The Time Leo and John Took New Haven

Last week, New England’s heart collectively throbbed at the thought of breathing the same air as Jack Dawson himself. On Tuesday, Leonardo DiCaprio visited a moderately-sized commuter school in Connecticut’s liberal heartland to discuss a topic near and dear to his heart—climate change. A longtime passion of the Hollywood mogul, dating back to the year Al Gore made PowerPoint “cool” again. Since then, Mr. Dicaprio has started his own foundation (L.D.F), raised tens of millions of dollars (more than $80 million to be exact), and been an outspoken activist against carbon footprints. And while there’s been critics of LD’s lifestyle (100 ft. yachts and private jets aren’t exactly eco-friendly), he’s ostensibly risen above the trite philanthropic culture of Hollywood. Hearing Mr. Dicaprio speak about man-made global destruction, one thing is clear—he’s done his homework.

Whether he’s the best front-man for the job is an entirely separate question. His cultural status is an obvious distraction from the issues. He’s charming, socially comfortable, and easy on the eyes (not a pimple or receding hair in sight). He’s the antithesis of all things science. The opening cheers, as Leo approached the stage, were akin to a red-carpet event. The swoons of googly-eyed women in the crowd were audible. Most ticket holders were probably hoping the night would begin with a Calvin Candie revival.

To preside over the session, was the master-of-monotone himself, John Kerry, who opened with a long string of “jokes” that were out of touch and delivered with the enthusiasm of a koala. The crowd gave a warm obligatory welcome to which the once-presidential hopeful retorted, “I accept the nomination! Ahhh, only kidding.” True comic genius at work.

The opening minutes started dreadfully. An awkward miscue by Kerry preceded a full-length trailer of Leo’s latest work, “Before the Flood.” Slowly, the sense that this was all a big publicity stunt to promote the film started to seep in. That feeling was reinforced by a flowery exchange of praise that went back and forth for several minutes. Neither philanthropist could say enough about how great the philanthropy of the other philanthropist was. In keeping with this theme of self-aggrandizement, it should be noted the conference was entitled, “The Kerry Convening.”

The longer Kerry spoke the more melatonin you could feel coursing your veins—a biological response designed to spare your mind the injuries of boredom. His face was a stagnant pool of botulinum toxin (which we’d still like an explanation for). Tuesday’s event was proof that John Kerry is a man who embodies everything wrong with the Democratic party today. A walking exhibit of why liberals lost the election. Like most Democrats, Kerry assumes facts not in evidence. He assumes the average American is well informed and well read—that “climate change deniers” are a niche crowd. Like most Democrats, he speaks in long-winded professorial tones which lack charisma and reek of condescension and elitism.

Kerry’s self-serving monologues went like this:

“Back in 1970 when I was part of the first Earth day, before I protested against the war, I was freshly back from Vietnam but I hadn’t yet processed the war in a way that lead me to go organize veterans and demonstrate the way I wound up doing but I knew I was going to go out there and make a difference on the environment because my mother had been an ardent environmentalist and it was just part of the ethic of Massachusetts, of New England, of my upbringing, of my education here at Yale and elsewhere—that you exercise responsibility, you conserve, you preserve, you think about the future.”

And this:

“How many people voted in the last election in America? 55% or so? I’ve been to countries. I just came back from Kenya where I was leading the delegation to monitor the elections—70-something percent compared to us. I went to the Philippines in 1986 to lead the effort there to get rid of the dictator, Marcos, and I watched people stand in the hot sun for 12 hours, have their thumb printed with ink to prove that they had voted.”

Leo, on the other hand, was a tall drink of water who spoke simply and in different octaves. The conversation turned to the history of environmentalism and The Paris Agreement, to which Kerry gave new meaning to the phrase “ad nauseam.” The session was advertised as featuring Dicaprio as the primary speaker and Kerry as moderator—nothing could have been further from the truth. Kerry dominated the conversation with long tangential monologues about carbon pricing and the politics of clean energy. Any attempt at a dialogue was thwarted by lazy, rhetorical questioning on the part of the Secretary.

“How did you [Leo] get involved in [environmentalism]? What prompted you suddenly to uh…”

“You’ve traveled now, I don’t know how many millions of miles, but you’ve been all around the world several times in the last three years making this movie. What did people say to you about America during that time?”

DiCaprio posed thought provoking questions:

“Why have our oil, coal, and gas companies, people like the Koch brothers who have funded so much of this misinformation—why have they had such a stranglehold on our political system whereas other countries talk about climate change as if it were gravity. Why is this country still so influenced by these forces that be?”

At the end of the day, it was a textbook demonstration of preaching to the choir. It was liberals speaking at liberals. It was a safe and predictable routine that did nothing to advance the flow of progress. For these conversations to be impactful, they must take place in enemy territory, outside the academic bubble, and away from liberal safe-havens.

Perhaps the most poignant message of the evening was in the form of a question: What’s the worst thing that can happen if climate change activists are right? The answer, clean energy technology would spawn a new marketplace, creating millions of jobs for people breathing cleaner air. Most importantly, we would make good on our moral responsibilities to the earth and its inhabitants. Yet, if climate-deniers are wrong, the worst case scenario, as the secretary put it, “…the end of life on the planet as we know it.” A dramatic statement to say the least.

To signal the night’s end, Kerry reached into the pocket of his navy blue suit jacket and pulled out a small glass ampoule. After inspecting it for a minute, he announced to the crowd that the vial contained air from the south pole of Antartica with the label, “Cleanest Air on Earth,” to which Leo responded, “Let me get a hit of that.”


Featured image courtesy of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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