Woody Harrelson's Sustainable Life 

Woody Harrelson's Sustainable Life 
Posted by CN Staff on July 21, 2005 at 13:54:38 PT
By Gregory Dicum, Special To SF Gate
Source: SF Gate
USA -- "We vote with our dollars more than we do at the ballot," Woody Harrelson told me when we spoke by phone last month from his home in Hawaii. "There is no legitimate voting anymore in the United States -- it's not really a democracy anymore." His voice was slow and syrupy from the mix of Maui air and leftover drawl from his Texas boyhood. "It does breed cynicism, and I've been very cynical," he continued, "but we gotta be hopeful, because otherwise it ain't gonna shift."
Harrelson is well known for speaking his mind -- in environmentalist circles, probably as well known as he is for his acting. Among other notable moments, in 1996 -- the same year he was nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "The People vs. Larry Flynt" -- Harrelson was arrested in Kentucky for planting industrial hemp seeds, and again in San Francisco for scaling the Golden Gate Bridge in a logging protest. But these days, just as Harrelson has matured as an actor (he has three films slated for release this year, with three more to follow in 2006), so too has he matured as an activist. For the past few years, Harrelson has lived with his wife Laura Louie and their two daughters in a sustainable community of about 200 people on Maui. "It's a really beautiful place," says Harrelson in a tone of awe. "Everybody cares about this Earth and they're all biodynamic farmers and just really cool people. It's really a loving community and I'm blessed to be a part of it." It sounds like nothing short of paradise, in fact. "Nobody in our neighborhood has any power lines -- we're all solar," Harrelson continues. "At the end of the night when the lights go out you just look out at the valley and the only lights are stars." It has become part of Harrelson's approach to live his life lightly on the Earth. "I try to walk the talk as much as possible," he told me. "I run my car on biodiesel. All the paper I use is nonwood, postconsumer waste. I'm vegan and eat raw as much as I can. And we mostly grow our own food -- probably 90 percent. I played a farmer for so long it's ironic I finally got around to it. Although I can't take credit for doing most of the work, it does feel good puttin' my fingers in the dirt." Harrelson credits Ted Danson, his Cheers co-star, with first bringing environmental issues to his attention. "But what really kinda kicked me over into another gear," he says, "was in 1992 when I read in the L.A. Times -- way back in the end of the paper, you'd think it'd be front-page news -- that Congress was trying to pass a law to make six million acres available to extractive industries -- timber and mining. And it was wilderness, you know? They aren't making any more of those ancient trees -- we're down to a very small percentage of what there was." So Harrelson started looking for alternatives. "That's how I started to embrace hemp," he told me. (Activists say industrial hemp, which contains negligible amounts of the drug THC, could be used for many of the things trees are used for today, and then some.) "Unfortunately, the message gets maligned in such a way that it becomes all about marijuana, which is a separate issue. I think in a free country both should be legal. But I don't think we're in a free country." Though he now laughs deeply and easily about it, Harrelson's hemp activism was widely misunderstood. When he climbed the Golden Gate Bridge in 1996 with the Rainforest Action Network (where he's on the board of directors) to protest the logging of ancient redwoods, Harrelson says, "most people didn't even know what the hell I was even up there about. They said, 'oh, way to get up there and give a shout-out for marijuana!' It's kind of like that proverb: The nail that's sticking the furthest out is the one that gets the hammer blow. I do feel misrepresented in many ways." Though Harrelson is planning more symbolic actions of this sort, he now says that "you only get so much mileage outta doing this kind of thing before people just don't care. These actions are a bit gimmicky, you know? Not that it's a bad thing -- it's what the environmental movement has to do to break through the media." Instead, Harrelson has come out with a collection of projects to help spread the word more directly. In 2001, he and his yoga- and raw food-fueled eco-posse embarked on a biodiesel and pedal-powered tour of the West Coast to promote sustainable living. In the process of biking 1,500 miles, Harrelson addressed several thousand people in towns and college campuses from Seattle to San Diego. "Go Further," the 2003 film that chronicles the experience, seems a little like the kind of self-indulgent road-trip video you'd expect from a bunch of hippies on a bus -- but with a bigger budget. Still, "How to Go Further," this year's book about the journey, is an engaging and practical introduction to the idea of sustainable living in today's world. Meanwhile, Harrelson and Louie have launched Voice Yourself, a Web site devoted to spreading the sustainable life. Since debuting in conjunction with the 2001 tour, the site has been visited by more than half a million people. But Woody Harrelson thinks he can do even more. Even though he believes the medium of film provides powerful role models for the way people live their lives ("When I was a kid I just wanted to be like Steve McQueen," he says), Harrelson hasn't done a Hollywood movie with an environmental theme. "I've read a bunch of environmental scripts, but I haven't read any good ones," he says, chuckling at both the earnestness of environmentalists and the vapidity of Hollywood -- worlds few other people straddle as thoroughly as he. "I do think it's a good idea," he goes on. "It's not like I'm totally unaware of that. And my mom, who has become a frickin' major environmentalist in her own right, is always encouraging me to do an environmental movie." While he keeps his eye out for a good script, Harrelson is counting on others to keep spreading the environmental message as well. "The message is being carried by a lot of wonderful people, particularly in the Bay Area," he says. "It's about caring for other people, being humanitarian, caring for Mother Nature and using all the alternatives." "We gotta do everything we can to get away from petrochemicals," he continues adamantly. "I think that is the No. 1 issue now -- and I never thought I'd say that over ancient trees. The No. 1 issue now is we've gotta get off the dinosaur tit and get back to basics." But even Harrelson struggles with doing all he can. "On the mainland I'll all too often end up being in a car that runs on regular fuel -- it's just inevitable. But plane travel is probably my worst transgression." Though Harrelson says he's aware of carbon offsets for air travel -- the idea that airline passengers can give money to tree-planting programs to absorb the carbon dioxide their trip adds to the atmosphere -- he hasn't taken advantage of them yet. In this he's like everyone: Even if we know the right thing to do, we don't always do it. Nonetheless, Harrelson's commitment is sincere: Call him on his residual carbon emissions and he'll get the ball rolling to solve the problem. "I should zero out my carbon," he told me when I brought it up. "If I don't follow through on that, I'll let you know." It's this disarmingly genuine character that makes Harrelson's strong environmental convictions so robust. He even acknowledges that, as a rich man, a sustainable life is easier for him. "Well, they got a good point," he says of people who bring this up, but adds, "I'm sure if it's important to someone, they'll do it in their own way." Harrelson believes that people have an innate capacity to do the right thing once they have a sense of the facts and of their options. This has been his guiding principle as his daughters, now 8 and 12, grow. "I try not to preach to these kids," he says, "because I want them to think for themselves and I don't want 'em to get tainted by my own viewpoint. However, they are extremely conscious -- they're way more aware than I was when I was their age." "They're constantly in nature -- the school is in walking distance -- and the people around them are always loving and supportive. They get in the ocean every day; they have a horse they ride on; they pick their breakfast from the trees on our land. It could not be more different from my childhood growing up in a suburb of Houston, Texas." "I don't think they need much protectin'," Harrelson says when I ask him what will happen when his daughters become more aware of consumer culture. "They're just really aware and sensitive beings -- if anything, they're teaching me. I don't feel like they go off into the consumer culture mentality. Sometimes they'll wanna watch a certain movie or something like that, but they're not materialistic yet. I'm sure society will somehow bring it home to 'em eventually. I hope they'll stay strong, centered and focused." Harrelson acknowledges that these are troubled times, but he stays hopeful. "I believe it's darkest before the dawn," he says. "There is gonna be a shift, but it's gonna require a brand of unity among those who care that we haven't seen yet: unity among all the cultural creatives who look at this madness in the world and want to do something about it." (Cultural creatives are members of a silent but potentially influential body of Americans identified by social scientists Paul Ray and Sherry Andersen.) "Cultural creatives are just not aware that there are so many others like them," continues Harrelson. "But they're 26 percent of the adult population. It does feel like one voice against the machine a lot of times, but if we joined all our voices in unison -- into a choir of sorts -- we would have incredible power." "On the surface it's a political problem because our government sucks, but it's really an economic problem," Harrelson goes on in his measured island pace. "The corporations are the puppeteers. Until we address the money we give to the puppeteers, things will never change." "It requires coordination between all these great organizations, like and California Peace Action and Guerilla News Network and Truth Out. Just get everybody together to get the word out: 'Here's who we gotta boycott.' Chevron or Texaco -- they were both war profiteers recently, which I find particularly heinous. I don't think it would be a hard thing. You affect their margins a fraction of a percentage point, and they'll pay attention. I think that's the thing they're most afraid of." Gregory Dicum, author of Window Seat: Reading the Landscape from the Air, writes about the natural world from San Francisco. A forester by training, Gregory has worked at the front lines of some of the world's most urgent environmental crises. Complete Title: GREEN Walking The Talk - Woody Harrelson's Sustainable Life For more of his work, see: URL: Source: SF Gate (CA)Author: Gregory Dicum, Special to SF GatePublished: Wednesday, July 20, 2005Copyright: 2005 SF Gate CannabisNews Hemp Archives
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Comment #1 posted by Agog on July 22, 2005 at 13:47:01 PT
Runoff and the "Dead Zone"
I just recently learned of a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that spans a major portion of the Texas and Lousiana coastline. I believe the primary cause is from all the contaminated runoff that eventually reaches the gulf. While not specifically mentioned here, bioremediation with industrial hemp along with a reasonable crop rotation scheme would probably help greatly.All the BestR/Agog
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