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Behind An Inconvenient Truth

An interview with Laurie David, the popular movie's producer

Environmental activist Laurie David would make popcorn for President George Bush and his family if they would agree to watch the Academy Award-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," which she produced. "They need to see it," David says. "If they had any vision whatsoever about climate change, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in right now."

David, the wife of comedian Larry David, recently returned from a road trip with singer Sheryl Crow, which they called the "Stop Global Warming College Tour." Her informative site sponsors an ongoing virtual march that is a million people strong.

You worked with Al Gore on "An Inconvenient Truth." What are your thoughts on his environmental activism?

The bad thing about working with Al Gore is usually, when I'm done talking with him, I always feel like I'm not doing enough. He's literally traveling the world nonstop, talking to people about global warming. He's our modern day Paul Revere. We all have a lot to be grateful to him for.

You said that the National Science Teachers Association rejected 50,000 DVD copies of "An Inconvenient Truth" because they feared it would pose risks to their capital campaign, with one of their supporters being Exxon Mobil. Has anything changed since then?

It's hard to even go there with your mind, isn't it? That changed because a lot of press and teachers all across the country were really horrified by it.  A lot of people cancelled their membership in the NSTA, and I hope that it's causing the NSTA to look at its policies. We ended up giving those DVD's to teachers, and we ended up getting private funding and distributing them ourselves.

Do you think "An Inconvenient Truth" preached to the choir?

The movie has been pretty successful in reaching across all lines. I think there was some concern that we were going to be preaching to the converted, but that didn't happen. A couple weeks ago, 4,000 churches and synagogues screened the film. That's pretty amazing, and I think it's now required viewing in Spain, England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden. Of course it should be required viewing here, and hopefully that will happen eventually. That's the thing--Europe is so much more engaged in this thing than we are.  We're the biggest cause of the problem, and we're doing the least about it. It's really unacceptable.

Do you still think there's time to turn around the negative impact of climate change?

The important point right now is that we have a window to do something about this. New things don't need to be invented. We can start slowing this thing down soon if we act. The key is really getting the country to act. Imagine the impact of millions of people making small changes. That would be huge. Once people make one or two changes, they're likely to make three or four changes, and then they're likely to demand the changes from other people and from their government officials. It's all connected.

You've been very vocal about your anger towards people who drive gas-guzzling cars. Why is that?

These cars are quadrupling the global warming emissions that a hybrid car does. We have to start asking ourselves if it is acceptable to still make cars that get nine miles to the gallon, knowing everything we know. Is it acceptable to still allow disposable paper products to be made from virgin trees, trees that absorb CO2? Knowing everything we know now, is that still acceptable?

What else is unacceptable?

Oh my God, how long do you have because it's a very long list. The fuel economy standards are one. Why aren't we raising fuel economy standards immediately? Every car should be made to get 40 miles to the gallon. That is a no brainier and will be a big step forward. Building coal plants is another.

What can we do?

Practice energy-efficiency. Every appliance should have to be an Energy Star appliance. There's a new light bulb out--it's 75 percent more energy-efficient. We have to live a more efficient lifestyle. We have to accept that we have to all make changes, and the change isn't a sacrifice. By changing your light bulb, you're not sacrificing brightness and you don't have to light a candle to read a book. When people go to the store they should only buy post-consumer recycled paper napkins, toilet paper and paper towels. That's another big thing people can do. It's just people connecting the dots--people understanding how this got made, where it's going and just understanding what it takes to bring that paper towel to the store shelf.

You have young children. Are they converts to the cause?

You can't live in this house and not get the message, and believe me, they get more than their share. They take shorter showers and don't leave the water running when they brush their teeth. They get regular gentle reminders from me when they leave their room and don't turn the lights out. They're picking it up.

There was a time in the 1970s when the environmental movement was strong. What happened?

A lot happened very quickly with the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act being established. Then we went through a period of time in the 1980s where environmentalism and environmentalists were marginalized by our leaders. There are quotes from Ronald Reagan making fun of environmentalists and George Bush Sr. saying they're all a bunch of owl-loving nuts in "An Inconvenient Truth." They were successful at marginalizing environmentalism, but what's happened now is that we're coming to the conclusion that we're all environmentalists. Whether you call yourself one or not, you still want clean air and clean water for your kids, you want to be able to ski on snow in winter and you want normal summer days. Environmentalism is the protection of those basic things.

How much more time do you think we have before the climate change is irreversible?

We have to cap carbon emissions in this country and around the world. And we have to stop allowing dirty coal plants to be built, we need to clean up, we need to invest in new energy and practice conservation. If we did all that, we'd be on our way. This is completely and totally doable. In 10 years, not so easy.

Your husband has been quoted as saying you were a narcissistic, Jewish girl from Long Island when he first met you and then you turned into an ardent environmentalist. Were you really a narcissist?

I think that was a little bit of an exaggeration, but you know, possibly.

Published: April 01, 2007
Issue: Spring 2007