Interview with Tara Connolly of VOICE Ireland

One of Morrissey's campaign posters for PETA

Celebrity fads come and go, whether it’s carrying some unfortunate dog in a garish Louis Vuitton bag or living off a diet of baby food (creamed corn, anyone?). But one seemingly long standing trait of people in the public eye is that they align themselves with a charity. They all seem to have a cause, be it Bono and Bob Geldof trying to end poverty in Africa or Morrissey’s continued and very vocal support for PETA.

Recently, as more and more people have become aware of the damaging effects of climate change, certain celebrities have taken to promoting awareness of environmental damage. But how genuine are these campaigns? Do these celebrities really care about the environmental challenges which are being faced or is this just an opportunity for some good PR? Tara Connolly of VOICE Ireland (the Irish equivalent of Greenpeace) answered a few questions for me on this topic, and also the changes which can be made to reduce our impact on climate change.

It can be argued that celebrities use damaging modes of transport excessively and as such are not in a position to be advocating the reduction of carbon emissions. Do you find environmental campaigns to be hypocritical on their part or beneficial to the prevention of further damage to the earth?

There is certainly an element of “mixed messages” from celebrities that advocate personal lifestyle changes to help combat climate change. However, whether we like it or not, celebrities are looked up on by our society as role models particularly among younger generations. Celebrities have significant access to the media and are well positioned to push whichever agenda they so wish. In our opinion, if celebrities help bring the environmental cause, including climate change, to a wider audience then this can only be a good thing. Of course it would be better if celebrities practiced what they preached and minimised their personal impact but it isn’t clear if the public is aware of the extent of celebrities’ lifestyles.

 In your opinion do you think most celebrities who get involved in climate change campaigns are genuine to the cause? Do you think there’s a possibility that they could be merely copying what some other high-profile personalities are doing?

There are many charities and causes that celebrities can align themselves with to promote their public image. It could be argued that charities related to human rights and children generate more sympathy and human interest than environment-related causes. Because of this, we would be of the opinion that most are genuinely interested in the cause.

 If the general public were to make one change to their daily routine in order to reduce climate change, what would you suggest it be?

The 'Blue in the Face' climate change campaign

We would advocate that individuals look at where their food comes from. Local and, crucially, seasonal, food can result in a far lower environmental impact of a person’s diet. Buying seasonal and local food has the added benefit of supporting the local economy and can be surprisingly good value for money. In terms of climate change, flying is clearly the biggest impact that an individual can have but in Ireland we have fewer options than those who live on the continent or even in the UK . We would still advocate that individuals try to reduce the amount of flights they take, when feasible.

 What do you think can be achieved by making changes to our lives now? Is it possible that the earth is so badly damaged that it’s now irreversibly damaged?

According the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report, some damage is unavoidable at this stage as a result of greenhouse gases that have been emitted. This is largely because of slow feedback loops in the atmosphere and particularly in the oceans, which have far longer cycles than the atmosphere. It is hard to say whether the damage will be reversible – we are entering unchartered territory. In reality, the key question is whether we and the ecosystems that we depend on will be able to adapt rapidly enough.

Overall, do you think celebrity involvement in raising awareness of climate change is a positive or negative thing?

Overall, celebrity involvement is a positive development although I think their involvement would be more beneficial if it were targeted towards bringing about policy changes. Individual actions are important but many negative environmental impacts are locked into products and systems even before they reach the consumer so it is really at the policy level that I would like to see celebrities making their voices heard.

  • To find out more about VOICE Ireland then you can check out their website here.
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