There is perhaps no better symbol what's happened to celebrity environmental activism than an event in New York tonight, a semi-comic/semi-serious "debate" on global warming with the nefarious sounding name "The Darker Side of Green."
With a handful of eco-friendly, A-list celebrities like Kristen Bell, Adrien Brody and Ashton Kutcher having attended past events, it's actually part of a campaign by Lexus to use fame to sell its new hybrid, in a more provocative way. But it was not too long ago, in the wake of "An Inconvenient Truth," that the common refrain among environmentalists was that the debate was settled. The scientific consensus is that man-made climate change is real, so there really is no reason to debate the deniers.
Granted, the Lexus debate in New York featuring energy advocate Amanda Little vs. climate skeptic Phelim McAleer could hardly be called a victory for warming deniers, given that moderator Sarah Silverman, herself an environmental advocate, had a tendency to pose questions to McAleer like, "Why do you hate polar bears?" As the butt of many a joke, McAleer was hardly changing people's minds, nor was this a forum to where much was taken seriously. (As the nightclub crowd keeps chattering away during the debate, Silverman shouts, "I hate all you people!")
The truth is that many an environmental advocate thought that they'd be much further along than this, particularly after Al Gore's 2007 campaign to raise awareness, the expanded majority of Democrats in 2008 and the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. It perhaps speaks to the strength of "climategate" to again raise doubts in the public's mind that climate change exists, coupled with worries over a flagging economy. Marketing and PR consultant Patrick Courrielche, who has been promoting and marketing the Darker Side of Green debates for Lexus, has written extensively about "climategate" for Andrew Breitbart's BigJournalism sites.
"The inconvenient truth now is that the environmental movement is deeply fractured," says Trevor Neilson, president of the Global Philanthropy Group, which advises celebrity clients on activism and giving.
"We had a lot of clients following [the climate bill], but there was a messaging problem. What was being done wasn't clear. ..They have to have a coherent message that accompanies a tough bill, not a confused message that addresses a watered down bill."
Today, Robert Redford expressed frustration in a post on Huffington Post in which he slammed the GOP, chided moderate Democrats and rebuked President Obama.
He writes, "Stronger leadership from the White House could have helped burst through political obstructions. President Obama has certainly done more than any other president to advance clean energy, yet he never seemed to roll up his sleeves, bring lawmakers to the table, and work to rally the American public behind it. If he thought his move earlier this year to approve new offshore oil drilling for the first time in decades would pay off last week in the form of GOP support for this bill, I guess he got his answer."
As for Lexus' campaign, "the darker side of green" doesn't exactly sound like a rallying cry to eco-activists, but that apparently is not the point. It's to add an extra level of cool to a type of vehicle that has generated some ridicule from the likes of "South Park." During the debate, Little said the vehicles were just the transition before the adoption of the electric car, and noted that one image problem that hybrid cars have had is "smugness."