Mark Ruffalo on Fighting for the Things You Love, 100% Clean Renewable Energy, Climate Change, the Monopoly on Our Energy Systems, Fighting Fracking, the True Cost of Fossil Fuel Pollution, Showing Compassion, and Being Who You Say You Are.
Interview: Leilani Münter
Leilani Münter: You are extremely active in the environmental community. Tell us about the issues you are focused on and the organizations you work with.
Mark Ruffalo: It really began with the fight against hydrofracking in New York state. This led to my work with local New York groups like Frack Action, Catskill Mountainkeeper, and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. I helped start up two environmental organizations, WaterDefense and The Solutions Project. WaterDefense is a water advocacy group that focuses predominantly on assisting communities who are dealing with water catastrophes by bringing them testing to show them what pollutants are in their water so that they can hold polluters accountable. The Solutions Project focuses primarily on accelerating the transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all purposes.
LM: You announced on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that The Solutions Project has a plan to get to 100 percent renewable energy in all fifty states—can you elaborate on that?
MR: I am sure it must sound somewhat astounding that I would say such a thing, but the fact of the matter is the technology is available to us today to begin the transition to 100 percent renewable energy. What is keeping us from making that transition is nothing more than misinformation, a lack of knowledge by most people of what is available, and an unwillingness on the part of many of our politicians for either ideological slavishness or something more self-serving, like major campaign contributions from the oil and gas corporations or from utilities who enjoy the monopoly they have on our energy systems. These plans were developed by Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford University, along with the folks from Stanford’s civil engineering department. They have put together fifty plans for fifty states that begin to show us the way out of the antiquated fossil fuels energy system we find ourselves chained to. This transition elegantly takes us away from using fossil fuels over a twenty-five-year period. It will lead us to a net gain of millions of jobs, saving us hundreds of thousands of lives and tens of trillions of dollars in healthcare, greenhouse gas, and fuel costs. By electrifying our lives, we reduce our energy costs by 39 percent, which is a huge savings in itself. It is a fact that, today, up to seven million people a year are dying from fossil fuel pollution. It is a fact that we are already dealing with the catastrophe of climate change in places like California, where people have been burnt out of their homes and where they are dealing with record droughts. It is a fact that our fresh water is becoming more scarce and that the new ways we are getting energy in America—fracking, mountaintop removal, cyclic steam extraction, deep-sea drilling—all pollute water, pollute the air, and pollute our soil and food. It is a fact that many of the wars and conflicts happening all over the world are aggravated or fought strictly for geopolitical fossil fuel energy interests, and many of the world’s most dangerous regimes are funded by fossil fuel dollars.
Whoever controls your energy controls your destiny. 100 percent renewable energy is 100 percent American.
Folks should be able to harvest, store, use, or sell their own energy as they see fit. This is not a Democratic nor Republican issue, and if anyone tries to convince you it is, they are being purposely misleading. Renewable energy fits well into the conservative mindset by allowing competition into the energy markets so that consumers have choice. The system as it is, with big utilities monopolizing the energy playing field or fossil fuel energy being given massive subsidies so that they are on a kind of corporate welfare, is the antithesis of conservative principles. Today, wind is the cheapest energy in America; solar is not far behind. In time, fossil fuels will only get more and more expensive. The true cost of the pollution that is being dumped into the atmosphere and manifests itself in our sick children dealing with asthma or older folks dealing with heart and lung disease from the pollutions created by the burning of these fossil fuels, may not be reflected in the prices of fossil fuels, but that does not mean we aren’t paying a high price for them. All of these issues are addressed by harvesting the energy that is free and abundant all around us, carried in sunlight, wind, and moving water.
For the added bonus, we get to fight climate change as well. Think of it this way. We went into the Iraq War with nothing more than some very bad intelligence and Colin Powell leading us to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Most of our politicians fell over themselves to commit trillions of dollars and thousands of the lives of our beautiful young people for what ultimately was a lie.
Today, we actually have a real threat, one that the Pentagon and nearly 100 percent of the scientific community around the world say is happening. this is a clear and present danger, unlike Iraq. We already have people displaced from fires and lack of water in the western states of the nation. Look at what our politicians were so willing to do for so little. I hold out hope that they will get a chance to right the wrongs of such a poor decision and use real information and the specter of real danger to get it right this time. When you think of it in those terms, the inaction of anyone who calls themselves a leader in America or anyone who says they truly care about this nation without taking some kind of action is either a liar or insane. In either case, they are unfit to lead.
We only gain collectively by acting now. We gain by one day not having to pay a thing for fuel. We gain by having cleaner air, water, and food so that we are healthier and our health care costs come down. We gain by deflating the global fossil fuel markets that drive much of the conflict around the world. Maybe—just maybe—we will also have an impact on climate change as an added bonus.
LM: Do you remember the moment when you realized you were an activist?
MR: Yes, it was when I came home from Dimock, Pennsylvania, after sitting with the families there who could not drink or bathe in or cook with the water that was coming out of their wells because it had been contaminated by hydrofracking. I lay in bed awake all night that night wondering what I would do. At some point, I got up and went and looked at my kids sleeping. I made my way to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, “Who are you, Ruffalo? Are you really the person you say you are? Do you really care about the people around you? Do you care about your family and friends and community like you think you do? Okay, if that is true, then you’ve got to go and give these people a hand.” That is what I did, and believe me, it was a struggle. It was a fight every step of the way and still is today. Because no great undertaking ever looks like it’s winnable. That only comes later and only if you are lucky and are willing to fight and have a group of folks around you that are willing to do the same thing, too.
LM: How can the environmental community reach people who don’t believe in climate change?
MR: Ha. Ha. Well, at this point, I would say, show them some compassion. Many of the folks who don’t believe at this point are willfully ignorant of the reality that is unfolding in front of their eyes every day. Climate change is not going away. It will only get more extreme and more dangerous with time. There is no hiding from it. Yes, those living in poverty today will be hit first and the hardest, but we are all going to feel it and see it. We already are.
Ask people who are close to the natural world: farmers, people who work the land or in some way use the land for their livelihoods. They will tell you what they are seeing isn’t so good. They will tell you the changes they have seen in the past twenty years are remarkable in one way or another and unlike anything they had seen before that. The people who are in denial now must be shown a lot of compassion. Imagine the amount of lying they have to do to explain away what science and prudent study has made so clear. They mostly are holding out onto some ideological point of view that denies certain realities. People who are slavish to a fantasy ideology become very lonely in the world. It’s very alienating and sometimes reality is very threatening to this magical way of thinking. On the other hand, if it is a politician or leader that chooses for whatever reason to remain in this state of magical thinking, then they should be called out for it strongly and repeatedly. Because they are putting the lives of our children in greater and greater danger with their folly. They are welcome to believe what they want, but they are not welcome to willfully choose to ignore what every indicator tells them is dangerous and by doing so put our people in danger.
LM: What do you think our planet will look like in one hundred years?
MR: I have no idea. I want to hold out hope for us, though. I want to think that we will be forced to our senses. There are a lot of good signs that tell me we are beginning down the right path. I am grateful to the fossil fuel industry for bringing us the concentrated carbon that took us through the Industrial Revolution and through the technological revolution and brought us to the gateway of the renewable energy revolution, or what I call the sunlight revolution. But that is where we must part ways. It’s the natural order. No great advancement has ever been kept at bay because of ideology, nor greed. Eventually progress moves us forward. Eventually we accepted the world was round, and the flat-earther folks went into the dustbin of time. The abundance that is offered to us by leaving behind the fossil fuel paradigm is very promising for the world and the people of the world. We will have cleaner air, water, and food; we will have more resources to share with our people. There will be more economic freedom because people will be able to harvest their own energy. I see much more money being put into advancing education and health and community and public works and beautiful, important things like art. That is one vision for the world I am willing to fight for, one that we should all be willing to fight for; the other vision that is surely a possibility is too damning to begin to ponder here and now.
LM: What are a few simple things a person reading this interview can do to help the future of our planet?
MR: There is so much you can do now that was not available even five years ago. You can begin to transfer your energy to renewables today by switching to energy companies that only create renewable energy, like Ethical Electric. Solar is very exciting at this moment because you can put it on your house without putting any money down with leasing programs from SolarCity or Sungevity and all kinds of other local providers. There are wonderful low-interest loans you can take out to own your own solar and cut your energy bills down drastically. You can retrofit your home to become more energy efficient with on-bill financing, where the upgrades you make pay for themselves with the energy savings you generate. Ten years
ago, there were only a few electric vehicles on the market, and today there are many, many more coming, and with each year the cost of them comes down. Electrify your life! With heating and cooling, cooking and travel, and you will be doing a lot to help the future of this planet. There is no need to burn anything anymore. That is the good news.
LM: Does being an activist bring more meaning to your life?
MR: If definitely makes me aware of the value of things. When you have to fight for the things you love, you have to measure the value of those things in ways you may not in any other way. It’s a presence of mind that one may forget to keep. You value the thing you are fighting for, but then you learn to value the time it takes to do it and the time you have off. Both of which are precious. You learn to value the commitment and sacrifice it takes from all the folks around you who struggle with jobs and families while they do this kind of work. Activists must be admired for the sacrifices they are willing to make for those things they hold dear. I would say those kinds of ways of looking at life enrich the value of life, and that is a good thing.
LM: With your filming schedule and activism, you lead an incredibly hectic lifestyle. How do you center yourself, relax, and manage to keep yourself so grounded?
MR: There is nothing a good long walk can’t help work out. I try to be with my kids and my family and my friends. I do my meditation regularly and eat well and try to occasionally sleep.
LM: Who inspires you?
MR: A lot of people. Mostly the working-class folks and the poor, and those normal people living their lives out in the world without the glitter and the fanfare. There is a lot to learn from them.
LM: What’s next for you?
MR: Resting for a bit and waiting for the next round.
LM: How would you most like to be remembered?
LM: If you had one ask of President Obama on this issue, what would it be?
Dear President Obama,
You are not a climate change champion if you go to Alaska and give a climate change speech on one day and then on the next day OK drilling in the Arctic. You are not being honest if you say that climate change is our greatest threat while at the same time opening our national parks to hydrofracking. I know I can speak for a lot of folks that actually voted for you and believed the words you have said when I say to you [that] you cannot have it both ways. Respectfully, you cannot continue to make America the number-one producer of fossil fuels and say that you are doing something to battle climate change. You may say that you are doing the best you can. But that simply isn’t good enough. We have seen to what lengths you will go to get behind something you really believe is worthy, like the Iran nuclear deal or the TPP; you fight tooth and nail to make those things happen.
I guess what I am asking you to do today as the leader of this great nation is really take it to the mat for my kids and yours and all the beautiful children in the world who are looking up to you and counting on you to do the right thing.
I know it may sound audacious to you and that my hopes are very high, but if you approached this problem like other presidents approached wars they wanted to fight, then I would say there was a heck of a lot more that you could be doing. I would say that you could even take it as far as beginning to enact a gradual elimination of all fossil fuel extraction in the USA and make a strong push for it globally. A global drawdown of what all of science is nearly unanimous about, which is keeping that carbon in the ground.
Sincerely and respectfully yours,
My children’s generation.