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Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.

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An Inconvenient Truth: Hollywood’s Huge Carbon Footprint


Leonardo DiCaprio may have devoted his celebrity platform to zealously cheerleading on behalf of the environment, but he has fallen prey to criticism about his own carbon footprint - which is rather extensive and includes traveling around the world in private jets and yachts to educate us on how we are wrecking the planet. But DiCaprio is being upstaged by another hypocritical climate crusader - one with even deeper pockets: Hollywood. And when it comes to carbon footprints, it is giving even the oil industry a run for its money.

Leonardo is an ardent climate change activist, using his Oscar acceptance speech to discuss this urgent threat:

“Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.”

Hollywood cheered. After all, they are one of the loudest voices on the planet when it comes to environmental causes, and their message is sandwiched into many of the movies and much of the TV that we watch every day.

But Hollywood, more specifically the film industry, is a significant source of pollution and is considered one of the least green industries. And Leo is only part of the problem. Related: $300 Oil: What If The Attacks In Saudi Arabia Had Destroyed Production?

The movie industry is huge, complete with its own pollution. But this hasn’t stopped them from lecturing movie-goers on a wide range of issues including income disparity, social injustices, mining, and its new favorite - the environment. And if this sanctimony seems like a new trend, a quick browse through IMDB should set you right.

According to a 2006 two-year study by UCLA, the Hollywood film and television industry produces more air pollution in the five-county Los Angeles region than almost all of the other five sectors studied. In other words, Hollywood creates more pollution than individually produced by aerospace manufacturing, apparel, hotels, and even semiconductor manufacturing. Only the petroleum industry and its fuel refineries contributed more emissions.

The study also found that the industry produced 140,000 tons of ozone and diesel particulate emissions per year.

As film and television budgets become bigger, the industry’s carbon footprint is also on the rise. To produce a Hollywood film requires a sizeable crew, and the actors are just the tip of the iceberg. There are a countless number of subcontractors and short-term workers that handle everything from special effects to catering the food for the staff. Bigger picture budgets also lead to more special effects such as explosions, which lead to more air pollution. On the production set there are trucks and other vehicles transporting the crew and equipment from place to place as well as vehicles that are idling while waiting for crewmembers or to transport materials. Some movies may be filmed in various locations locally or out of state, which means more traveling and even more emissions produced. Then there are the movie promotion tours that have the cast city-hopping to drum up interest prior to the release date. Carbon, carbon, carbon.

Hollywood also produces emissions indirectly. Hundreds and even thousands of generators may be needed to power the set. Not only do the generators themselves directly cause pollution, but the power plant providing all the extra electricity to the studio as a result indirectly produces emissions. The large amount of LED lights used also adds to the power supply needed. Even the massive amounts of building materials required create a substantial environmental impact. Props and other building materials are typically not recycled, and often end up in landfills after production is complete.

But it’s not just Hollywood. According to BAFTA, the British film organization, one hour of UK television—fiction or nonfiction—produces 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is about what the average American uses every year.

It’s not that Hollywood hasn’t tried to do its part when it comes to being environmentally conscious; it just doesn’t follow through. One of the main problems is that most studio work is done by short-term production workers. They come in with their equipment, prepared to do a job, and have little to no interest in using an environmentally friendly approach. There may be programs in place, but typically the studio doesn’t have people in place to regulate these programs which means they often fall by the wayside. With no one to make sure that eco-friendly practices are followed and to help get crew members on board, these programs ultimately fail. Related: The Single Biggest Threat To U.S. Oil Jobs

Hollywood is not all bad. Some movies have tried to give back to the environment. The makers of the movie The Day After Tomorrow spent $200,000 to plant trees to help make up for the estimated 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions that they produced while filming. The Makers of The Matrix movies recycled 97.5 percent of their set materials, which included concrete, steel, and lumber. The recycled content was then transferred to Mexico and reused in housing for low-income families. These examples are a good start, but with the dozens of movies produced in Hollywood each year, so much more could be done to make the industry greener. And these measures are unlikely to happen without a champion behind it, like a big-time actor or producer.

The Environmental Media Association was formed to help the industry’s environmental stewardship during production. Green Seal is one of the program’s born from this. It is presently Hollywood’s only widely accepted sustainability project, and it recognizes production companies that meet specific environmentally friendly criteria during the production process. However, this program has failed to truly takeoff, and because ratings rule in the cinema world, it has become more of an afterthought and has not been adopted widely throughout the industry. Leo and dozens of other Hollywood actors and actresses often use their celebrity status to bring attention to the problem of climate change, but their message is likely lost on those who do not wish to be lectured by someone whose carbon footprint is larger than theirs.


Still, Hollywood has left some - such as Variety - wondering if Hollywood has done enough to raise public awareness of our looming climate crisis. Indeed, when it comes to the environment, Hollywood has done far too much - and yet somehow has managed to fall just short of enough.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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