Can You Beliebe It?

Pop star Justin Bieber performed at the wedding of a billionaire family in India — which made its fortune off dirty petrochemicals and fossil fuels.

Can You Beliebe It?
Photograph by Anna Buckley / Instagram

LISTENING: to the AC work hard
FEELING: sticky
SEEING: my sweet cat, Mellow, sleep in my office

"It's like 199 degrees," sings Chappell Roan in her hit song, "HOT TO GO!" That's sure as hell how hot it feels in New York right now where a simple five-minute walk results in me becoming a sweaty mess. I've been trying to ride my bike now in honor of summer, but even with the e-bike power, I get so hot from being out in the sun.

In Central Park, the mercury hit 95 degrees Fahrenheit Monday. Because of humidity, though, the temperature in and around the city has sometimes felt as hot as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It's brutal.

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The ongoing heat advisory here reminds me of other places experiencing extreme heat — sometimes at levels worse than us here in New York. In India, the temperatures have been so awful that over 100 people have died in a short three-and-a-half-month span. That number is probably an underestimate; tracking extreme heat deaths is tricky. I've been sharing these numbers in my newsletter's Rest in Power section, so they shouldn't come as a complete shock.

What should, however, is the glamorization of the people contributing to this crisis. Fossil fuel consumption has brought us to this place where temperatures are killing and entering new realms of discomfort and danger. There are entire families profiting off that consumption. In India, that family is also the country's wealthiest: the Ambanis. Justin Bieber just performed at a family pre-wedding celebration.

Welcome to Possibilities, a creative climate newsletter on the possibilities that lie where crisis meets community. I’m Yessenia Funes, and I'm always looking for the climate angle (yes, even in celebrity news).

Mukesh Ambani is the face of the family business. He's the chairman of Reliance Industries, whose main product is petrochemicals. For those who aren't aware, these are chemicals derived from oil and gas aka the fossil fuels heating up our planet. They can be refined to produce the basic elements that lead to the creation of plastic. For the Ambani family, their offerings range from polyester or other plastic-based textiles that feed the fast fashion supply chain to the polymers used as the building blocks for plastic food packaging.

Their investments in oil and gas have allowed the family to amass huge wealth. Mukesh alone is worth nearly $93 billion. That's why the family could afford the $12 million to bring Justin Bieber to a pre-wedding party. In March, Rihanna entertained guests at yet another pre-wedding celebration. (I'm also confused how many pre-wedding parties are necessary before one actually gets married.) The Rihanna news was especially disappointing to me as she's been supportive of environmental justice, especially because the climate crisis affects her native Barbados in the Caribbean.

Here's the thing, though. This family is not just another wealthy billionaire family with their hands in fossil fuels. I interviewed an activist based in India for a separate story about the plastics crisis, and she was clear. The Ambanis are the polluters in India. Their pollution is contributing to health issues for the communities that live near their refineries (and, oftentimes, others). They are the ones who have to suffer from poor air quality and contaminated waterways. They have fewer fish to eat and sell. They're exposed to pollutants that are known carcinogens.

Interestingly, Reliance Industries is now chasing more environmentally friendly pursuits, such as rescuing wildlife and investing in clean energy. If the fossil fuel industry culture in India is anything like it is in the U.S., I wouldn't hold my breath.

Did you know this about the Bieber news? I didn't until my source mentioned it to me. There are climate justice angles in even the most mundane places. I could care less about Justin Bieber, but I do care about the people facing harm at the hands of the family that hired him. Do they deserve such a celebration? The sick families who live near their refineries surely think otherwise. 🌀

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I'm also giving y'all a first look into my attempt to write my children's book. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but here is the landing page where I'm keeping track of all the editions where you can find what I've shared so far.

Rest in Power

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