The half-life-size photograph of Nicole Kidman in The New York Times is, of course, beautiful. A massive encyclopedia lies open beside the stunning Australian actress on her all-leather airplane loveseat. A long, shapely leg stretches across to another, empty bench seat. Flowers nestle against the Airbus A380 window.
The photo highlights only one of three rooms in Flying Reimagined daily from New York to Abu Dhabi.
Called the Residence in the four-color, centerfold ad, Etihad Airways’ flight includes: “Separate living room. Ensuite shower. Double bedroom. Personal Butler.”
On the same day this two-full-page ad runs in its A-section, the Times guilts its readers with an article headlined “What You Can Do About Climate Change” in its coverage of the Paris climate summit.
The 3,000-word piece aimed at fostering sustainable behavior includes this line: “On average, a first-class [airline] seat is two and a half times more detrimental to the environment than economy.”
In anyone else’s publication, Times editorialists no doubt would quickly note the amazing hypocrisy of telling people that “taking a bus or a train is best” while promoting, for huge amounts of money, what is all but a Fifth Avenue brownstone in the air.
Yes, all of us — especially those of us who live in the United States — desperately need to cut down on our carbon consumption if we intend to have a planet for our grandchildren to live on. Yes, for minimizing greenhouse emissions, the smartest move — sans muscle-powered transportation — is the bus.
But until American mainstream media quit acting as if “do what I say, not what I do” is the answer for everything, Americans will continue to be — by far — the greatest per-capita emitters of greenhouse emissions the world will ever see.
Think for a minute: Does any Hollywood actor search for a parking space in his BMW, Lexus or Ferrari? Have broadcast ads for those cars ever shown them congested in traffic, instead of zipping along dazzling, two-lane Rocky Mountain roads? Is any solution we’re hearing for climate change being to “just use less?” — the only possible way to hold climate change to a hopefully safe two-degree rise?
“Just use less” is the only answer, because as long as we demand more comfort, more resources, more everything, today’s hyper-absurd quasi-capitalist system will provide it. And promote it.
For society, unfortunately, there’s nothing to sell in a message of “Just use less.”
And, as the Times’ ad illustrates, nothing gets in the way of selling. Not hypocrisy. Not flushing the planet down the drain. Nothing has any hope against selling in America’s warped version of Adam Smith — who’s probably turning over in his grave.
We even rob the poor to subsidize purchases of Teslas by the rich today. Our only existing national plan for climate change is to sell replacement light bulbs. But lighting, in total, uses less than five percent of any home’s energy.
To sell a handful more new vehicles than would have sold anyway — and generate less than a single mile per gallon in efficiency — a few years ago we drove the cost of used cars up $1,500 by destroying 600,000 working vehicles.
Who got hurt? The poor, of course, who suddenly had to drop a few more paychecks to get any clunker.
Meanwhile, we’ve cut back on transit where riders are primarily the poor and immigrants while throwing billions in taxpayer dollars to construct Lexus-lane toll roads and ensure that financiers get an even larger cut of every taxpayer penny. Those financiers, of course, can’t be inconvenienced by having to sit in traffic with the rest of us and they certainly won’t pay for that right. The tolls are tax-deductible.
Today, even the national newspaper of record thinks nothing of pushing us little people to bear the burden for addressing climate change while the rich need three rooms, an en-suite shower and a butler to manage those horrifying 13 hours between New York and Abu Dhabi.
Yes, we all must use less. That is reality.
But isn’t it time for the rich to at least begin doing some share, even if it’s nowhere close to their fair share? And isn’t it time for mainstream media to tell the truth, the whole truth — and not just the truth that sells? S
Randy Salzman is a transportation writer and former journalism professor.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.