Slate invited global-warming activist Laurie David, producer of An Inconvenient Truth, to take readers’ questions on Washingtonpost.com about environmentalism and climate change. An unedited transcript of the chat follows. See Slate’s entire series of Earth Chats.
Laurie David: Hi, this is Laurie David, happy to be with you online here during Earth Week. Let’s start chatting!
Los Angeles, Calif.: I can’t help but notice that your March has Sen. McCain onboard. Did you also invite Senators Clinton and Obama and, if so, what was their response? If you did not invite them, why were they not invited?
Laurie David: The Virtual March was launched three years ago and because the problem of global warming doesn’t belong to any one political party, we invited all of the current political candidates and Senators McCain, Obama and Clinton were among the first to begin virtually marching. We now have over a million people demanding solutions and I hope you will join too.
Fairfax, Va.: How is Al Gore lately? He’s won all these awards. Any plans for you and him to collaborate again?
Laurie David: I spoke to Al Gore recently and he is doing great! The only problem with talking to him, though, is that I always hang up the phone feeling like I’m not doing enough. I cannot believe the pace at which he continues to raise awareness. Personally, I’d like the guy to rest for a couple of days.
South Range, Wisc.: Do you ever consider throwing in the towel and letting the flat earthers win and if not, how do you keep yourself up and moving forward given all of the insults and invective that are directed at you.
Laurie David: Never!!! Even with the daily dose of bad news regarding our carbon emissions, lack of federal leadership and personal attacks, everyday something happens to inspire me. Whether it’s an email from a teacher to StopGlobalWarming.org, letters from a 6th grade class starting a no plastic bottle campaign in Ohio, and the general shift in the media’s coverage of the issue (lets hear it for the green issues of Elle, Vanity Fair, Time and Newsweek.)
Also, I cannot believe the amount of advertising from businesses that are focusing on greening their products. Wal-Mart’s ads right now are all about how their customers can help the planet. Even Clorox has gotten in the act with an all natural cleaning product.
Los Angeles, Calif.: What future films are you planning? Your work on “An Inconvenient Truth” was excellent and brought the message to many who otherwise might not have found about the facts of global warming. Are you continuing to use the film medium to spread the word?
Laurie David: Right now, I am editing a film about the Stop Global Warming College Tour Sheryl Crow and I went on last year. I am also working on a short film about plastic bags (100 billion are thrown away worldwide every year.) You are right, film is a powerful medium.
Hebron, Maine: Excepting a certain percent of hard-core holdouts, the public acceptance of the theory of global warming has been remarkably swift and broad-based. The problem now becomes how to translate that acceptance into sustained and effective action. Beyond such things as changing to low-energy light bulbs, what can the average person do to address so vast a problem?
Laurie David: The exciting thing about this problem is that there is so much a person can do immediately, just in the course of your day. Do you idle your car? Do you take plastic bags when you shop or do you carry a canvas one? You can start using refillable bottles instead of plastic water bottles. 2.5 million plastic water bottles are thrown away every hour!
You can start unplugging your chargers from the wall for your cell phone, iPod, hair dryer, etc. You can become an activist by joining the Virtual March at StopGlobalWarming.org…read the articles on the site and send them to 5 friends. More suggestions on things you can do are listed there under action tips.
Philadelphia, Pa.: We should all be stewards of the earth and take care of how we impact it. But how do you explain that his shift in climate is not naturally occurring? After all – we had an ice age once before and the earth warmed up well before humans and cars and industry. How do we know that this just not a cycle?
Laurie David: We know its not just a natural cycle because all of the experts, all of the scientists say its not. Facts are facts.
There is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than in the last 650,000 years and just basic common sense tells us that cannot be a good thing.
Dunn Loring, Va.: When was the last time you rode in a private jet? Rode in an non-hybrid SUV or limo?
Laurie David: Most of my air travel is on commercial planes and I drive a hybrid car. Believe me I’m not perfect, but perfect is the enemy of good. Lets get to the true nature of your question…which is your expectation that if someone is an environmentalist that somehow means they must live up to an impossible standard of perfection. The real truth is that we are all environmentalists, we all love a beautiful spring day, cool summer nights, snowy winters, clean air and clean water. My point is that its not about everyone doing everything, its about everyone doing something. Its impossible to live in today’s world and not be a carbon emitter so we are all guilty and we all have to be part of the solution. If we all did something we would be well on our way to solving this mess.
Rockville, Md.: Is there any chance that we may want a warming trend in our climate? Perhaps to stave off another ice age? I don’t see anything on that part of it. Just disaster, disaster, disaster. But I do admit to not keeping up with the scientific literature since I retired a year or so ago from being a science librarian.
Laurie David: I think what we want is for nature to take its own course and for us, humans, to be conscious of interfering with that.
Danbury, Conn.: On assignment (I’m a reporter for a small Conn. newspaper), I once interviewed Dr. Robert Cess, who worked on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He told me that given China and India’s thirst for fossil energy, coupled with our own complacency, the best we can hope for at this point is to slightly slow global warming. Is there truly nothing we can do to avoid the bleakest of outcomes?
Laurie David: All of the scientists I know, and I know a lot of them, believe that we can avoid catastrophic climate change if we act now. They won’t be saying that five years from now if we’ve done nothing. That’s why this upcoming election is so important and that’s why its so critical that the United States start showing some serious leadership so China and India will follow our lead.
Vienna, Va.: It has been stated that this climate crisis is the greatest public health concern currently facing us. As such, this awareness campaign should be faced as a public health issue like smoking, AIDS awareness, and lead poisoning, but on a much more global scale. So, is your awareness campaign using, what they call credible sources, like ‘opinion leaders’ or ‘influentials’ to get this message to all citizens as did these other public health campaigns?
Laurie David: The thing with global warming is that it literally affects everything. Its a national security problem, its a public health problem, its an economic problem, but I love your idea of taking the public health piece and doing an awareness campaign based on that. I would like to see it broken down even smaller where we would have marketing campaigns about not using plastic water bottles, banning plastic bags, encouraging people not to idle their car and making conservation cool again. In a way we’re seeing the beginning of this with the green movement, but we are just at the very beginning. We need to think about where things come from, where they go when they’re thrown own…the concept of waste and packaging needs to be completely rethought. We need a gigantic shift in consciousness that will permeate everything we do, buy and make.
Washington, D.C., re plastic bags: We are required to dispose of our trash in plastic bags. So I use the plastic bags in which stores place purchases for this.
If stores stop using plastic bags for purchases, I’ll just have to buy them instead unless the rules for trash disposal are changed. Comment, please!
Laurie David: This is exactly my point…everything needs to be rethought. We need to come up with new, better ways of doing things. There are all of these new plastic items that are being made from compostable materials. So how about a plastic bag that will biodegrade? Consumers have to demand them and when the products become available they have to support them by buying them.
Laurie David: Thanks for your all of great questions…lets chat again soon. Go to StopGlobalWarming.org and join the Virtual March!