions and
actions that responsibilize audiences and the public.
Keywords: celebrity, climate change, affect, emotion, embodiment, spectacle, neoliberal, commodification,
activism, media
Introduction
Given the increasing pervasiveness of celebrities in humanitarian and environmental
campaigning since the late 1990s—as spokespeople for NGO campaigns (Anderson, 2013)
and as creators of their own organizations (Alexander, 2013)—it is surprising that relatively
little research has been undertaken to explore celebrity involvement in climate change
campaigning and communication. Indeed, as the COP21 negotiations in December 2015
indicated, high-profile A-list celebrities were the “charismatic megafauna” (Boykoff,
Goodman, & Littler, 2010) in Paris: They lent global star power to this high-profile political
event by “expertly” navigating the intersections between media, politics, and science
through speeches at the UN conference from actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Alec Baldwin,
and former celebrity politician and actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. With the rise of
“Celebritus Politicus” (Goodman, 2013) in recent years, it is not surprising that a global
political event about the future of our planet would garner elite celebrity endorsement,
yet research on understanding this growing “celebritization of climate change” (Boykoff
& Goodman, 2009, p. 395) is relatively scarce.
Climate change communication scholars and practitioners have over the last decade
called for more culturally meaningful and socially relevant forms of climate change
communication that connect it to the cultural values, and mediated/social practices of our
everyday lives (Boykoff, Goodman, & Curtis, 2009; Doyle, 2011; Moser & Dilling, 2008).
Celebrities have arguably provided a significant response to these challenges, using their
Celebrities and Climate Change
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celebrity status to draw media and cultural attention to climate change, helping to bring
it within the popular cultural sphere, as well as utilizing their fan bases to mobilize
engagement and action via social media (Alexander, 2013). But, they have done so through
what might be termed the “spectacle”: highly visible, eye-catching, and visually
exuberant media appearances that have the potential to distract audiences from the
“real” environmental issues under scrutiny. Here, then, celebrities provide an important
human dimension to climate change beyond polar bears and melting glaciers to develop a
kind of “human embodiment of the spectacle” (Goodman, Littler, Brockington, & Boykoff,
2016) in the ways they utilize their very bodies to garner media and audience attention
around environmental activism. Yet concurrently, these visible embodiments may render
climate change as monetized and meaningless media performances rather than
interventions related to the intricate social practices of the everyday or political realms.
This article explores these tensions to understand what is politically, socially, and
ethically at stake in the growing celebritization of climate change. How is it that
celebrities have come to be the preferred spokespeople for climate change at global
scientific events, and in what ways might their involvement reshape the cultural politics
of climate on a global, national, and everyday level? In order to explore these questions
this article reviews a set of distinct and interrelated literatures from celebrity and media
studies, cultural geography, development studies, and environmental and climate
communication. The first part of the article examines the research on the historical
developments of celebrity culture within mainly Western contexts in order to situate the
changing media and political landscape through which celebrities have gained their
authority as political, social and environmental “experts.” In doing so, it explores the
emerging literature on celebrity activism in relation to humanitarian and environmental
issues and considers the problematic ways in which politics and a commodified culture
are mutually entwined and reinforced through the practices of celebrity. The article then
moves on to examine the small amount of existing research on celebrity involvement with
climate change specifically, and simultaneously draws upon the work of climate change
communication scholars and practitioners to consider the possibilities and limitations of
celebrity work on climate change. This allows an exploration of the broader socio-
political-economic factors that shape celebrity work on climate change in the context of a
media consumer culture, and a more specific investigation of celebrity’s role in
(potentially) making climate change more visible and embodied for Western audiences.
From there, the article examines campaigns from 2014–2016, in which celebrities offer
novel engagements with climate change, helping to move public discourse beyond
scientific data, and facilitating more emotional and visceral connections with climate
change. The article ends by speculating upon the challenges generated by such emotional
particularly when undertaken by celebrities who may politicize emotions that remain
circumscribed by neoliberal solutions and action.
Celebrities and Climate Change
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Celebrity Politics, or the Politics of Celebrity
Celebrities and Climate Change
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In order to understand the role celebrities play in the cultural politics of climate change,
it is important to establish how celebrities have come to occupy privileged positions
within 21st-century media, culture, and politics. Throughout history, famous or well-
known individuals have featured commonly within many cultures across the globe
(Braudy, 1997), reflecting and re-inscribing the characteristics held in esteem within their
particular societies. Consequently, historical fame reflected social structures that
valorized rigid class distinctions and legitimized the inherited positions of social elites
(Inglis, 2010). Despite these historical precedents of fame, contemporary celebrity culture
is commonly understood within academic literature as a phenomenon of predominantly
Western origin, arising in the 20th century (Schickel, 2000, p. 21; see also Rojek, 2012).
However, just as historical fame acted as an indicator of the moral, political, or economic
orthodoxies of a society, due to the corresponding elevation of those individuals who
embodied such ideals to the level of “famous,” contemporary celebrity culture reveals
much about current global societies. In this instance, celebrity reflects and validates, to
some degree, ideas of social mobility and the political ascendancy of the crowd, and is
informed by what P. David Marshall credits as the “twinned discourses of modernity:
democracy and capitalism” (Marshall, 2001, p. 4).
As both of these intertwining discourses work to emphasize and centralize the individual
—in the respective roles of citizen or consumer—it stands to reason that celebrity, with its
“capacity to house conceptions of individuality and simultaneously to embody or help
embody ‘collective configurations’ of the social world” (Marshall, 2001, pp. xi–xii), would
assume such a primary position within current global cultures. Celebrities are
simultaneously socially exceptional hyper-individuals and the embodiment of the affective
will of their audiences. That the 20th and 21st centuries have witnessed a significant
increase in the agency and territorial reach of the mass media industries within which
many celebrities have forged their fame (Turner, 2013, p. 3), further helps to solidify their
position. Richard Dyer, whose work on film stars (Dyer, 1979, 1986) provided a foundation
for later scholarly work on celebrity, considers that stars reflect socially acceptable
modes of being. They are role models for particular ways of being someone of a certain
gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, etc. This imbues celebrities with considerable power
and influence, which led to them being considered a type of “powerless elite” (Alberoni,
1972).
However, in more recent decades, the political activity and possible influence of celebrity
upon formal politics has become more pronounced, particularly as politics has become
increasingly mediatized and more heavily influenced by public relations. Developed as a
means of explaining the “process of change in which politicians tend to adapt to various
constraints imposed by the media” [original emphasis] (Asp, 2014, p. 351); “mediatization”
refers to the ways in which aspects of social and political discourse are shaped to fit the
structures and conventions of contemporary media platforms of communication. One
outcome of mediatization is the convergence of celebrity and political cultures. This is
further enabled by publics who, as John Corner and Dick Pels (2003) suggest, “want to vote
for persons and their ideas rather than for political parties and their programmes.” In this
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context, Corner and Pels write, “political style” becomes a key “focus for post-ideological
lifestyle choices, which are indifferent to the entrenched oppositions between traditional
‘isms’ and their institutionalization.” Instead, “more eclectic, fluid, issue-specific and
personality-bound forms of political recognition and engagement” (2003, p. 7) are
enacted. Consequently, the role of the political leader, “who must somehow embody the
sentiments of the party, the people, and the state” has become aligned with the role of the
celebrity, “who must somehow embody the sentiments of an audience” (Marshall, 2001, p.
203).
Outcomes of this emerging political formulation include the “celebrity politician” and the
“political celebrity.” Defining and developing a taxonomy of celebrity politicians is a
primary focus for some of the academic literature. John Street, for example, categorizes
two types. Celebrity Politician Type 1 is represented by “the traditional politician . . . who
engages with the world of popular culture in order to enhance or advance their pre-
established political functions and goals” (Street, 2004, p. 437). Celebrity Politician Type 2
“refers to the entertainer who pronounces on politics and claims the right to represent
peoples and causes, but who does so without seeking or acquiring elected office” (Street,
2004, p. 438). Van Zoonen (2005) offers a more detailed typology of celebrity politician, the
focus of which is the relative distance of the individual to traditional centers of political
power. She focuses on four key points along a spectrum that runs from traditional
politician and political insider, to political insider with mass media appeal, to political
outsiders, to the celebrity performer who is also a political outsider. This article focuses
more on the celebrity who pronounces on politics (Street, 2004) and the celebrity
performer (Van Zoonen, 2005), rather than the celebrity politician, to explore the
celebritization of climate change.
Consistent with this literature, Boykoff and Goodman (2009) develop a taxonomy informed
by the institutional background of the individual. They offer a more diverse range of
celebrity types that includes celebrity actors, celebrity politicians, celebrity athletes,
celebrity business people, celebrity musicians, and celebrity public intellectuals, thus
indicating the potential for different access points for audiences and forms of affective
engagements with climate change. This is explored in more detail in the “CELEBRITIES AND
CLIMATE CHANGE” section of this article.
What unites the various manifestations of the Celebrity Politician and/or Political
Celebrity is that they provoke concerns among some commentators regarding “the
trivialisation of public affairs” (Gitlin, 1997, p. 35); concerns that can be traced, perhaps,
as far back as Daniel Boorstin’s dismissal of celebrity as the human “pseudo-
event” (1963). Indeed, for Eric Louw (2010), celebrity politics amounts to a form of
“pseudo politics.” Similarly, Daryl West expresses concerns about a political system
“where star power is weighted more heavily than traditional political skills, such as
bargaining, compromise and experience” (West, 2008, p. 83). Celebrities, it is thought,
might crowd out more expert voices from public discourse. However, any consideration of
the role of celebrities in the politics of climate change must account for the necessity of
Celebrities and Climate Change
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climate change being made culturally meaningful and accessible to a wide range of
audiences beyond scientific and political discourse—a function that celebrities may be
better placed to undertake given the dependency of their celebrity status on
mediatization (Driessens, 2013).
Other scholars, perhaps taking their cue from Marshall and Street, turn away from
questions of the legitimacy celebrities’ political interventions in terms of a potential
dumbing down. Seeing this as something of a false dichotomy, they accept that celebrity
activists serve as the embodiment of the affective responses of their audiences to a range
of social and/or environmental concerns. They seek, instead, to determine the cultural,
political, economic, and institutional factors that facilitate this and determine its form.
One factor is the celebrity’s status as outsider to political establishments (Cooper, 2008).
This is particularly the case when considering the decline in trust of traditional politicians
and institutions, and the suspicion among the electorate that “politicians are in it for
themselves and that they serve special interests” (West, 2008, p. 79). Nonpoliticians such
as celebrities, West argues, are by contrast “considered more trustworthy and less
partisan” (West, 2008, p. 79) because “[i]n a world where entangling alliances are the rule,
these individuals are as close to free agents as one can find” (West, 2008, p. 81).
Celebrities and Climate Change
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Celebrity Activism
The celebrity activist’s status as an embodied representation of the affective will of their
audience, then, both reflects and informs the relationship of both to elite institutions:
They are outsiders. However, as Van Zoonen suggests, the successful political celebrity
projects a persona that has inside experience of politics but is still an outsider to political
institutions (van Zoonen, 2005, p. 84). This distance from formal politics lends celebrity
activists a type of moral authority, the meaning of which is transferrable to the cause with
which they are associated.
Yet, celebrity activists can provide clear qualitative benefits to humanitarian and
environmental causes associating the cause with aspects of their public persona. They
can, as Richey and Ponte suggest, “guarantee the cool quotient” of campaigns concerning
issues that might otherwise be unappealing to mass publics (Richey & Ponte, 2011, p. 37).
These qualitative benefits, provided by entertainment celebrities to environmental
organizations, work in tandem with clear quantitative benefits: Celebrities can attract
significant public attention for a cause (Anderson, 2013). This is a valuable asset for a
social or environmental organization as the competitive nature of the “attention
economy” increases (van Krieken, 2012).
Such ideas move scholarship of celebrity beyond concerns of a potential democratic
deficit caused by celebrities’ political interventions. This is replaced by an understanding
that, as Wheeler suggests, “[c]elebrities engaging in partisan or causal affairs can bring a
guile and persuasiveness in using the media, which may reinvigorate politics with new
ideas” (Wheeler, 2013, p. 24). The question that prompts much research on celebrity
politics is what might these “new ideas” be? In the case of this article, what new ideas
can celebrities bring to the politics of climate change? And how might these approaches
reflect and reinforce existing political and economic orthodoxies?
Accepting that celebrities might “teach us how to think and act politically” (Ross, 2011, p.
5), academics have questioned the types of discourses and practices into which audiences
and consumers are being interpellated. For example, Boykoff and Goodman (2009) point to
branding as a determinant of celebrity political intervention, hinting at the commercial
nature of celebrity culture and opening up the possibility for tensions between the
political economy of the celebrity industry, on the one hand, and the needs of social and
environmental causes, on the other. Given that the production and maintenance of
celebrity status is dependent upon the interrelated processes of commodification,
mediatization and personalization (Driessens, 2013), these pressures are not surprising.
Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte’s Brand Aid (2011) offers a sophisticated analysis of
these tensions, where social and environmental campaigning meet cause-related
marketing and corporate social responsibility initiatives, through a series of case studies
of brands that give financial aid in a way that gives aid to brands. In other words, through
ethical consumerism, initiatives such as Product (RED), for example, rather than focus on
poverty in the Global South, celebrate the agency of consumers in the Global North to
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“solve” such problems through their choice of consumer purchases. Celebrity, in such
instances, becomes a means to market these ideas to citizen-consumers and lends
campaigns the types of moral authority. Goodman (2013) goes further to identify a “novel
‘species’ of celebrity called Celebritus Politicus” whose members “have situated and also
have worked to situate themselves as a stylised form of the neoliberalized governance of
the problems of environment and development.”
In its most simplistic sense, neoliberalism is understood as “a political-economic project
which advocates, first, a strong free-market economic system, facilitated by and
unrestricted by the state and, second, the use of the market as a model for other areas of
political and social life” (Farrell, 2015, p. 256). Individual manifestations of this philosophy
vary historically, geographically, and culturally. However, they often involve unique
combinations of processes such as the privatization of state assets; the deregulation of
markets, and/or the re-regulation of areas of civic life in a manner more favorable to
markets; the turning of people and objects into commodities to be bought and sold
through the processes of commodification, such that natural assets are converted into
goods tradeable within a market; the commercialization of institutions and sectors not
previously oriented toward for-profit practices—such as charity, health care, or education;
the marketization of sectors of society in which such commercialized institutions may
function; the individualization of societies, such that populations are encouraged to self-
identify as discrete individuals, operating as entrepreneurs or consumers, rather than
part of collective groupings; and entrepreneurialization. The methods of social and
environmental campaigns involving celebrities so often feature consumer practices, and
encourage supporters to identify with the subject position of “consumer” engaging in
moral activity within a market place (Richey & Ponte, 2011). Consequently, Celebritus
Politicus both reflects and contributes “to the moral authority of a hegemonic market-led
governance of sustainability” (Goodman, 2013, pp. 72–73). In a sustained but far less
empirically grounded critique, Ilan Kapoor argues that celebrity humanitarianism
“legitimates, and indeed promotes, neoliberal capitalism and global inequality” (Kapoor,
2013, p. 1).
Concerns about the commercial imperatives of celebrity involvement in environmental
and humanitarian advocacy and activism thus characterizes much scholarly work in this
area. Other important contributions highlight, for example, the colonial nature of Global
North-South relations as embodied by celebrity activists. Repo and Yrjölä (2011), for
instance, analyze media representations of Western celebrities engaged in development
campaigns in Africa, and trace the lineage of such portrayals back to colonial narratives
concerning popular European figures and their travels to the “dark continent.” Such
media representations work to subtly promote ideas of the rational White, European man,
as a binary opposite to the irrational African subject (also, Biccum, 2016). Taking account
of these critiques, this article now examines existing scholarly research on celebrity
involvement with climate change to explore the possibilities and limitations of this work
Celebrities and Climate Change
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in creating more culturally meaningful and affective engagements with this issue in the
context of a neoliberal commodity culture.
Celebrities and Climate Change—Media,
Politics, and Commodity Culture
Much of the earliest work on celebrity and climate change seeks to provide conceptual
and theoretical frameworks through which to make sense of, and analyze, the
celebritization of climate change, laying the foundations for specific case studies of
climate celebrities in later scholarly work (Alexander, 2013; Anderson, 2013; Boykoff &
Olson, 2013; Doyle, 2016; McCurdy, 2013).
Anderson’s (2011) review of celebrity involvement in climate change was the first of its
kind, signaling a growing academic interest in celebrity work on climate change.
However, with very little published research in this area to draw upon at the time
(notable exceptions being Boykoff & Goodman, 2009; Smith & Joffe, 2009), Anderson brings
together work on media coverage of climate change, news media sources, and the PR
packaging of news/politics, celebrity advocacy in environmentalism, celebrity culture and
democratization, and public perceptions of climate change, to explore how the
contemporary media and political landscape has shifted to include a wider variety of
voices, beyond scientists, to publicly speak about climate change.
Anderson argues that as news media increasingly rely upon PR agencies to provide
content, voices and sources are increasingly more packaged, in turn facilitating the
amplification of celebrity voices within news stories. Anderson explains that the symbolic
power that celebrities can bring to climate change, particularly if supported by the work
of an established environmental NGO (such as Greenpeace), importantly shifts the issue
from the domain of science into popular culture. Celebrities thus act as mobilizing agents
(like NGOs) to raise awareness and potentially shape public opinion: particularly
important at a time when world news coverage of climate change peaked in 2009 and
then fell, following the “Climategate” scandal. As news actors in their own right,
celebrities can provide “a powerful news hook with a human interest angle, crystallizing
issues that may otherwise be perceived as relatively removed from people’s everyday
lives” (Anderson, 2011, p. 535). Yet, Anderson concludes that increasing the visibility of
climate change through celebrity work represents a “double edged sword” (p. 543). For
example, while environmental NGOs have used celebrities for “symbolic leverage” to gain
access to news media, thus bringing attention to an issue, there is a lack of public trust in
celebrities as spokespeople for the environment and climate change (see Smith & Joffe,
2009). Rather than characterizing celebrity involvement in climate change politics as
“either democratization or distraction,” she thus calls for more “ethnographic research
into the impact of celebrity advocacy on public perceptions of climate change and
Celebrities and Climate Change
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trust” (Anderson, 2011, p. 543): a call that is subsequently taken up by researchers
working on public perceptions of climate imagery (O’Neill, Boykoff, Niemeyer, & Day,
2013).
In one of the first journal articles to critically explore the celebritization of climate
change, Boykoff and Goodman make the case for a nuanced understanding of celebrities
as non-state actors involved in “the cultural politics of climate change” (Boykoff &
Goodman, 2009, p. 396), rather than dismissing celebrities as mere distraction (Wieskel,
2005). Through the confluence of “science, celebrities, and politics,” they explore how
celebrities have become “authorized speakers” on climate change in the context of a
“Politicized Celebrity System” (p. 396). By identifying a system, Boykoff and Goodman
(2009) call attention to the multifarious ways in which celebrities as authorized speakers
operate within a broader media and political landscape that highlights the interconnected
and contested dimensions of celebrity as brands, performances, and images that circulate
through the political economies of news, media, and entertainment, and whose signs are
variously consumed by audiences. Calling attention to these spaces of interaction that
produce, sustain, and contest celebrity work (on climate change), enables a more
complex understanding of the socio-economic-political conditions that characterize and
shape the ways in which celebrities speak on climate change, and to also help illuminate
the material implications of celebrity work in shaping beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, values,
and types of (in)action on climate change.
Representative of a more nuanced approach to the study of celebrity climate politics,
Boykoff and Goodman (2009); see also Boykoff & Olson, 2013) suggest employing a celebrity
typology to highlight how different cultural factors (through diverse celebrity types) may
shape different forms of discourse and action on climate change. Drawing upon the
“circuits of culture” model (Du Gay, 1997) from cultural studies, as well as Carvalho and
Burgess’s (2005) reinterpretation of this model in their analysis of news media coverage of
climate change in the U.K. press, Boykoff and Goodman (2009) suggest employing a
“Cultural Circuits of Climate Change Celebrities model” to focus our attention upon
celebrity status as the means by which celebrities gain their “privileged spaces of
interaction” (p. 402). What Boykoff and Goodman point to is the ways that climate
celebrities’ images, words, and deeds circulate within and around the cultural sphere
across media and meditated conversations about climate change.
Their framework foregrounds three key relations that underpin celebrity climate work:
celebrities as commodities (i.e., goods to be bought and sold); celebrity bodies,
performances and embodiment (i.e., the ways that celebrities embody certain
environmental politics); and celebrities as signs/values (i.e., images to be marketized for
social and economic value). While commodity culture is central to the development of
contemporary celebrity culture (Driessens, 2013; Rojek, 2001; Turner, 2004), the implications
for considering the effects of celebrity work on climate change in particular are important
here. Although celebrities can raise awareness of this issue through their elevated media
voices, it is the question of what is being consumed and the extent to which this alters
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audience beliefs and values, or impacts upon courses of political, social, or personal
action on climate change, that is key: a concern that continues to underpin subsequent
scholarly work in this field (Doyle, 2016; McCurdy, 2013).
Individualism as a form of neoliberal consumer identity arguably has limited capacity to
engender large-scale collective changes required for mitigating and adapting to climate
change. As such, individualism is a key issue for scholars examining celebrity involvement
with climate change communication and campaigning. As high-profile commodities and
images circulating within culture, Boykoff and Goodman are concerned about the
celebrity being viewed as the “heroic individual” (2009, p. 404), further entrenching
individual responses to climate change through neoliberal commodity actions—such as
purchasing green products, or carbon offsetting—that distract from “the articulation of
discourses calling on systemic and large-scale political, economic, social, and cultural
shifts that will likely be necessary to address the multifarious problems and difficult
choices associated with modern global climate change” (p. 404). Anderson similarly
echoes this concern when she notes that research on celebrity involvement in
environmental and climate politics “points to a tendency for the celebritization of climate
change to promote individualist rather than collective frames of action” (Anderson, 2011,
p. 535). Indeed, in an interesting observation on the rise of celebrity endorsements of
climate change in the media, Keeling (2009) notes the impact of such endorsements on
climate mitigation practices such as carbon trading: “Celebrities are commodities and
increasingly the atmosphere is beginning to be thought of as another commodity, with a
price and value being placed on it” (Keeling, 2009, p. 50). While celebrities may have
helped bring climate change into the popular imagination, it is the very nature of their
celebrity status and its problematic rise and fall that could impinge upon media coverage
in the long term, as celebrity climate failures such as Live Earth in 2007 or DiCaprio’s
11th Hour documentary are deemed more newsworthy than successes (Keeling, 2009).
Can Celebrities Help Make Climate Change More Visible and Felt?
While much earlier (and subsequent) scholarly work on celebrity and climate change
situates celebrities within their socioeconomic networks and practices of global media,
politics, entertainment, consumer culture, and neoliberalism, with its attendant
dimensions of individualism and commodification, there are also important points through
which celebrities can potentially reach out to audiences precisely because of their
celebrity status as “intimate strangers” (Schickel, 2000) using their affective capacities to
get audiences to feel certain emotions (Marshall, 2001; Nunn & Biressi, 2010). Celebrities’
capacity to communicate and engage with diverse audiences through (social) media and
popular culture could bring climate change awareness—and its perceived distance—into
different social and cultural spheres, particularly for younger audiences (Alexander, 2013).
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Indeed, climate change communication research over the last 20 years (see Moser, 2010)
highlights that persistent barriers to communication and engagement have prevailed,
with climate change perceived as a distant, remote, and future threat for Western
audiences (Boykoff, 2011; Doyle, 2011), unless its impacts have been experienced personally.
As such, scholars have explored the role of imagery, framing/discourse, ideology, and
values in communicating climate change, and how these forms of meaning-making shape
public understanding of, and engagement with, this issue. Researchers and practitioners
are increasingly calling for more localized, emotional/affective, and participatory modes of
communication that more clearly link to, as well as challenge, people’s existing social
values and identity in order to make climate change understood and felt at the level of
the everyday.
Two key opportunities for climate communication through celebrity work coalesce here:
the potential to personify and make climate change more visible and salient as a human
(rather than simply an environmental) issue; and the role of celebrities as human signs
who can embody and generate a range of feelings and affects about climate change.
Here, though, the confluences of visibility/image and embodiment through celebrity are
problematic. Boykoff and Goodman’s (2009) observation that celebrities literally and
figuratively embody climate change politics refers to the media performances of
celebrities as commodities. As such, these human embodiments problematically focus
upon the celebrity body as a politicized site that embodies economic relations,
transforming into what Goodman (2010) later discusses as “spectacular” visuals that
deflect attention away from the political cause under question.
While maintaining this critical perspective on climate celebrities and the spectacles they
create, reviewing the research on climate imagery highlights some of the potential that
celebrities offer in terms of generating different types of imagery to make climate change
more culturally meaningful. Earlier research by Doyle (2007, 2009) on environmental NGO
campaigning highlighted the problematic role of photographic imagery in prioritizing
climate impacts to non-human nature (particularly polar bears and melting glaciers) at
the expense of humans, as well as reinforcing the notion of “visible truth” and “bearing
witness” as a representational condition of climate change knowledge and its
communication. Focusing upon humanitarian and development NGOs, Manzo (2010) found
a wider repertoire of climate imagery used, including humans and non-human nature, but
criticized the ways in which humans affected by climate change were positioned through
a colonial gaze that rendered climate change as happening to geographically “distant
others.”
More recent work by O’Neill (2013) has demonstrated a broader range of images of
climate change within news media in the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia,
with people being the most frequent theme, followed by impacts. Celebrities were present
in the people theme—a finding that supports earlier research by Smith and Joffe (2009)
into climate imagery in U.K. press coverage. Smith and Joffe note that celebrities are
often visualized in activist modes, for example, at demonstrations, and that such images
help personify climate change for a British audience. In contrast, research on climate
1
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imagery within Canadian print media by DiFrancesco and Young (2010) found that while
human beings were the most common form of imagery, celebrities made a minimal
appearance, demonstrating national differences in terms of celebrity saliency in the
context of climate change. Yet, even as celebrities become visually associated with
climate change, further research by O’Neill et al. (2013) finds that people in the United
Kingdom, United States, and Australia, perceive images of celebrities to undermine the
saliency of climate change.
Taken together, these findings identify an increase in celebrity images within the visual
iconography of climate change, while simultaneously indicating the public’s lack of trust
of celebrity involvement with climate change. Celebrities, it is suggested, are not helpful
in terms of raising awareness and facilitating action on climate change. However, it is
important to acknowledge the current lack of textual or ethnographic research in this
area beyond still imagery within print or online media, particularly as social media, rather
than print news or news websites, are the main source of news for women and young
people (Reuters Institute for Journalism, 2016). Given that celebrity culture is largely youth
and female oriented, different types of imagery (such as video), celebrities, media, and
consumption practices would need to be analyzed.
Importantly, this research also points toward a diversification of voices in climate change
communication beyond scientists and NGOs (Anderson, 2011). Historically, environmental
NGOs, and particularly Greenpeace, were the main non-state actors making climate
change meaningful to the public through their campaign and communication strategies
(Doyle, 2007), “bearing witness” to climate impacts through photographic documentation
(Doyle, 2009). Goodman and Barnes (2011) have explored how celebrities bear witness to
suffering by visiting “spaces of poverty.” Thus, have celebrities become the new witnesses
of climate change? What are the spaces that celebrities are visiting/embodying/signifying
within the cultural politics of climate change, and how do these reinforce, challenge, and/
or advance different forms of public and political engagement? These questions will be
explored in the next section.
Indeed, if we return to the question of the embodiment of climate activism by climate
celebrities, the potential for celebrities to offer more affective, and effective, forms of
public engagement can be explored by diversifying the range of celebrities, media forms,
and demographic groups analyzed. For example, Alexander (2013) explores the use of
Twitter by U.S. actor Ian Somerhalder, star of The Vampire Diaries, to engage his youth
fan base with environmentalism and climate change. The assumed “authenticity” of
Somerhalder’s apparently self-created tweets, including his appreciative tweets to his
followers, are important in creating a two-way relationship with his fans, helping build an
affective relation. Alexander analyses the forms of communication used by Somerhalder
in promoting environmental advocacy, finding both a marketing approach (of small step
changes and altering consumption practices) and values-based approach (advocated by
Crompton, 2008) that focuses upon relationship building, rather than external status, as a
means of enabling more long-term pro-environmental behavior change. While tensions
occur between these two discourses—partly due to Somerhalder’s celebrity status—his
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use of social media enables the “collectivism of the social media generation” (Alexander,
2013, p. 364) to be aligned with the ethical/moral values he communicates. In doing so,
Alexander is hopeful for the emergence of more “eco-celebrities such as Somerhalder,
role models and objects of desire with embedded spiritual/environmental values and
collaborative modes of address” (p. 365). Indeed, given the increasing level of overwhelm
and hopelessness associated with climate change (Moser, 2016), and the need for more
emotionally resonant and participatory modes of communication and engagement, we
wonder if celebrities who are able to engage with young people specifically through social
media and popular culture, might find more hopeful ways of facilitating social and
political action, in “cool” (Richey & Ponte, 2011) and creative ways. The next section
explores some of these questions.
Emerging Climate Celebrities After Data:
Emotion, Affect, and Journey in Novel Modes of
Climate Engagement
Considering celebrities as contemporary forms of “climate muses”—regardless of how
potentially commodified or individualizing in action or outcome—the nature of celebrity
reflections and media production around climate have shifted over time. They have
changed in both the format—from telling audiences about climate change to witnessing
its impacts for us—and also characteristics—from knowledge and exhortations for action
to affective and emotional appeals to audiences and the public. Through a brief overview
of some of the key celebrity interventions in climate change discourses, here we explore
how celebrity involvement in climate change pedagogies has formed part of a shift in
climate change communication. This has moved from dry accounts of the latest scientific
knowledge about the changing climate, to stories of personal and/or literal journeys upon
the climate landscape and those of climate-related impacts. Indeed, as the header on
Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood (2016) suggests, “the science is
settled, the future is not.” This section works to briefly explore these shifts in what we
might call novel “modes” of climate change celebrity engagements, from climate
celebrities as narrow pseudo-experts and green lifestyle gurus to the newly expanded role
of a climate change witnesses who work as on-the-ground correspondents telling
audiences the stories of ordinary people and everyday ecologies at threat from climate
change. In doing so, this section builds on the previous research previously analyzed to
pose questions that, we argue, necessitate further research and suggest where research
on celebrity and climate change communication might find fruitful possibilities.
From An Inconvenient Truth to Before the Flood: Getting Emotional
About Climate Change Through New Modes of Media and Celebrity
Performance
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Al Gore’s Academy Award winning documentary in An Inconvenient Truth was designed
to provide its audience the latest data, information, and knowledge about climate change
and the threat it posed to the planet. Simply put, it attempted to educate and convince
the public in minute PowerPoint detail about the rise in CO emitted by humans and the
corresponding rise in global average temperatures. At roughly the same time, the
Leonardo DiCaprio-produced documentary the 11th Hour was also designed to teach the
public about climate change. Utilizing the “talking head” appearances of numerous
environmental movement figures such as Paul Hawken, Wangari Maathai, Bill McKibben,
and David Suzuki, all voiced-over by DiCaprio, it spread the word about climate change
exclusively through climate “experts.” Equally, 2007’s Live Earth concerts intended to
raise global-scale awareness about climate issues educating the public about climate
change through “enviro-tainment” in order to make these politicized, educational-focused
encounters more audience friendly. These three celebrity-fronted climate change media
events utilized celebrities to not just bring attention to the issue, but also act as public
pedagogues who could speak about the science of climate change and vouch for its
“reality.”
In profound contrast, more contemporary celebrity climate interventions are quite
different. While celebrities are still public pedagogues, they intervene in ways that intend
and create alternative, novel, and more complex outcomes. Such interventions offer, we
suggest, “After Data” media modes of discourses, practices, and audience connections.
For example, one important recent After Data climate change celebrity intervention
comes in the form of the documentary Before the Flood (2016; BTF). We briefly discuss
BTF in order to illustrate the ways that more contemporary celebrity-fronted climate
change media—and the role of the celebrities themselves—have moved us into novel,
more affective modes of celebrity climate change engagement and framing.
BTF is a heavily resourced and visually stunning documentary film produced and narrated
by, but also starring, Leonardo DiCaprio. In the film, he goes on a “witnessing” journey as
the UN Ambassador of Peace to see the firsthand impacts of climate change in the Arctic,
the island nation of Kiribati, the oil sands of Alberta, and the polluted streets of Shanghai.
Unlike the 11th Hour, this is a significant personal journey for DiCaprio shot through with
stories of his early childhood to the ways he has been ridiculed and critiqued by
conservative pundits. This is a journey that has DiCaprio front and center as our serious,
earnest and caring, emotive and affective guide and male “lead.” He solemnly implores us
to do something about the climate in front of the UN, sheepishly admits he has a larger
carbon footprint than most people, and is angrily confronted by an Indian conservationist
about America’s grotesque levels of material and energy consumption. As Fisher Stevens,
the film’s director, stated about DiCaprio: “. . . it’s nice to film someone like Leo who has
the quality of charisma. We wanted Leo to meet the experts and make the experts more
palatable, so that everyone could understand them” (G’Sell, 2016). Importantly, on the
ground and emplaced encounters with nature, experts, environmentalists, and elite
politicians and business leaders are specifically interspersed with ordinary people and
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communities “performing” their emotive responses to the everyday ways they are being
impacted by climate change.
Before the Flood is one of the most watched documentaries of all time with over 60
million views across multiple media platforms (Calvario, 2016). Unlike previous climate
change interventions, BTF accentuates and showcases emotions and affects throughout
the film: the smiles and sincerity of Elon Musk who is ready to deploy his battery business
and entrepreneurial skills in service of a carbon-free future; the dire warnings of Ban Ki-
Moon; and, of course, those of the main witnessing muse of DiCaprio who marvels at the
“violence” of icebergs calving into the ocean, the surprise of being confronted about his
own personal climate impacts, and his hopeful tone in discussions of easy climate “wins.”
The narrative that DiCaprio crafts and the images he shows us are as emotional and
affective at their core as they are “rational” and “statistical” in the climate science that
should underpin our feelings. The “‘debate’ about climate change is over” (BTF, 2016) the
film’s website shouts—the word “debate” firmly squeezed between quotation marks—as
we move into the human-induced era of the Anthropocene. As a review of the BTF in The
Hollywood Reporter states (DeFore, 2016), “Maybe movie stars can sway public opinion
more effectively than tightly reasoned activist docs full of hard data and compelling
narratives. Here’s hoping.” BTF illustrates the distinct shift to an After Data mode of
climate change intervention whereby the emotional registers of climate change—be they
of the “star” celebrity, those they are talking to or those feeling the impacts of global
environmental change—are what define and carry the narrative arcs of these new forms
of spectacular environmental media (Goodman et al., 2016).
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Feeling the Atmosphere Through Star Power: Initial Thoughts and
Potential Future Directions
While space does not allow a fuller exploration of this novel After Data mode of celebrity
climate change media outputs and engagement, we do want to provide some short
thoughts on why, we think, this shift has occurred and some of its implications.
Why this shift, then? Several potential and further “testable” reasons come to mind. One
of these seems quite simple: According to a Pew Research Center Global study, the
majority of those in their study of global attitudes to climate change from the United
States (74%) and United Kingdom (77%) believes global climate change is either very or
somewhat serious (Stokes, Wike, & Carle, 2015). Moreover, 69% of those polled from the
United States supported action as part of an international agreement, while in the United
Kingdom 79% responded similarly (Stokes et al., 2015). Given these shifting public
attitudes and beliefs, narratives and urgings have to shift into new registers to not just
gain audience attention but spur public action for those who “believe” but also as a
strategy to engage the remaining “non-believers.” At the same time, however, these
polling numbers belie the fact that there are still large numbers who maintain partisan
denialist and skeptical outlooks on climate change—including many powerful political
figures in the media—as any quick read of the comments section attached at almost any
climate change article on the Web will lay bare. In particular, there is growing concern
over “climate silence,” which is the worry that there are not enough public, media, or
even personal discussions about the severity and impacts of climate change (Romm, 2016);
emotional climate celebrities are perhaps working to maintain climate change as a topic
worthy of continued urgent and critical public discussion. In a way, no matter what, these
shifts in celebrity-fronted climate media are quite astute given the knowledge/action gap
—whether that be individual action or policy action—that has come to bedevil larger-
scale, immediate solutions to the climate conundrum. In some ways, the moves to these
impact and emotional registers through celebrity media interventions is not just about
making these new tropes and registers “fashionable” but also utilizing them in ways that
might work to cut through not just the normalized, everyday media cacophony, but as a
means by which to transcend the knowledge/action gap to spur more and greater action.
Furthermore, if Dan Brockington’s (2014) work on the role of celebrities in the realms of
humanitarianism rings true, then one of the key audiences for these new interventions
might actually not be the general public but rather other elites and those in power in
order to make affective connections and get them to work for more and better climate
policy. DiCaprio’s position as Peace Ambassador is certainly what this is about so his
documentary seems like a logical extension of this elite-to-elite emotionally tinged
communication.
A second reason for these movements might also be quite simple, if somewhat
problematic: These shifts might be about maintaining and expanding these celebrities’
brands as eco-warriors to both use but also expand their fan base in a desire to create
greater cultural, political, and economic capital for themselves. As Jo Littler (2008) has so
2
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astutely put it, being socially conscious and politically active is part of the very job
description of celebrities operating in the early 21st century, such that caring is not just a
part of their brand but caring works to create economic value for the “celebrity industry
complex” that is behind even these climate change interventions. Thus, the move to more
emotional and impactful registers is not mutually exclusive from the creation of value nor
deepening of the celebrity industrial complex, but instead go right to the heart of the
“conspicuous redemption” Boykoff and Goodman (2009) discussed as one of the
characteristics of climate celebrities. As argued earlier, climate change celebrities are
commodities in human form that generate cultural and economic capital but are also
caring commodities that embody, perform, and work to elicit the concerns, emotions, and
behaviors of care and responsibilities in audiences. As the old adage goes, climate change
celebrities are “doing well by doing good” and more research is needed to determine not
just what the impacts of their notions of “the good” are but also how audiences’ react to
these changing registers in contemporary climate change media.
Discussion and Conclusion: From Accentuated
Celebrity Emotion and Affect to More
Vociferous Climate Action?
By way of a brief conclusion, we offer a short discussion of what we feel some of the
implications might be with this more emotionally charged celebrity-fronted climate
change media that seems to have ushered in our proposed After Data era of climate
communications. First, as suggested throughout this section, the example of BTF works
through a different set of framings than previously offered by earlier “numbers” and
“science” focused climate media interventions by articulating and fully accentuating
emotion and affect through narrative arcs and encounters of the impacts of climate
change on people and nature, communities and ecologies. Thus, the overall “feel” of these
novel celebrity-fronted climate media outputs is one of a greatly heightened emotional
register, the desire here for the audiences—and of course wider publics—to emotionally
and viscerally connect with and through recognized celebrities to those people and places
witnessing and experiencing climate change.
Second, not only have the engagements and outputs of celebrity-fronted media
interventions shifted, so too has the role of climate change celebrities themselves: They
now work as morally tinged, affective pedagogues, framing for us through emotional
discursive reflections, embodiments, deeds, and performances how and in what ways we
should feel about climate change impacts and what to do about them. In addition climate
change celebrities have taken on the novel roles of emotive climate journalists and
investigative documentarians, allowing us to see and feel firsthand the impacts of climate
change. Climate change celebrities, through this new “witnessing” mode of their persona
and performances become “affective translation devices” who emote about climate
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change but also report, interpret, and explore those communities and ecologies impacted
by climate change. No longer are climate change celebrities sales people and endorsers
of the products of brand “climate science,” but instead they are witnesses to, and the
affective voices of, the Anthropocene. In a twist, then, on the byline from BTF, given these
contemporary climate change celebrity media engagements, the science of climate
change might be settled but how to feel about it is certainly not.
Third, and directly connected to the previous two points, the emotive climate change
media and the celebrity engagements and performances that facilitate novel climate
affects normalize emotion as a response and as a motivational force to “solve” climate
change. In this, celebrity performances of affect also normalize the celebrities
themselves: They feel as ordinary people and so should and must we. They care—showing
this in words, deeds and affect—and so should and must we. They are ordinary, they are
authentic, they are genuine, and, most importantly, they are believable. Their
performances of ordinary emotion—a kind of performance of a non-performance as it
were—are those designed for maximum authenticity such that we too can and should feel,
we too can and should do. For example, as the director put it about DiCaprio’s role in
BTF,
We wanted Leo to be Everyman. Obviously, he lives a very rarefied life, but in this
film he plays a kind of Everyman in terms of this issue. He actually has a good
effect on the experts during interviews; they want him to understand, to make it
clear . . . It was important to humanize Leo, to make him seem vulnerable. And he
was vulnerable; we all were. When you’re walking on ice in the Arctic you have
trust people to tell you where to walk or you’re gone. When you’re in Greenland,
you take a wrong step and you shoot down the rapids. When you’re in a helicopter
flying over bushfires in Sumatra, it can be pretty terrifying. The fact that Leo is
willing to go there and do all this—none of us made any money on this film, and
certainly he didn’t—it shows that he really cares.
(G’Sell, 2016)
Yet, climate change celebrities are also, at the very same time, extraordinarily, or better
yet, extraordinarily ordinary in ways that are also about authenticity and connection.
Their extraordinariness provides them that heightened perch from which to feel, from
which we want to watch them feel, and to which we are supposed to respond. They are,
but also are not, outside of their elite status through their emotive behaviors and
concerned words. It is this vacillation between and among elite and not elite, ordinary
and extraordinary, every day and spectacle, through their media performances that allows
climate change celebrities the ability and multiple identities from which to attempt to
transcend climate politics. Affect and emotion are wielded here as sorts of “transcending”
tools to cut across audience political identities and get them in the “gut” or “heart” from
which care, responsibility, and action will flow. But of course, as we know, there really is
no transcending of politics either in general nor in this highly charged case of climate
change. Rather, a better way to see all of this might be that these novel modes of affective
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climate media and celebrities work to specifically politicize emotion and affect in the
context of climate change in ways and to ends that have yet to be seen but which have
also begun to define the After Data era of the climate mediascape.
Fourth, the proposed pathways to change and climate change solutions through these
new emotive climate media interventions have potential implications and offer up
important new questions, particularly the gendered modes of engagement and action this
may generate. What if emotion and affect, the core entryway to raising awareness and
spurring public action, don’t gain the traction that these celebrities hope? Moreover, will
these attempts actually overcome the knowledge and now, emotion and action gaps that
might appear and be maintained? This begs a further question: Perhaps these moves to
affect and impacts are missing the point in that some of the issues with lack of rapid
movements on climate impacts are less about feelings and more about what the audience
does (Mendick, Allen, & Harvey, 2015) with the science, knowledge, and data around
climate change? Either way, further research needs to explore the ways that the public
and climate media audiences actually engage in shifting everyday actions or broader
political action in light of our suggested affective shifts in climate change celebrity media.
A second issue of concerns is the ways that climate celebrities and their media
interventions, affect, and emotion or not, work to set up particular pathways to solutions.
Thus, we might be more emotive about climate change, but if the solutions celebrities
propose include the typical “weak brew” of more and better conscious capitalism,
sustainable consumption, and individual responses of light bulb changing, then it seems
that even the historic Paris Agreement might now not mean much. Critical interrogation
of what affective climate celebrities propose as solutions, like the overall public impact of
the turn to impacts and emotions in climate media, is greatly needed.
Finally, we end this section with a more speculative and possible set of implications
worthy of critical questions. Namely, will science and data return as a celebrity-endorsed
product as climate change impacts accelerate and we get deeper into the Anthropocene?
Will the science of mitigation and resilience come to the forefront of celebrity
performances? In particular, it seems as if feeling more deeply about climate change
might not be enough as the “climate denialist in chief” of Donald Trump begins to move
on reversing U.S. climate policy and creating much wider global impacts in terms of the
Paris Agreement. Or will these accentuated affects spur greater and more vociferous
climate action that might cross both social media and city streets in unprecedented ways
working to combine knowledge, pedagogy, affect, and celebrity in ways unforeseen as of
yet? The new roles and performances of climate change celebrities will be fascinating to
watch, if nothing else, as we potentially move into even more dangerous times in the
Anthropocene.
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Notes:
(1.) See Moser (2016) for an excellent summary of climate communication research in the
last five years, and its potential future directions.
(2.) The COP21 Paris Accords are a ray of light here, and it might be interesting to
consider the impacts of these media interventions and indeed the role of affect and
emotion both before Paris and after as well as how further interventions might be called
Celebrities and Climate Change
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upon in light of the “climate change denier in chief” in form of Trump coming to power in
the United States.
Julie Doyle
University of Brighton
Nathan Farrell
Bournemouth University
Michael K. Goodman
University of Reading
... Since the 1990s, the use of celebrity endorsement in environmental conservation has increased (Doyle, Farrell, & Goodman, 2017). Celebrity involvement has ranged from endorsing non-governmental organizations' (NGOs') messages (e.g., Jackie Chan endorsing WildAid's messages; WildAid, 2018), to celebrities creating their own institutions built around their profile and brand (e.g., the Jane Goodall Institute), and participating in high-level political forums (e.g., Leonardo DiCaprio speaking at UN climate change summit in 2014) (Doyle et al., 2017). ...
... Since the 1990s, the use of celebrity endorsement in environmental conservation has increased (Doyle, Farrell, & Goodman, 2017). Celebrity involvement has ranged from endorsing non-governmental organizations' (NGOs') messages (e.g., Jackie Chan endorsing WildAid's messages; WildAid, 2018), to celebrities creating their own institutions built around their profile and brand (e.g., the Jane Goodall Institute), and participating in high-level political forums (e.g., Leonardo DiCaprio speaking at UN climate change summit in 2014) (Doyle et al., 2017). This is reflected in the recent creation of celebrity liaison officer positions in prominent environmental NGOs, and the involvement of Hollywood talent management companies in the management of celebrities' charitable interests (Brockington, 2016). ...
... As in product advertising, the marketplace for environmental causes is cluttered and celebrities are seen as a tool to help break through noise and reach the intended audiences (Boykoff et al., 2010). They can be powerful messengers by making distant issues seem relevant in people's everyday lives (Anderson, 2013) and presenting complicated topics in a more appealing and emotional manner, which frames how the public should feel about issues they may not otherwise pay attention to (Doyle et al., 2017;Jeffreys, 2016). Brockington (2008) argues that alienation from nature as a result of modern urban lifestyles creates yet another commodity celebrities can sell to the public; a first-hand experience of closeness to nature. ...
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The use of celebrities in marketing campaigns is widespread globally, including in environmental conservation. Celebrity endorsements are pervasive, but there is limited evidence of their effectiveness. We conducted a review of celebrity‐endorsed environmental campaigns. We report on the extent to which celebrities have been used in these campaigns, whether evaluation of the endorsement has been conducted, and assess whether there is evidence that the celebrities achieved the objectives they set out to accomplish through their engagement. We searched the peer‐reviewed and grey literature in six languages from July 2018 to January 2019 and found 79 campaigns implemented in nine countries from 1976 to 2018. Two thirds of campaigns were implemented in China and reported in Chinese. Only four campaigns were evaluated, but none of the evaluations provided evidence of the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement. Evaluation focused instead on overall campaign outputs and outcomes. Claims of effectiveness were made, but the lack of measurable objectives, theory of change, outcome indicators, and critical evaluation renders it impossible to determine whether the outcomes achieved by the campaigns can be attributed to celebrity endorsement. It thus remains unclear whether celebrity endorsement can contribute to conservation efforts. It is essential for environmental practitioners and researchers to report the outcomes and lessons learned from celebrity endorsements to ensure that their future use in conservation marketing campaigns is evidence‐based, thereby improving conservation practice.
... In this sense, environmental celebrities frame affect-their own and ours by intention-as much as they do cognition through performance, narrative, and storytelling of, for example, the impacts of climate change on small farming communities in the US Midwest to the forest dwellers in Indonesia. They have, as Doyle et al. (121) argue in the context of climate change celebrities, begun to usher us into a so-called post-data world of environmental politics. No longer do we have the likes of Al Gore showing us PowerPoint slides of temperature versus CO 2 data points plotted on graphs. ...
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Celebrity advocacy for environmental causes has grown dramatically in recent decades. An examination of this expansion and the rise of causes such as climate change reveals the shifting politics and organization of advocacy. We address these changes to the construction and interpretation of celebrity advocacy and detail how they have produced a rich variety of environmental celebrity advocates. We also account for differences between legacy (e.g., radio, TV, newspapers) and online celebrities and their practices (e.g., hash-tag publics, brandjacking, online communities). Environmental celebrity ad-vocates' performances can be divided into nine tropes, each characterized in part by the particular varieties of environmentalism that they promote. We present the tropes and discuss their five cross-cutting themes. We conclude with a set of questions for future research on celebrity environmentalism.
... In this sense, environmental celebrities frame affect-their own and ours by intention-as much as they do cognition through performance, narrative, and storytelling of, for example, the impacts of climate change on small farming communities in the US Midwest to the forest dwellers in Indonesia. They have, as Doyle et al. (121) argue in the context of climate change celebrities, begun to usher us into a so-called post-data world of environmental politics. No longer do we have the likes of Al Gore showing us PowerPoint slides of temperature versus CO 2 data points plotted on graphs. ...
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Full-text available
Celebrity advocacy for environmental causes has grown dramatically in recent decades. An examination of this expansion and the rise of causes such as climate change reveals the shifting politics and organization of advocacy. We address these changes to the construction and interpretation of celebrity advocacy and detail how they have produced a rich variety of environmental celebrity advocates. We also account for differences between legacy (e.g., radio, TV, newspapers) and online celebrities and their practices (e.g., hashtag publics, brandjacking, online communities). Environmental celebrity advocates’ performances can be divided into nine tropes, each characterized in part by the particular varieties of environmentalism that they promote. We present the tropes and discuss their five cross-cutting themes. We conclude with a set of questions for future research on celebrity environmentalism. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Volume 45 is October 19, 2020. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
... Scholars of the environmental social sciences have thus become more and more interested in describing environmental social movements and civic action on several levels: their demographics (Tindall et al., 2003), the framing and other rhetorical strategies used (Alkon et al., 2013;Levy and Zint, 2013), the cognitive and affective precursors of activism (Roser-Renouf et al., 2014;Bamberg et al., 2015), and their efficacy (Han and Barnett-Loro, 2018). This research on climate change activism, however, has often focused on large movements, or those receiving the most media attention (Cox and Schwarze, 2015;Doyle et al., 2017). The urgency of the climate crisis, however, has led to climate change activism and social movements arising in many more contexts than those that are well-studied, and this article aims to analyze one such movement, that emerging among rural hunters and fishers in the United States. ...
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This paper investigates climate change activism among sportsmen and sportswomen, or hunters and fishers—a politically conservative group with historically deep roots to environmental conservation. Recently members of this community have created an NGO that focuses solely on climate change action—Conservation Hawks—and several other long-standing organizations have begun to include climate communication and activism within their mission. This article draws on fieldwork conducted throughout the rural western U.S., including ethnographic interviews with sportsmen/sportswomen, participant observation in hunter education courses and conservation events, and publicly-available media produced by hunting-oriented conservation organizations. Using an ethnographic and discourse analytic approach, I find that three primary discursive practices are particularly important within hunting and fishing community—a performed closeness to wildlife and wild places, a privileging of experiential and embodied epistemologies, and a valorization of the past wilderness. In both interviews and sportsmen-oriented media, these discourses can be drawn on when creating doubt and climate skepticism. Increasingly, however, activist groups use the same rhetorical strategies to promote climate change action. I argue that such shared discursive practices can thus mobilize collective identities, challenge political polarization, and create new political subjectivities around climate change in the rural western United States. I also argue that these discursive practices shape the actions portrayed as reasonable responses to the climate crisis within this community. This analysis thus illuminates climate activism within an understudied group, showing the depth of the civic movement on climate change. It also specifically highlights the importance of shared discursive practices to both climate skepticism and climate activism among one politically-conservative group in the United States, rural white hunters, and fishers.
... As existing studies have been limited to celebrities' engagement in conservation or climate change campaigns (e.g. Boykoff and Goodman 2009;Brockington 2009;Doyle et al. 2017), this however has to remain a research gap, i.e. the understanding of celebrities of their actions and responsibilities in climate change contexts. (Boykoff and Goodman 2009). ...
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The year 2018 saw the rise of a new global youth movement, Fridays for Future. The organization underlines the importance of personal accountability for greenhouse gas emissions, specfically in the context of air travel. This position is in stark contrast to views associating aeromobility with status. Celebrities in particular maintain personal brands based on frequent flying. This paper assesses the aeromobilities of celebrities, for which it develops a netnography-based methodology that tracks spatial movement on the basis of social media posts. Data is analyzed to determine travel patterns, distances flown, and fuel consumed. Findings are discussed in terms of the energy-intensity of celebrity lifestyles and the struggle over moral and social norms regarding personal accountability for contributions to climate change.
... Celebrities' engagement with global politics is not new. With growing awareness of environmental degradation, not least climate change, the involvement of celebrities in the environmental cause has increased since the mid-2000s (Boykoff et al. 2010, Doyle et al. 2017. The interaction between celebrities and nature conservation (e.g. the protection of endangered species) has a longer tradition. ...
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The nature conservation movement frequently relies on the lustre of celebrity personae to reach out with its message. As role models, celebrities exercise invisible power by representing certain norms and ideas while themselves being subordinate to social structures and discourses. Examining the case of Conservation International's campaign , Nature Is Speaking, and guided by the methodological framework of multimodal critical discourse analysis, this study examines how celebrities, in alliance with the conservation movement, (re)produce certain ideas about nature and the human-nature relationship when discursively 'celebrifying' nature-turning nature into a 'celebrity by association'-by lending their celebrity properties to nature as represented in the campaign. The study identifies three ways of representing nature that the celebrification of nature produces in the campaign: nature as (1) eternal and magnificent, (2) caring and providing, and (3) mighty but delicate. Together these representations constitute a discourse that reproduces certain naturalised values and worldviews connected to the human-nature relationship. The paper concludes that the diversification of celebrity into new fields such as the natural is constitutive of the overall celebritisation of society, and it discusses the implications of the celebrification of nature in terms of reproduction of the human-nature dichotomy and obscuration of the structural aspects of environmental degradation.
... A core debate amongst activists and academics within the cultural politics of climate change (e.g. Anderson 2011;Boykoff 2011;Boykoff et al. 2015;Doyle, 2011a;Doyle et al. 2017) is how to make climate change more relevant and actionable at the everyday scale. Research has previously explored how news coverage develops readers' salience (O'Neill et al. 2103) and how icons like florescent lightbulbs and polar bears (Slocum 2004;Manzo 2010a, b) help bring climate change "home" to people's ordinary lives. ...
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Many corporations are now in the business of bringing climate change ‘home’ in the everyday products that those, in much of the Minority world, can purchase and use, providing opportunities for consumers to literally and figuratively ‘buy in’ to climate mitigation. Yet, what are the implications of this form of highly-commoditised, corporate-led, consumer-focused climate branding? In the spaces and practices of the everyday, how and in what ways are corporations framing and socialising responses to climate change and global environmental and social issues? This paper explores these questions through a critical discourse analysis of Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ (2010) and its ‘Project Sunlight’ campaign (2010-2016). Situating Unilever’s sustainability agenda as indicative of the contemporary climate politics of the corporate sector, that also represents a pivotal moment in the cultural politics of climate change, we critically interrogate Unilever’s mobilization of the affective and emotional registers of everyday life and human relations in its model of sustainable living. Specifically, we focus on the ways that Unilever encourages acts of branded consumption as a form of—what we call here—climate care, by invoking normative discourses of gender and family through a form of biopolitics, and, at a larger scale, how the corporation is shaping how particular forms of climate capitalism are socialised, normalised and practiced. In doing so, we shift critical attention away from sustainable business analyses of Unilever onto the unexplored socio-cultural dimensions of Unilever’s sustainability model. We argue that Unilever’s socialisation of climate branding and care works to depoliticise climate change actions and actors through a biopolitics that creates a false veneer of democratisation in the form of consumer choice, thereby curtailing more progressive societal action on climate change.
... Finally, celebrities may have an important role in generating interest in the issue as they have become increasingly prominent voices in climate and environment discourse (Anderson 2011;Boykoff et al. 2010;Doyle et al. 2017). However, there is also some evidence that the use of celebrities can undermine salience (O'Neill et al. 2013). ...
Article
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We used qualitative in-depth interviews to evaluate the effects of a mass media climate change program on audiences’ efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, emotional responses, and motivations and intentions to address climate change. We conducted in-depth interviews with 73 participants from five US cities and three political parties who had watched episodes of the documentary television series, Season Two of Years of Living Dangerously. Eligible participants completed an in-depth interview within 24 h of viewing a select episode. Data were transcribed and then coded and analyzed using QSR NVivo 10. Weak efficacy beliefs limited intentions to enact concrete behavioral change. Outcome expectations, national-level actions, imagery, and emotional responses to stories played an important role in these processes. Explicit information about expected outcomes of various actions, and specifically successes, should be provided in order to boost efficacy and incentivize behavior.
... However, this has entered into codified promotion and tenure incentives in only limited ways. Moreover, some faculty see this push to Bresponsibilisation^ (Goodman 2013, Doyle et al. 2017) of academics-as-communicators as an undesirable new feature of expectations. ...
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Full-text available
What are the causes and consequences of academic climate advocacy in contemporary times? Should it be celebrated and pursued, or derided and eschewed? Does advocacy in various forms tarnish or enhance the reputation of science? This research examined conditions whereby some in academic communities facilitate various forms of engagement relating to their research while others shy away from applications of their work and avoid the “advocate” label. Through an exploratory survey of US-based natural and social science climate researchers/scholars and through analysis of interviews of US-based climate change academic researchers/scholars as part of an “Inside the Greenhouse” and “More than Scientists” collaboration, we explored academic advocacy in a twenty-first century climate communications environment. Among our findings, there was broad agreement that climate change is a pressing issue, yet among social scientists, women are more likely to agree that advocacy should not be criticized than their male social scientist counterparts. Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to be compelled to change by advocacy from someone with a smaller carbon footprint. Meanwhile, social scientists were more likely than natural scientists to be compelled to change by someone with a smaller carbon footprint. The associated effect of age differences was stronger than the associated differences with profession. Together, we examined these dynamic conditions that animate advocacy opportunities and tensions in the context of contemporary climate change research and engagement. Through conflation between advocacy for evidence-based climate science and advocacy for particular policy outcomes (with coincident dangers of individualism and apolitical intellectualism), we found that academic climate advocacy remains an unresolved subject.
... In 2016, Leonardo di Caprio's collaboration with National Geographic "Before the Flood" was made free-to-view on Youtube and attracted 60 million views soon after release. The film differs from typical climate narratives by interspersing stories of ordinary people and communities (Doyle, Farrell, & Goodman, 2017). While there are currently no analyses of public responses to the film "Before the Flood", films that have come before it, such as "An Inconvenient Truth" and "The Age of Stupid" have been studied extensively (Howell, 2011;Sakellari, 2014;Svoboda, 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
Despite extensive exploration into the use of language in climate change communication, our understanding of the use of visual images, and how they relate to public perceptions of climate change, is less developed. A limited set of images have come to represent climate change, but rapid changes in the digital landscape, in the way media and information are created, conveyed, and consumed has changed the way climate change is visualised. We review the use of climate imagery in digital media (news and social media, art, video and visualisations), and synthesise public perceptions research on factors that are important for engaging with climate imagery. We then compare how key research findings and recommendations align with the practical strategies of campaigners and communicators, highlighting opportunities for greater congruence. Finally, we outline key challenges and recommendations for future directions in research. The increasingly image-focused digital landscape signals that images of climate change have a pivotal role in building public engagement, both now, and in future. A better understanding of how these images are being used and understood by the public is crucial for communicating climate change in an engaging way.
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Veganism offers an important critique of unethical and unsustainable food production practices, yet vegans have been historically stigmatized in mainstream media. Given the recent prominence of celebrity vegans, this article asks, how might the cultural intermediary work of vegan celebrities make the ethical practice of veganism more accessible? And how do vegans’ ethical concerns about the exploitative production and consumption of animals as food and by-products get reframed in the context of celebrity consumer culture? Bringing together philosophies of ethical veganism and eco-feminism with literature on ethical (food) consumption and celebrity culture, this article analyses the educational campaigning work on veganism by Hollywood actor, Alicia Silverstone and TV chat show host, Ellen DeGeneres. It finds that veganism is figured as a diet and lifestyle that foregrounds an ethics of care, compassion, kindness and emotion - about and for humans, animals and environment - consistent with ethical veganism. Yet these ethics are reworked through the commodity logic of celebrity culture to make it more marketable and thus consumable as a set of ideas and gendered lifestyle practices, where the individual choice is to be a healthy, happy and kind self. The tensions between ethical veganism as an intervention at the point of consumption within the production of exploitative and gendered human/animal/environmental relations, and the focus upon an individualised lifestyle politics through which celebrities maintain their commodity status, thus coalesce in the work of celebrity vegans.
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This paper argues that the effectiveness of visual rhetoric as a persuasive discourse within environmental campaigning reached a crisis point in the history of climate change communication. International environmental groups such as Greenpeace are often dependent upon the photographic image to provide evidence of environmental degradation and threat in order to persuade the public and governments to take action. As a result of this reliance, efforts over the last decade to bring awareness to a sceptical global audience of the potential impacts of human induced climate change were constrained by the very lack of visual evidence about this issue. This paper argues that this lack calls attention, on the one hand, to the problematics of communicating an ‘unseen’ environmental issue such as climate change within the confines of the visual rhetoric of much environmental discourse. At the same time, these limitations are inscribed more specifically by those of photography as a discourse of visual evidence and truth, unable to visualise, and thus make ‘real’, future environmental threats.
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As we move firmly into the so-called Anthropocene—an era defined by human-induced global environmental change, neoliberal, consumer capitalism and the unprecedented flow of media, knowledge and communication—how is it that we know about the environment? More specifically: how is it we know about human-environment relationships—those tension-filled, ever-present, often-obscured, but inescapable relationships that are most likely overlain by some form of capitalist social relations? How do we know about ecological destruction embedded in these current human-environment relationships? How do we know what to do about the increasingly solid spectres of climate change and irretrievable biodiversity losses as well as the ordinarily polluted cities and fields many live in but count on for survival? As we and the authors of this special issue of Environmental Communication contend, given the growing prominence of media and celebrity in environmental politics, we now increasingly know about the environment through different forms, processes and aspects of the spectacle and, in particular, the spectacular environments of a progressively diverse media-scape. Moreover—and forming the core focus of this issue—we argue that we are more and more being told about how to ‘solve’ ecological problems through spectacular environmentalisms: the spectacularised, environmentally-focused media spaces that are differentially political, normative and moralised and that traverse our everyday public and private lifeworlds.
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The follow up to Chris Rojek's hugely successful Celebrity, this book assesses celebrity culture today. It explores how the fads, fashions and preoccupations of celebrities enter the popular lifeblood, explains what is distinctive about contemporary celebrity, and reveals the psychological, social and economic consequences of fame both upon the public and celebrities themselves. The book develops the framework for looking at celebrity culture which Rojek set out back in 2001, by showing how ascribed celebrity, achieved celebrity and celetoids overlap. The book gives a new emphasis to the role of the media and public relations in engineering fame, and the psychological consequences of celebrity - notably Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Celebrity Worship Syndrome. The book is a landmark contribution in explaining how celebrities dominate the social horizon and why we need them.
Chapter
This chapter presents mediatization of politics as a process of mediainduced societal change that goes beyond the visible face of media power. Three questions are central to my attempt to rethink the question of media power: the nature of mediatization, its causes, and effects. Five key elements make up the core of my account of the mediatization theory: (1) adaptation as a process of social learning to a changing media environment, (2) the media as constraints on actions; the emergence of powerful and independent media institutions, and (3) the increased media dependency as causes of mediatization, and (4) shifts of power as an effect, and (5) social change as a consequence. The age of television was the background for my original account, relevant first and foremost for the systems world. Today, my conclusion is that the news media have become an integral part of the political institutions, whereupon the mediatization of politics should have reached a final phase. But whereas the process of mediatization may have peaked on the systems level, the mediatization of the lifeworld has only just begun. Consequently, mediatization theory should also today-in the age of the Internet-be a most relevant tool for approaching and rethinking the question of media power.