Climate Change

Environmental activist Laurie David takes global warming to the mainstream

Activist Laurie David says the environmental movement needs to do a better job selling its ideas to the general public, and is leading the way with a media blitzkrieg. From organizing a televised comedy special about climate change, to promoting the Stop Global Warming Virtual March by giving away a hybrid car owned by her husband -- comedian Larry David -- David is taking environmental policy to mainstream America. But are environmental groups overselling the threat of climate change? And will there be a backlash against the latest celebrity cause? During today's OnPoint, David, producer of the upcoming HBO documentary "Too Hot Not to Handle," discusses these questions and more.


Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Brian Stempeck. Joining me today is environmental activist Laurie David. She's a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council board of trustees, also a co-founder of the Stop Global Warming Virtual March. Laurie thanks so much for being here today.

Laurie David: Thanks for having me Brian.

Brian Stempeck: Now you have a new documentary that's going to premiere on HBO. It's called "Too Hot Not to Handle." Well, you're premiering in Washington tonight. Talk a little bit about how this film came about.

Laurie David: Well, it came about because I had contacts at HBO basically. And I went to them and pitched the idea of doing a documentary about the effects of global warming in the United States. And they said that sounds good. Let's do it. We haven't done anything on the issue and it's time. So it's premiering on Earth Day on HBO, April 22. And it's an hour special and I think people are going to learn a lot from watching it.

Brian Stempeck: Now this is something you've been kind of broadly involved in. You've done a special on TBS, basically getting a bunch of comedians to talk about this issue as well. Talk about the general idea, I guess, about getting global warming into the mainstream media, into kind of the mainstream consciousness. How is that happening?

Laurie David: Well for me personally, I woke up a year ago, after the election, and realized that for the issue of global warming we were in big trouble. The scientists, who are the most cautious people on the planet, are saying that we have less than 10 years to do something about it. So I sort of made it my job to use all the resources I had to try to permeate popular culture with this issue. So that's what I've been spending the year doing. And one of the resources I had was comedians. I'm married to a comedian and I know a lot of comedians. So we did this big television special called "Earth to America" and we had the country's top comedians talking about the least funny topic you could think of, global warming. And it was a great show. It reached a lot of people and it got a lot of attention. But I really believe that comedy is truth telling in some way. And I thought it would work and it did work.

Brian Stempeck: Now you've said in previous interviews that you think it's about time that the environmental movement gets some marketing savvy. I mean do you think that's happening? I mean you've obviously been doing a great deal on that TBS, with HBO. Do you think that's happening in a kind of broader spectrum?

Laurie David: Well, I think what's happening is that this issue, the urgency of global warming, really isn't just an environmental problem. And it really can't just sit on the shoulders of the environmental movement. And I think what's happened is other movements are starting to understand that. You know this is a national security problem. This is a public health problem. This is an economic problem. And I think that the fact that you have the evangelical community addressing global warming now and all these other groups is the reason why we're getting to a place now where I think the American people are so much more aware of the problem and want solutions. Eighty-seven percent of the American people want solutions. But the most astonishing thing I saw happen this week was the stat that 59 percent of Americans would agree to a gas tax if it meant the money went directly to solving global warming. That's a huge shift.

Brian Stempeck: You've also worked quite a bit in getting even simple things, like getting the Toyota Prius, working with producers to get it into certain TV shows. You actually, I think, stole your husband's Prius to sell it, or at least basically get it for kind of a fund-raiser type issue. How is that basically getting the same kind of idea to the general public as well?

Laurie David: Well first of all, the hybrid car, the Prius, I mean I drive the Prius and my husband Larry drives it. It's the coolest car on the road. I mean you really can't drive a cooler car than this. You don't need a key to turn it on, 45 miles to the gallon. I mean everyone should be driving this car. And I did give my husband's car away because I have a virtual march on the Internet called, at, which I hope everybody who's watching this will join. And basically it's a place for us to count all of the Americans that are saying we want solutions now to global warming. And so in a conversation with MTV, who's a partner with the march, we said, well, what we do to get students signing up and recruiting other marchers and getting people on the virtual march? And I said, well, let's take my husband's car. We'll give it away. And they thought it was a fantastic idea. The only problem was I forgot to tell Larry about it.

Brian Stempeck: How did he react to that?

Laurie David: He was a little shocked, but you know what, he's such a good sport and he so used to living with me now that he gave it up.

Brian Stempeck: Do you think though that when you're talking about dealing with celebrities and talking about these issues that there's a backlash at all? I mean in the past, when we see celebrity involvement on anything from Earth Day in the past to say, the "Free Tibet" movement, there seems to be kind of an impression that while it works for the general public for awhile there tends to be a backlash at some point where people start saying, look, we don't want to be preached to. Is there a danger here with that?

Laurie David: Well I don't think anyone is preaching to anyone. I think all we're doing is we're raising awareness. And I think that the backlash comes from people whose interests are the opposite. You know they don't want celebrities having an influence with America. And obviously they do have an influence. You know I think it should be something that's praised. When someone uses their resources to do good I think that should be praised. It shouldn't be looked at, oh look, who are they? Who are they to talk about it? Everyone should be using what they have to try to help solve this issue, I think.

Brian Stempeck: What about the idea that, I mean, with previous environmental problems, take something like acid rain, it's a fairly short period of time, say 10 or 15 years, between identifying the problem and basically coming up with the solution. With something like global warming it obviously takes a lot longer, you're talking about 50 years, 75 years before you'll see really any changes. Do you think there's going to be a frustration on the part of people who do sign your petition online, who do take action on this, and then 50 years later they haven't seen any results? It seems like the attention span that the mainstream public is actually a lot shorter than that.

Laurie David: Listen, there is nothing that is going to impact everyone's life, personally, you personally, me personally, than global warming. I mean this is the mother of all issues. And we have to start doing something now. And the exciting thing about the issue is that there are things you can do as an individual, there's things that you could do is a family, as a business, as a school. And there are things that you can do, we have to be doing as a country. The problem is we're not doing it yet. And we have to very quickly get to that place where we're solving this issue and slowing our releasing of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I mean we have to get there. I mean seriously, what is at stake by not doing anything is unimaginable. I mean we don't even know, I mean we see the consequences right now of global warming. It's not a decade away. It's not just your kid's future. It's you now. I mean look at the flooding, everyday extreme weather events in this country. And that's exactly what the scientists said was going to happen.

Brian Stempeck: Do you think there's a danger there? I mean there's been a lot of criticism of that as well. I mean some of the events, like the hurricanes, there are scientists who say, yes, we think there's a connection. But some of the other natural disasters, the evidence really doesn't seem as solid. I mean is there a danger in also overselling this problem?

Laurie David: No. There is complete and total consensus on this issue. And by the way, you know, hurricanes, flooding, drought, wildfires, all the things that we're seeing in the country, in the world, right now, are examples of global warming. They are. I'm not saying any one particular whether it is global warming, but when you look at the pattern is exactly what they said would happen and it's happening.

Brian Stempeck: You've also said in the past that the movie "The Day after Tomorrow," basically this kind of very abrupt climate change type scenario, obviously a little bit exaggerated for the big screen, will be looked back upon as a turning point in the climate debate. Why do you think that is?

Laurie David: Well, I thought that movie was so important because what it did was it gave newspapers and magazines and media the opportunity to ask the question, could this really happen? Or what would really happen? And the issue of global warming got an enormous amount of coverage that normally wouldn't have had at that time. So I thought the movie was important and I was glad that Hollywood made it.

Brian Stempeck: At the same time though, isn't it kind of exaggerating some of the dangers here, maybe using the fear factor a bit more than you want to?

Laurie David: You know, I mean that was a science fiction film. And anyone who confused that with anything else is wrong. I mean it was a movie. But the point of the movie was that it sparked debate and that's a good thing.

Brian Stempeck: You've also worked with the Fox channel with a documentary on global warming. Do you think overall you're seeing more acceptance from the mainstream media in terms of dealing with this issue?

Laurie David: I think this year things have really changed. I mean look at Time magazine last week, "Be Worried, Be Very Worried." I mean this is an amazing report. USA Today, you know a mainstream newspaper, the globe is warming and people are causing it. And Fox News doing the hour special, I think are all examples of the fact that everyone is waking up to this problem and not a second too soon.

Brian Stempeck: Now you've worked a lot with getting the message out to kind of the general public. You're in Washington this week for a few days for the movie premiere. Are you meeting with the lawmakers? Are you doing anything on kind of the policy front with NRDC?

Laurie David: Well, I am going to the Hill. I have been trying to get a meeting with Senator Inhofe and I have not been successful to see him. And I'd really like to sit down with him and look him in the eye and talk about this issue and see if there's any movement there at all. But yeah, I'm here, you know, knocking on doors, but mostly to premiere the HBO special. And I'm hoping that, well, we've got a sold-out crowd and there isn't room for anybody else. So hopefully April 22 people will watch it in the privacy of their own homes.

Brian Stempeck: Now Senator McCain is obviously, he's also part of the virtual online march. How do you reconcile someone like that, who right now we're seeing Senator McCain make a lot of moves to kind of embrace the religious right to kind of get to the Republican base of the party. And at the same time he's also considered very on the cutting edge when it comes to dealing with global warming. How do you reconcile those two ideas, where you're saying support Senator McCain on one hand and on the other hand, I assume, you probably might not want to really support a lot of the other things he's doing?

Laurie David: The way I reconcile it is this. We're all guilty. We're all part of this problem. And we all have to be part of the solution. And we can't solve it, we will not solve it without Republicans and Democrats and independents. We need everybody. So I am singularly focused on this, on global warming. And I encourage everybody to come together. I mean the thing about the virtual march is that, you know, we have two football teams marching. We have the Indy racing cars series marching. I mean this is about all of us. We need everyone. So we're all part of the problem. We're all guilty.

Brian Stempeck: What's next for you? You've also been working on soap operas. I think you recently appeared in one of the soap operas talking about global warming.

Laurie David: OK, that was one of the low points of my career, because I'm not an actress. Well what's next is after the HBO special we have a movie that's going into theaters at the end of May called, "An Inconvenient Truth." And it's basically Al Gore's journey through the issue of global warming. It features a lot of this PowerPoint briefing he's been doing around the world. And it's really a stunning film. And we're hoping everyone will go to the theaters to see that. It's called "An Inconvenient Truth." It's opening May 26.

Brian Stempeck: All right. Laurie, thanks so much for being here today. We really appreciate it.

Laurie David: Thanks so much for having me.

Brian Stempeck: I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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