movie star, President Clinton and a television network teamed up under the flag of environmentalism last week in what can only be described as a breathtaking display of cynicism.

Baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio, heartthrob of countless teenage girls, visited the White House with an ABC News crew and interviewed President Clinton on global warming and the environment. The interview, reports said, would be featured on a special being produced for Earth Day, April 22.To all sides, it seemed a heaven-sent opportunity to take advantage of a non-controversial, non-partisan issue.

DiCaprio, 25, would get plenty of public play as a concerned spokesman for the environment. That would be especially welcome in light of the environmental protests triggered by his recent movie, ''The Beach.'' Activists said a pristine beach in Thailand was destroyed in the production of the film.

The president would share the spotlight and be able to wax eloquent about the environment with little fear of contradiction or cross-examination. DiCaprio, after all, isn't a real journalist; he would just be playing one.

ABC would attract plenty of TV viewers.

And the environment would benefit from loads of free publicity.

Unfortunately, there are also two losers in this scenario. There's the public, which is not well-served by a mindless approach to an unarguably important issue. And, ultimately, there's the environment itself.

Yes, the environment is valuable, and Americans and their leaders should recognize that. In fact, they do. While the environment may have been overlooked too long, no one seriously disputes its significance today.

The issue now is how to translate that awareness into everyday life. Sometimes that may be easy. Many times, however, it's not. It requires thought and questioning and debate about local issues at local levels. It requires individual awareness and responsibility and contributions.

Paying attention to the environment today takes more than mouthing platitudes. On a community level, it requires figuring out how to accommodate both the local environment and the economic activity that supports the community. On an individual level, it extends to things like the kind of car a person drives, how he or she drives it, how much fertilizer he or she uses on the lawn (runoff is a major contributor to water pollution), and more.

The kind of shallow, broad-brush treatment that's likely to result when a movie star seeking atonement meets a publicity-hungry president will not help people face those real environmental responsibilities.

ABC News now seems embarrassed by criticism over the interview, and is said to be reconsidering how to present it to the public later this month. That's easy. If the network wants to act responsibly toward the public and the environment, it won't.