Lewis Hamilton is, by any measure, one of the most successful sportsmen of our age. Formula One is not, sadly, the most popular sport in Ireland, and so it is easy not to appreciate the sheer genius in his fingertips when he sits behind a wheel, and few who are not fans will comprehend the scale of his achievements. He is about to become world champion for the sixth time, and you would be a fool to bet against him equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles in 2020. Alongside German driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four titles, he has dominated the sport for more than a decade.
Of course, being famous for driving the loudest, fastest, most powerful cars on the planet, and for flying around the world more than almost anyone else (Formula One holds 21 races in 21 separate countries every year, and will hold 22 next year) makes you an unlikely spokesman for Climate Change activism, and Hamilton has been taking some flak for this:
Addressing the future of the Earth, he said human extinction is becoming “more and more likely as we overuse our resources”.
The 34-year-old, who sold his private jet earlier this year, said that “agriculture farming” was the biggest pollutant, and “far more than our travel industry combined”.
His car collection is said to include two Ferraris, a McLaren, a Pagani Zonda and several types of Mercedes. There are a few motorbikes too.
Hamilton said a flourishing meat and dairy industry led to “deforestation, animal cruelty”, and “our seas and climate decaying on a daily basis”.
Is Hamilton a hypocrite? Yes. Inarguably so. The average person who enjoys the occasional Big Mac probably does not own two Ferraris, and probably did not spend most of their twenties flying a private jet around the globe.
But does his hypocrisy deny him the right to speak out on this, or to use his platform to attempt to do, as he sees it, good?
The truth is, on this subject, most of us are hypocrites. It’s relatively easy to justify stuffing your face with a burger on the basis that Hamilton owned, until last year, a private jet. It is a very convenient pre-condition to set that we will, in fact, change our ways, once motor racing is banned. And it is remarkably easy to say that only those who are perfect prophets without any hint of sin themselves may speak on this issue.
To be clear, this is not a defence of Hamilton, or even an indication of agreement with his message, but it is hard not to be struck by the way the public develops excuses to allow themselves to continue engaging in something that they believe to be harmful on the basis that somebody else is worse.
Perhaps Hamilton feels some guilt, and some responsibility, in which case he should be lauded for speaking out, not mocked for it.