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Oprah & Climate Change

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 13, 2011 12:35 AM


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This Guardian piece made me wonder: what if Oprah Winfrey, during her long-running and hugely influential daytime talk show (which is ending this year) had devoted a fraction of air time to sustainability and climate change issues that she spent on promoting dubious, New Age medical cures? Given that Oprah often vaults books and health products into instant best-sellers, is there any doubt that she could have kept climate change on the front burner if she chose to? I say this not because Oprah is a celebrity in the same way that Leonardo DiCaprio is a celebrity--she's more than that. She's a revered, trusted brand, a kind of pop culture Cronkite:

Winfrey's show has often been that national voice. When she covered the topic of mad cow disease, the nation's dairy farmers watched sales plummet; when she selected James Frey as an author to watch and later admonished him, the nation went right along with her.

Don't get me wrong. Let me acknowledge that Oprah has lent her prominence to green causes, including promotion of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth movie. Still, I have to wonder: if Oprah had regularly highlighted on her show the climate change issue as much as she did the latest wrinkle-free cream or faddish diet, could she have kept global warming floating in the public consciousness? Rather, she seems to have treated concern for AGW as a passing fad. I mean, if this is the story of the century, as so many scientists and climate advocates keep insisting, then why aren't they hounding the gatekeepers to pop culture, such as Oprah, to do their part? She is one of those rare persons with a huge, devoted following that hang on her every word and follow her guidance. Oprah has the power to influence individual minds and actions in a way that no journalist could.

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