April 24, 2006 -- Five years after winning an Oscar as the crusading Erin Brockovich, Julia Roberts has morphed into an environmental poster girl, gracing the cover of Vanity Fair's "green issue" donning a laurel of leaves, with Al Gore, George Clooney and Robert Kennedy Jr. at her feet.
"Green is the new black" hails editor Graydon Carter, who writes that the magazine decided to confront the issue of climate change with a guide offering 50 tips on how to make yourself more environmentally conscientious and a star-studded cover by celebrity photographer Annie Leibowitz, along with several articles framing the issue.
But mixing politics and celebrity has always been a dicey game. Cynics will point out that Vanity Fair has always celebrated the joys of consumption. And even in the "green" issue, advice on growing grass on your roof and other tips are sandwiched between ads for designer leatherwear, nonhybrid gas guzzlers and other indulgent goodies.
And for all the passion on the pages, Vanity Fair is still printed on nonrecycled, ecologically unfriendly glossy paper. The magazine has said that it's looking into changing its format, although no plan is in place. Still, such seeming contradictions aren't holding Carter back.
"Never before in American history has a president so willfully delivered the government departments and agencies responsible for safeguarding America's air, water and public lands into the hands of anti-regulatory sellouts, many of whom came from the same polluting industries they're charged with regulating," Carter writes in his editor's letter.
But in coupling the work of noted environmentalists, hailed as "eco-heroes," with the efforts of such Hollywood notables as Bette Midler and Edward Norton, the magazine offers a strange mix. And even well-intentioned celebrities are not always the best role models, as they often have trouble living up to their image.
While Carter sees fit to recount the efforts of cover-girl Roberts, who owns a hybrid-powered Prius, the magazine editor last year bought a champagne-colored Lincoln Navigator SUV.
Arnold's Hummer Sings a New Tune
Arnold Schwarzenegger, described in the magazine as one of the governors "who gets it," is a one-man roadshow who helped popularize the Hummer. Of course, the California governor has declared the environment a priority, and he has converted his Hummer to run on hydrogen. But how many other Hummers were sold to those who embrace this friend of the earth as an action hero?
Roberts, who describes herself as a "latecomer to environmental concerns," championed UNICEF charities in previous years and says that having children helped change her perspective. She now uses environmentally friendly diapers on her twins, Phinneaus and Hazel, and she's building a solar-powered home.
Bette Midler, another star profiled for her environmental efforts, has spearheaded the New York Restoration Project, an organization that has hauled 80,000 tons of trash from neglected parklands, especially in poor neighborhoods.
"I love nature," says the 60-year-old singer and actress, "despite what she did to me."
But for all the celebrity effort, a recent Gallup Poll shows that most Americans still don't see global warming as an urgent issue. While public concern is higher than what it was in a similar poll conducted in 2004, only one in three predict global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetimes, according to Gallup's March 12-16 survey of 1,000 people.
Still, the poll notes that 58 percent of Americans believe a climate change as a result of global warming has already begun, and that it is the result of man-made operations, not natural cycles.
"Since 1999, Republicans' level of worry about the issue has dipped noticeably," Gallup reports, "while worry among Democrats has shown less change."