A high-stakes U.N. summit in Canada seen as vital to saving the world’s biodiversity has failed to attract a single world leader beyond the host country’s prime minister Justin Trudeau.
It was left therefore to actor James Cromwell, a man who has played a U.S. president four times on screen, to lend the event some star power and try to inject a sense of urgency into talks.
At stake is the future of the planet as habitat destruction, pollution, and the climate crisis imperil ecosystems and drive a million species that depend on them to the brink of extinction.
“Capitalism is a cancer that has metastasized from its origins in Europe, and now covers every aspect of our lives all over the entire world,” said the lanky 82-year-old, in fiery remarks that channeled his anti-corporate character in the HBO series Succession.
“It is rapacious. It is cruel, it is destructive. And it does not work,” he added.
“We’re in now the Sixth Mass extinction,” he went on, “brought on by the stupidity and the unwillingness of human beings, mostly white human beings, to take responsibility for what they’ve created. What they have created is a goddamn mess!”
Cromwell, who recalled his own activism from the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam war movements of the 1960s to recent arrests while campaigning for animal rights issues (he became vegan while shooting the 1995 film “Babe”), said it was “deplorable” that heads of state and government had snubbed the U.N. meeting, called COP15.
By contrast, more than 120 leaders attended U.N. climate talks in Egypt in November.
“It’s tragic that it takes an actor to come up here to talk about issues,” he said, calling out French President Emmanuel Macron for choosing to fly to Qatar to watch the soccer World Cup instead of coming to the COP. “Have you no shame?”
Cromwell was invited to attend by outspoken nonprofit Avaaz, which also gathered messages of support from other celebrities including Olivia Colman, Joaquin Phoenix and Jack Black.
“Once we raise awareness, we raise also the pressure and accountability of governments,” said Oscar Soria of Avaaz.