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Feb-21-2010 18:48printcomments

Eco-Warrior or Ego-Warrior?

How Mass Marketing Peddles Bogus Environmental Celebrities.

plastic bottle sailboat

(LAGUNA BEACH) - "At the front of every successful parade is a man saying 'Look what I did!'" (Mao Tse-Tung?)

"Show biz kids making movies of themselves you know they don't give a (expletive) about anybody else." Steely Dan [1]

"Some people are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some people have mediocrity thrust upon them." Joseph Heller (Catch-22)

Recently the media began covering the proposed sailing odyssey of David de Rothschild, heir to a British banking family. He is attempting to bring more awareness to something apparently near and dear to his heart: The alarming amount of plastic and other floating contaminants bobbing around in multitudes far out to sea, out of sight, out of mind in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His focus is on bringing more attention to the Great Eastern Garbage Patch, shortened by some to just Eastern Garbage Patch (EGP)[2] [3]. So in the tradition of Thor Heyerdahl, he's created the catamaran christened "Plastiki," composed of 12,000 plastic soda bottles, laminated by organic glue.

He's getting some flack from those who are suspicious of his motivation, who question the emerging controversy of these heavily promoted, media-saturated endeavors. They have a "cult of personality" facet that disturbs eco-purists, but in David's case I'd say back off, he's already got that name thing going on and the bling!

Courtesy: California State Parks

I'll provide links at the bottom for those who want to further investigate this area and other similar detritus phenomena. The California Coastal Commission, for whom I've organized beach cleanups in Laguna Beach these past 10 years, likes to use pithy, ironically-titled icons to brand these cleanup programs. CWN! organizes and oversees the quarterly "Adopt-A-Beach" and the yearly big event, "California Coastal Cleanup Day" (CCCD) programs respectively.

While I volunteer for the Adopt-A-Beach program, I am not speaking on its behalf and my comments have not been endorsed by the California Coastal Commission.

So we're literally right on the front lines, in the trenches uncompensated (the CCC has no payroll for us), trying to turn the tide against trash on the 7+ miles we oversee in Laguna. This represents about 18% of the Orange County coastline. And yes, unfortunately we see this first hand. If humans, like rats, didn't foul their own nest, I guess I'd spend the hundreds of hours and numerous Saturday mornings each year just hanging out and surfing with my homies. We're asked, and we acquiesce gladly, to find local funding from corporations, businesses and individuals.

The 5-figure thousands in overhead it takes to advertise and promote these venues was originally out of my own pocket. Now I have a few sponsors that subsidize overhead only, but nonetheless the good vibes and wonderful people you meet are spiritually rewarding. We get everyone from Cubs, Brownies, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church groups, university students, high school students seeking community service hours, diving groups, etc. at these venues. You can go to the hyperlink for Clean Water Now! Coalition (my cleanup cadre) at the bottom of this column and see the sheer diversity. You can also view our integration of the humorous icons that my bosses at the CCC provide gratis. I'll also give you the CCC hyperlink too so you can view their master archives.[4] [5]

I especially like the young volunteers and their enthusiasm, and never having had children myself, I'm in arrested development so I get to interact with my peer group! Then too we've come to understand that this is really a humongous behavioral modification problem. Catching them at this early stage not only creates a more vigilant population in our youth, but they go home and educate (some hector) their folks, so we get a double dip.

Every year, my NGO participates in a world-wide expansion of CCCD, called "International Coastal Cleanup Day" which a great 501 (c) (3) The Ocean Conservancy helps coordinate. We get hundreds of thousands of volunteers engaged, not just coastal anymore but inland streams and lakes as well[6].

David Rothschild Courtesy: EarthFirst!

OMO, in this column, wants to shine a flashlight into a related, though unfortunately darkened corner of the emerging cult-like phenomenon known as (drum roll please, maestro): The Eco-Warrior! David Rothschild is uncomfortable being called one, and I quote from a recent LA Times article: "the idea of the celebrity eco thing makes me want to puke... It belittles the severity of the issues that we've got to tackle. Unfortunately, we're in a society that loves labels and loves celebrities." [7]

He's getting some flack from those who are suspicious of his motivation, who question the emerging controversy of these heavily promoted, media-saturated endeavors. I've received a lot of really vicious emails, most from those who are aware of my Spartan lifestyle, begun when I got this damned "Eco-Virus" that I've now learned after 13 years is incurable. Like malaria or hepatitis, it's basically a bug you get for life.

There is a "cult of personality" facet that disturbs eco-purists, me included, but in David's case I'd say back off, he's already got that European name thing going on and the bling! And for the record, I really really like his courage in outing the phoniness regarding these "It's All About Me" types. Heck I'm jealous of his fiscal advantage. With those kind of serious ducats I would have put myself through law school and now be litigating every chronic violator of ecological laws on the planet.

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger

David seems personally humble, at least by his quotes. These other charlatans I'm focusing on, this rising population of metrosexual narcissists that award themselves such distinction, are proliferating like weeds after a spring rain in California. When I think of the word "warrior," I think of Capt. Sully on the Hudson, or perhaps some of the Marines I served with. I wasn't "in country," so I only have tales of courage and bravery, but warrior does hasten the vision of such men and women. People who were willing to sacrifice their lives, living in low-income housing or just sitting in their "hootch" under their ponchos, maybe in a crappy foxhole, whatever.

This new breed, I'll call them "Ego-Warriors," that anoint themselves, are carted around in limos, go to high end Hollywood parties, they fly business class, and they actually drain funds from legitimate individuals and groups because their self-centered corporate promoters are wealthy and aggressive. They wrap themselves in the new pop fave rave green flag, and usually seek out environmental controversies they can feed off of like flies on poop. Because that's what they are, parasites, leeches on the body politic of wonderfully sweet, relatively passive grass-roots activists. It's becoming a regular cottage industry.

These ego-warriors are basically ignorant about all things ecological, just mediocre actors and are propped up by their fawning entourage who sometimes, unlike the knowing sponsors, aren't even aware that they're shills. Their status is elevated when they acquire "Angels," that is celebrities of a higher status which morphs or is hyped into "Famous by association." They create or attend events where they then give themselves fabricated awards and medals. The "angels" are usually movie stars, entertainers of some repute, and sports dudes/dudettes....Don't get me wrong, many have their heart in the right place, but they believe they're donating their time and juice to something credible. They are contributing but ignorantly so: To a corporation's coffer and payroll for the spoiled poster children these ego-warriors really are, these cardboard cut-out dummies.

Ego-warriors are easy to find in every region, they pounce on a hot button topic, contact local media to amplify their effort, find an existing fracas, drive or fly there, jump to the head of the line for PR opportunities pushing the real grass roots indigenous activists aside. When the dust settles, if it has some warm and fuzziness, they then take credit for everything that isn't bolted down. If there isn't a crisis, they create one, 'cause hey, this is why God made Hollyweird. It's a vacuous facade, it's totally bogus fluffed product marketing----Which is why it sells so well, especially here in banal beach ball bingo.

Courtesy: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

They ALWAYS film everything, then edit to make themselves appear as the primary "phresh playahs," sucker people into feeling they're heroes, as the ultimate pinnacle predator protagonists and people's champions. Then they have the unmitigated gall to submit their movie as a documentary to various venues to improve their revenue model, to pay for those spiffy homes and toney SUV's. Now just how much of the profit do you suppose goes back to the sincere grass roots folks who brought the issue to their attention?

There are many in the enviro-community who take the "We don't feed on our own" attitude, that real eco-protectionistas should avoid criticizing one another in public. Well, I submit to you that they're NOT one of us. They're just opportunists who ride our coat-tails, who are using us and the issues most important to us like a condom. OMO will gladly eat them metaphorically right here, right now.

These "ersatz," phonies are like a growing vampire coven. It's illogical to put up with hypocrisy in our midst---We can't criticize developers or public agencies, polluters and land rapists, holding them to ethical standards that we ourselves aren't willing to demand of ourselves. Let's drag them out of their upscale, expensively furnished caves and revealed for what they are: An activist's version of a set from a TV western series . They're not really righteous, they're just vapid scammers, bogus wrapping paper surrounding cosmo martini-belting slime.

We, as true enviros, are used for their personal pleasure ($$$), and when they're through with us they just walk out leaving us to ultimately fight the good fight as they check their Blueberrys and iPhones to access their bloated bank accounts. Ditto for their conspiratorial sponsors who know about the grift.

And no, they don't even leave $50 on the dresser for services rendered. Ironically, they're the whores, but you'd have to drag them from their vanity mirrors where they're admiring their 5 day stubbles, shaving their bodies and coiffing their hair, applying their makeup, and then pop their swell-headed, inflated ego-balloons to convince them of that.

Resource links:

[1] Steely Dan:Show Biz Kids

[2] Great Pacific Garbage Patch Wikipedia

[3] Why is the world's biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean?

[4] Clean Water Now!

[5] California Coastal CommissionPublic Education Program

[6] Ocean Conservancy

[7] Trash floats eco-warrior's boat

Roger von Bütow articles on

Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow, a professional environmental consultant. Written exclusively for the Salem-News, it's intended as the next evolutionary step on the path of an eco-warrior.

Roger is a Southern California native who spent his formative years as a racial minority: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer on the mean streets of the LA Harbor area. Running from gangs eventually trained him for his high school and collegiate track and cross-country career. Going to college part-time, disqualified for a student deferment, when his draft notice arrived in a fit of machisimo he joined the USMC in 1965, eventually attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing.

Once honorably discharged, he resumed his college studies, majoring in philosophy. He dropped out in early 1972 when an opportunity to travel in Europe inexpensively for 6 months was too good to pass up. Upon returning, he and his former wife ended up in Laguna Beach, and though the marriage didn’t last his love of the place is in its 38th year.

Disgusted by chronic sewage spills and toxic urban runoff pollution that triggered constant beach closures in his area, he formed “Clean Water Now!” in 1998. Local surfers, skimmers and divers were pissed off, but there wasn’t a cohesive, unified and aggressive group response, zero leadership or activism facilitated by the Surfrider Foundation or Sierra Club regarding water quality impairment issues. You can write to Roger at:


Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Lisa M. February 23, 2010 1:19 pm (Pacific time)

Rorer u r the best call the fools out!! and u did make me LOL thanks i will pass it on!

Natalie February 23, 2010 8:21 am (Pacific time)

I, indeed, will write you back one more time. You're unchangeble, why do you always have to see something nasty in my comment, when I mean only good? It's not my fault that I can't make a comment without sounding sarcastic. It's in my nature , sorry. Don't take it too close to your heart. I'm ,actually, a very peaceful creature. Forget it. Peace.

Roger von Bütow February 23, 2010 5:56 am (Pacific time)

Emily: Thanks. I hope that some of the things people begin thinking about, or take from this, is that, like the law, INTENT is critical in determining bottom line truths in most controversial experiences that offer big bucks rewards. David seems genuinely, though perhaps a trifle naively, motivated and I wish him God's speed and a safe journey. As for the EG-WARRIORS, the rise of the so-called "Going Green Movement" has seen an attendant rise in this new species of conscience-less leeches. They're similar to those who bilk the elderly. I'll wager that every urbanized area has plenty of them, they align themselves with charitable non-profit NGOs, even insinuate into their boards, so the cloak of legitimacy allows them to be Trojan horse's. They get inside of groups populated by genuinely committed people, undetected parasites. Their sponsors (actually investors) can be duped too. It's a perpetual motion machine and a cash cow. Also needing a more watchdog mentality are the poorly understood phenomena of emerging snake oil technologies. Check back in a few weeks, I'm almost finished with an article regarding the myths, lies and misperceptions of water quality----Not just drinking water, but surface streams, lakes and coastal monitoring practices that have led us to believe everything is hunky-dory, when in fact it's not. Our own public agencies aren't much better though entrusted to protect and warn us, and there's always been private grifters, scammers that take advantage of folks ignorance and fears. Now it's just a lot easier due to global networking, profiteers (think Wall Street) taking the public's bucks quickly in one place, then moving on to the next pool of suckers. ALWAYS be suspicious of someone who, like a serial dater, has a history of multiple LLC's. They start them, drain them dry of income at the top, then walk on their responsibilities when the corporation crashes. Legally, you have no recourse, so investors are left with nothing. As for Natalie, jeez, no you don't bother me. I actually read the paper I write for, appreciate (though not always agree with) the other journalists. Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't give people who refuse to give their real full names that much power over me. Not sure about the other journalists, but I feel that it's easy to be like the Freeway snipers, take pot shots behind a veil of anonymity. I believe people should identify themselves openly if they're going to take up comment space. We open our thinking up to readers, I don't see being flippant or sarcastic, castigating us for engaging our readership, is very mature. it's a hallmark of hypocrisy. And yes, Natalie, you're going to write back a response which I hope my wonderful editors refuse to print. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated. If you ask how dare I judge you, well, I'm just providing info GRATIS, so back off booga-loo. Hard on issues, soft on people isn't that bad a guiding mantra.

Emily Rogers February 23, 2010 12:13 am (Pacific time)

This guy is OK but I see your point, hopefully good will come of it but in the meanwhile so many problems remain close at hand. Thanks for a fun and informative article.

Natalie February 22, 2010 11:25 am (Pacific time)

Ha-ha, how funny. I'm falling of my chair. So, you too track my posts now...must be really bothered by them. LOL Anyway, don't worry it feels like almost summer, so I'll be spending most of my time outside instead of inside these 4 boring walls. What a large stone of your shoulders, ah? Take care.

Roger von Bütow February 22, 2010 5:38 am (Pacific time)

Homegirl, I'm scared of you. Natalie, you seem to be tracking S-N columns 24/7/ have way too much time on your hands, just like David de Rothschild. :+) :+) :+) I was practically raised on or in the ocean, and I'm not certain how the pounding of the waves will keep this thing from vibrating itself into what it was originally. A Costco's worth of its formerincarnation, 12,000 individual plastic bottles! Floating around out there, becoming exactly what it was intended to educate folks about: Contaminantsin the Pacific. Seriously, just like that bridge that tore itself apart, not sure if these engineers thought of resonance. If a certain harmonic occurs, then it could simply rip itself asunder. Maybe they've got a trail boat, a giant vacuum cleaner just in case as a contingency? Funny ha ha, but not so funny. The image is very Laurel and Hardy, but he could just introduce even more of this crap into the sea, not sure if he quite understands the law of unintended consequences. If it goes "south" so to speak, he could wind up IN the South Pacific! There's a swift southerly current in the Hawaiian Islands they call the Tahiti Express, actually a naturally occurring surface flow pattern that is directed towards the Equator. So let's do what he's doing: Cross our collective fingers. If he fails Mother Nature gets screwed.

Natalie February 21, 2010 7:20 pm (Pacific time)

Hopefully, water doesn't make this guy feel sea-sick. I wouldn't want to see him ruin that romantic image of his.

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