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Heat Rave

Laurie David gets the public hot and bothered about global warming


Published November 22, 2006 at 12:22 p.m.

Laurie David's daily reality is all about record heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, migrating deadly viruses and catastrophic storms. It's lucky for her she married a professional comedian, she says, or her life might become a major downer.

David, 48, is the wife of writer/actor/producer Larry David, of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame. But pegging her identity solely to the guy who produced a "show about nothing" doesn't do justice to her own considerable work, notably as producer of the hit documentary An Incon- venient Truth. Riding a successful career in the entertainment industry - for years she was David Letterman's talent coordinator - Laurie David became a leading champion of the fight against global warming. Last year she launched the "Stop Global Warming Virtual March," an online petition that's already enlisted more than a half-million members worldwide. She also produced the 2005 comedy special "Earth to America!" and this year's HBO documentary, "Too Hot Not to Handle," both of which address the issue of global climate change.

These days, David has a book out entitled The Solution Is You: Stop Global Warming - An Activist's Guide, which is the focus of her upcoming talk this week at the University of Vermont. Seven Days spoke to her by phone from Los Angeles, where she asked the first question: "What's the weather like in Vermont?"

Told that it was rainy and unseasonably warm, David took the opportunity to launch into her sales pitch. "Hello? It's warm for L.A. in November, too," she griped, with an inflection that bespoke her Long Island roots. "It's, like, 85 degrees here. It's insane! Something's going on, people!" She proceeded to hammer the issue home by talking about how global warming will affect Vermont's ski industry, maple syrup production and tourism.

That's part of David's strategy - bringing the problem and its solutions home to everyday people, making global warming a personal responsibility for each of us. Unlike some activists, who bury their audiences in dizzying statistics, David doesn't dwell on the scientific minutiae of climate destabilization. Instead, she says, her goal is to "permeate popular culture" with the fundamentals of global warming until the information is ubiquitous and can no longer be ignored.

David recently founded the Detroit Project, whose aim is to encourage U.S. automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their cars. She occasionally takes her message to the streets, literally, by confronting drivers of gas-guzzling Hummers, much to the chagrin of her husband.

"Larry supports me fully in everything I do," David says. "But he's had problems along the way whenever he feels his own personal safety is at risk."

SEVEN DAYS: Is it safe to assume you're pleased with the results of the recent election?

LAURIE DAVID: That is very safe to assume. It's so critical that this happened. We're going from having someone who I think is an insane politician, Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who says global warming is a hoax, despite the fact that thousands of world experts tell him otherwise . . . and now we've got Barbara Boxer (D-CA). One of the first things she's going to do is hold global warming hearings. I am thrilled.

SD: Tell me how your own personal epiphany on global warming came about. Was it a single incident?

LD: It was a moment in time, actually. I became a mom. I had a child and the child was colicky. She was in a stroller and I was walking around my neighborhood, and it happened to coincide with the explosion in SUVs. Every single person I knew was buying an SUV. And I understood that these were very low-mileage vehicles, which meant double the global warming pollution. And it terrified me. So I started to read everything I could about it . . . and decided I had to get active.

SD: An Inconvenient Truth must have generated a lot of response. Any surprisses?

LD: Actually, there were conservative Republicans and evangelicals who responded in a really positive way to this film. There were conservative reporters who said, "You have to see this film." There were conservatives who said, "OK, I get it now. This is real." That was the goal of this film. I'm not interested in preaching to the converted.

SD: Do you know if President Bush has seen it?

LD: He hasn't seen it. He had a very ungracious response when asked by reporters if he would see it. He said, "I doubt it," which is so disturbing to me. One of my goals is to try to get his daughters to see it, because if they watch it, they'll tell him to watch it. I've even offered - and the offer is still good - to bring the film to D.C. myself and pop the popcorn and run the projector . . . The inconvenient truth about this film is that you do leave [it] a different person than when you arrived.

SD: Your talk at UVM is entitled "Stop Global Warming: The Solution Is You." Does that mean you're shifting some of the attention away from change at the national and international level and bringing it to the local level?

LD: I think you have to do both, grass tops and grassroots. The truth is, individuals have to change. And then they're going to want change in their government. There are things we have to do as individuals, as families, as businesses, as a country. They all go hand in hand. This is going to require a monumental shift in attitude with what we accept and what we reject. Stopping global warming is a movement, and it's got to be as big a movement as we saw in the 1960s, or bigger. How do you build a movement? Person to person.

SD: When I read your suggestions about how each of us can stop global warming - taking shorter showers, using fewer plastic bags, installing fluorescent bulbs - it feels like we're polishing the deck chairs on the Titanic. Am I wrong?

LD: You are wrong. The truth is, small actions by millions of people are as powerful as it gets. And that's what we're shooting for. If we could just corral what we waste and move towards a serious conservation program, we'd be on our way to solving this problem. We're not going to get there until we look at our own footprint. The truth is, we're all guilty and we all have to be part of the solution.

SD: Isn't it a big part of the problem that we live in a culture that's obsessed with consumption and spreading that way of life around the globe?

LD: Yes, and that has to change. But there doesn't have to be a sacrifice. The only sacrifice is if we do nothing. I'm not saying you can't drive a car or be a consumer. But there are ways to do it that aren't going to destroy the planet. Detroit could make a 50-mile-per-gallon car. They could make a 500-mile-per-gallon car tomorrow. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have an SUV. I'm saying that your SUV should get 50 miles to the gallon.

SD: When you speak about global warming publicly, do you also discuss it as a human rights and foreign policy issue?

LD: It's the ultimate civil rights issue. It's the ultimate national security issue. It's a public health issue. It's an economic issue. How freaking exciting is it that we could be entering the first clean industrial revolution in 150 years? This is where all the jobs are going to be. This is going to be a mind-blowing opportunity for wealth for this country and the world if we get on board with this. By the way, you've got big corporations saying they're addressing this now, and that's a huge change in the last two years. Wal-Mart and the head of GE said, "Green is green. This is where the money is."

SD: How much of that is greenwashing?

LD: It's not greenwashing. Wal-Mart is so far out on a limb on this stuff. Wal-Mart . . . did go to their 600,000 suppliers and say, "You've got to reduce your packaging." They have a commitment to sell 100 million compact fluorescent light bulbs next year. That's real change.

SD: How do you not become cynical and pessimistic in the face of such depressing evidence about global warming?

LD: Here's why. I know hundreds of scientists and environmentalists and authors who have studied this issue. I know the people who have been deep into this for 30 years. And all of them believe we can solve this. All of them believe it's not too late. Now, there's going to come a time when it will be too late, and that's the moment I don't want to see.

SD: How close are we to the point of no return?

LD: The most cautious people on the planet say 10 years, so I say five . . . James Hansen, the scientist at NASA who's one of my personal heroes, says we're already guaranteed two degrees of warming for what we've already done. But we dare not go above that.

SD: Is there any good news to report?

LD: The good news is how far we've come in the last year in terms of the consciousness of the American people. That's number one. Number two is this change in Congress . . . The optimist in me believes that some change is going to come while this administration is still in office. They're going to have to. The fact that the media is covering this issue like they never did before is a huge change. I feel like the American people are at the point where they acknowledge that global warming exists and that humans are causing it. What we really need is everyone demanding solutions.

SD: On a lighter note, is Larry David's wife on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" based on you?

LD: Yes, but she's nothing like me. That's his dream wife. If you're going to have a TV wife, you should make it your dream wife.

SD: Now that you walk the walk, are there changes you've made at home that Larry bitches about?

LD: The biggest one is changing all the paper in the house, like paper towels, napkins and toilet paper, to post-consumer [recycled] waste. Because honestly, do we really need toilet paper or paper towels cut from virgin trees? I had this contest to see who in my family would complain first that it's not as soft. I thought it would be my kids, but it was him.

SD: Anything else?

LD: If you weren't considering coming, please come. And bring somebody who you think needs to hear this who isn't engaged on this issue.