In delivering a message on climate change, it was a master stroke.
It came courtesy of model and influencer Sarah Talabi after she was asked about rumors she had been “kissing and dancing” with the actor Timothée Chalamet at the celebrity-packed Coachella music festival in California this past weekend.
“Everyone is asking me if I was kissing Timothée Chalamet at Coachella, and that is a good question,” she responded to The New York Post’s Page Six, the grande dame of gossip columns. “But a great question would be asking our world leaders why the Earth is now losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year due to global warming and why climate crisis reform has been completely ineffective. I encourage you to contact your local representatives and ask them that.”
Rather than a predictable “no comment”, the 50-ish words from Talabi pivoted a frothy showbiz piece to an issue that matters — and in a place where the readership is infrequently exposed to news on collapse of the polar ice sheets.
Talabi, who has written a book on intersectional feminism with her twin sister Leah, is already proving herself a pro at wielding social media as a megaphone for good. On her 1.5 million-follower Instagram account, alongside pics of designer outfits and red carpets, she links to a UNICEF fundraiser for children in Ukraine and her own nonprofit, which is a comunity and resource hub for Black women and marginalized voices.
She’s not the only one have deploying a deft bait-and-switch in the name of climate awareness.
Heidi Montag, who appeared in MTV reality show The Hills and a staple of tabloid fodder in the early 2000s, took a dig at her own reputation for a greater cause last week.
The 35-year-old posted an ad on her Instagram account for S1NGLES Jeans, the “world’s first single-use jeans”.
“No more shrinkage. No more fading colour. Just good vibes. You’ll always look your best because you’ll only wear @S1NGLESJEANS once,” read her caption. Comments underneath the post were predictably outraged, even abusive.
A day later she posted a video of herself, floating in water, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt emblazoned with the word “STUPID” — along with details of partnership with ocean environmental nonprofit Oceana. “Single-use jeans are as stupid as the single-use plastic bottles polluting our oceans,” she wrote as her caption, demanding that soft drink companies stop using them and switch to refillable bottles.
Talabi’s succinct remark to Page Six will likely have even wider reach, particularly in its leveraging of connection to Chalamet (who would surely approve, considering his starring role in the climate change allegory Don’t Look Up). The gossip column remains a tabloid force to be reckoned with, with about 24 million readers per month flocking to its website and another 170,000 reading in print, according to figures quoted to Esquire in 2020.
To write off the tactics of either Talabi or Montag (and these are far from the only examples) would be foolish. Making sure climate change is discussed in places where it’s rarely mentioned is far more useful to the cause than shouting slogans into an echo chamber.
Cardi B was trolled by Republicans and laughed off by many Democrats when she talked about political issues like healthcare and gun restrictions. “Why, exactly, isn’t she a genius political mind? Because she’s a rapper? Because she’s a former stripper? Because of how she talks? Because she didn’t go to college?” Natalie Gontcharova wrote then in Refinery29. (Many Democrats swiftly changed their tune on Cardi B when they realized her reach and potency among voters.)
There is no right way to talk about climate change and there should be no gatekeepers — not scientists, not politicians, not tech moguls, and not journalists. It’s a tent that we all need to be in, if there’s any real chance of turning the tide on what’s currently looking like a runaway catastrophe. Every moment like Talabi’s only invites more people in.