Was Google’s A-Lister Climate Change Camp a Joke?

Google's Climate Change CampYou may have heard that Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hosted their seventh annual “Google Camp” conference last week – a private affair that includes A-list celebrities and other wealthy, high-profile folks.

The setting was the Verdura Resort, located on the southwest coast of Sicily. And the focus of this year’s conference was the topic of the day for a lot of people (but unfortunately not enough people): climate change.

According to Forbes travel writer Jim Dobson, the guests arrived via planes, yachts, and helicopters. While the guest list was secret and invitees were not supposed to post about it on social media, as these things go, word got out.

Here are some the folks who were supposedly there, in no special order, except that Leo should go first since he’s my hero.

  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • President Obama
  • Prince Harry
  • Larry Page
  • Sergey Brin
  • Eric Schmidt
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Barry Diller
  • Diane Von Furstenberg
  • Graeme Hart (the richest man in New Zealand)
  • Udo J. Vetter (a German pharmaceutical executive)
  • Chris Martin
  • David Geffen
  • Bradley Cooper
  • Tom Cruise
  • Katy Perry
  • Priyanka Chopra
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Harry Styles

Planes, Yachts, and Helicopters

There have been a number of writeups about the event, and most of them made fun of the celebrities and the entitled carbon footprint from the whole affair. You know, those CO2 pounds start piling on, with people flying and yachting in, and I’m sure there were some jet skis involved.

My take on this is that, despite my clickbait headline, no, this event was not a joke. What celebrities and wealthy people do and say matters. We’re living in the age of influencers, and these people are the ultimate influencers, love ‘em or hate ‘em. We pay attention to them.

Where do you stand?

It’s the celebrities and business people who don’t take a stand who really worry me. Those who do nothing and say nothing, when they have the megaphones, and horrible things are happening in the world.

As the saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

Celebrities and business people who don’t stand for anything other than their art or income have always been a little circumspect to me. Art in and of itself is holy, and there’s nothing wrong with earning a buck. But art and money always symbolize something deeper.

So, the guests at Camp Google got a lot of flak in the media for the CO2 emissions they emitted getting to and from the event. Vanity Fair even quoted the local Palermo airport (actually named Aeroporto Falcone Borsellino, but we’ll just call it the Palermo airport for the purposes of this post): The airport reported that the flights to the event released “784,000 kilograms of CO2” into the atmosphere. (That’s about 1.7 million pounds for us Americans.)

Apparently the Palermo airport didn’t explain exactly how they came to that figure, but, just for fun, let’s do some calculating, shall we?

The carbon offset site Carbon Fund puts the price of CO2 offsets at $0.00454 per pound.

Terrapass, another offset site, puts it at $0.0050.

So, going by Vanity Fair’s Palermo airport data on the alleged celebs who may have attended the event and flown in on jets vs. taken their yachts, from God knows which far flung corner of globe, and based on Terrapass’ data (to keep things simple), the cost to offset the CO2 for the flights to Camp Google would be about:



Planting 11,500 trees.

Heck, that’s the cost of just one, not-too-expensive designer outfit!

Of course, we didn’t factor in the emissions from the jet skis. According to data from the University of Vermont, two hours of exhaust emissions from a jet ski is equivalent to the emissions created from driving a 1998 car 130,000 miles.

Even if they fly a lot, we still want the smart folks on our side.

Just as people like to see what celebrities and wealthy people are doing, they also like to take them down.

Everyone hates a hypocrite, but I don’t see Camp Google Climate Change as hypocritical. Conferences work. In-person meet and greets work. President Obama, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Eric Schmidt are smart. We want the smart people on our side.

And people pay attention to celebs. We want the celebs on our side too.

If I had been on the planning committee for that event, aside from ‘Who shall we include on the guest list?’ I would have asked these four simple questions:

  • Can we make the entire menu vegan, organic, and from local Sicilian farms?
  • Is everyone offsetting ALL of their carbon emissions associated with the event, even the limo ride to the helicopter pad and the jet ski rides?
  • Will the number of scientists attending (for free, of course) outnumber the number of non-scientists?
  • Will we come away with an action plan that’s going to get fast, measurable results?

Yes? Ok. Great! Let’s do it!


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