Leonardo DiCaprio’s type of mistake – deliberate or accidental – is common with North American eco-activists

Do you know what a Chinook is? If not, don’t feel bad, Hollywood celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t either. In fact, he publicly confused the commonplace Alberta warm winter wind with “climate change” in an interview with movie rag Variety.

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Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from The Revenant.

Here’s what DiCaprio said during a Dec. 4 Q&A for his new film, The Revenant, which was filmed near Calgary, Alberta, the energy capital of Canada.

“We were in Calgary and the locals were saying, ‘This has never happened in our province, ever…We would come and there would be eight feet of snow, and then all of a sudden a warm gust of wind would come…I’ve never experienced something so firsthand that was so dramatic. You see the fragility of nature and how easily things can be completely transformed with just a few degrees difference. It’s terrifying, and it’s what people are talking about all over the world. And it’s simply just going to get worse.”

The phenomenon DiCaprio is describing is a Chinook, a Pacific warm wind that can raise temperatures just east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains by 30 degrees Celsius in one day. Chinooks usually last for a day or two during winter, sometimes longer, then disappear and temperatures plummet.

DiCaprio is right that a Chinook blowing in during a frigid winter day can be very dramatic.

But they’re hardly unusual. In fact, just the opposite.

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Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia.

I lived in Calgary from 2000 to 2010 and Chinooks were one of the best things about the city of 1.2 million, which sits on the edge of the foothills that separate the Prairie from the Rockies. Some winters there were more Chinooks and some winters there were less, but there were always Chinooks.

Calgarians are all having a damn hearty laugh today at Leo DiCaprio’s expense, I can tell you. The idea that “locals” told him Chinooks had never happened before is preposterous.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good giggle at a Hollywood celebrity’s expense, eh?

But there is a bigger principle at play here.

DiCaprio describes himself as an actor and environmentalist. His celebrity gives him a platform to influence public issues that is afforded few others. And he takes full advantage of it.

And with great opportunity comes great responsibility. The responsibility to get his facts straight.

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Leonardo DiCaprio during a 2014 visit to the oil sands in northern Alberta.

Facts are probably the biggest casualty of the war waged on fossil fuels by environmentalist groups and eco-activists like DiCaprio.

I’m not defending oil and gas cheerleaders – like astroturf organizations funded by industry – who can torque data with the best of them. Or captains of industry like the Koch Brothers and Exxon Mobil who have funded anti-environment campaigns, like opposition to climate change.

But that’s grist for another conversation.

This is about eco-activists and their responsibility to be truthful and accurate. Frankly, far too often they are not.

I reached that conclusion after years of covering news stories where (many, not all) eco-activists distorted the facts, advanced ludicrous arguments that had no basis in science or engineering, and generally behaved far more dishonestly than the oil and gas companies they pilloried.

All’s fair in love and the war to save the planet, right?

Well, not really. Both sides of the debate should be held to high standards.

DiCaprio’s faux pas about Alberta Chinooks reminds us that too often they are not.

In this case, DiCaprio should publicly acknowledge his mistake, apologize, and move on, hopefully being more careful with his comments in the future.

The odds are pretty good he won’t. DiCaprio’s Calgary remarks will no doubt play well with the one-third of Americans who are pretty concerned about climate change, according to a recent Yale study, and a little controversy sells movie tickets.

Win-win for DiCaprio.

The only victim here will be the facts, as it so often is in the American climate change wars.