Curb Your Auto Enthusiasm
By Bradley Berman (Business Week) - May 12, 2006
By Bradley Berman
Curb Your Auto Enthusiasm
Comedian Larry David’s wife Laurie has a serious cause: reducing global warming by getting auto makers to make more environmentally-friendly cars
In late April 2006, HybridCars.com editor Bradley Berman caught up with global warming evangelist Laurie David—before the media blitz began for her film “An Inconvenient Truth,” starring Al Gore. The film hits theaters in late May. Laurie is emerging as the country’s best known climate crisis activist. You also may have heard of her husband, Larry, who drives a Prius. Laurie is determined to “turn one voice into a million voices” and to make so much noise about global warming that it no longer can be ignored.
Bradley Berman: How much responsibility for global warming do you place on the auto industry?
Laurie David: First of all, I place the responsibility for global warming on all of us. We’re all guilty. We’re all part of the problem. And we all need to be part of the solution. But a big portion of global warming is coming from transportation. There’s an article in today’s New York Times about how the auto industry could be focusing on raising fuel economy. Instead, they’re still focused on how to make cars go faster!
That’s really disturbing, isn’t it? With everything we know now, having been through Katrina, and seeing these cyclones happening, unbelievable flooding everywhere, and unprecedented droughts, the auto industry is still not getting it. With gas prices what they are. They still don’t get it.
BB: You’ve taken some steps to try to get Detroit to wake up, namely the Detroit Project.
LD: We produced [a series of] commercials. They were a parody at the time of the Bush Administration’s drug war commercials. And they did something pretty great. They sparked the debate about SUVs, and gas-guzzling cars, and where the money was going. Where is the money going when we fill these cars up with gas, especially when they get 12 miles to the gallon? We tried to connect the dots between what you are buying, what you are driving, and support of the economies of Middle Eastern countries that don’t like us.
BB: They were produced about three or four years ago?
LD: Yes, that was three years ago. I produced them with Arianna Huffington, Lawrence Bender, and Ariel Emanuel. We tried to buy commercial time on all the networks. We could not get a single network to take our money.
I had a conversation with the president of ABC at that time, where he said to me, “Laurie, we have an office in Los Angeles. We have an office in New York. And our third office is in Detroit. We’re not going to be running those commercials.”
But everyone saw them anyway, because we got an unprecedented amount of free media with them. All the new shows ran them, and it really sparked the conversation.
BB: Did the ads achieve their intended goal?
LD: Beyond my wildest dreams, because every right-wing radio DJ was talking about them. Everybody was talking about them on print and TV. We got a lot of free exposure. It did what it needed to do. It got people thinking. Now, three years later, and SUV sales are down. And the president, three years later, is saying, “We’re addicted to oil.” Duh.
BB: Tell me about your shift from traditional media to online activism, represented by the stopglobalwarming.org campaign, which you started.
LD: It’s a virtual march. The idea is that if you want to build a grass-roots movement, and you want the government to hear what you have to say, you might march on the streets. But marches don’t work they way they used to work. And they end up as 30 seconds on the evening news, and the whole discussion is about how many people showed up, and they underestimate the number. So the idea is to march on Washington—but let’s do it virtually on the Internet. And let’s count every single person who joins, and let’s turn one voice into a million voices, and let’s make so much noise that we can’t be ignored. The media, the administration, and Congress will have to pay attention.
For everyone who joins, we hope they send it to three friends, and we send out stories about how global warming is affecting your backyard, or offer some solutions. While we’re marching, we’re hopefully educating people on the problem, and how it’s impacting you.
BB: What’s the status?
LD: Right now, it’s nine months old. It’s all word of mouth, and we’re at over 300,000 marchers (who come from) every single state in the country. That’s pretty good. I think it’s one of the biggest online petitions—if you want to call it a petition. I call it a march. It’s one of the biggest ever done. And it’s only going to get bigger.
BB: Does it concern you that signing an online petition makes it easy for politicians and the citizens who sign up to feel like they’re doing something, while continuing current policies?
LD: No. Because the prominent people who join the march, the politicians—and by the way, we have Republicans and Democrats—the fact that they have to sit down and think about what they’re going to say, and how they are concerned about this issue, is a good thing, for one. And number two, it’s basically the idea is that this is not the only thing you’re going to do. This is the first thing you are going to do. This is the first step. Once you are aware, you can’t go backwards. Once you know about the problem, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
BB: I’m sure you’ve seen recent reports indicating that climate change is too far along. It’s too big of a problem. It can’t be reversed. It’s too connected with the global economy. It’s too late to do anything.
LD: Every single word of that is untrue. We’re going to suffer the repercussions of what we’ve already put into the atmosphere. That’s true. But we’re at a critical moment in time where we actually have a choice to make. Are we going to live in a world that’s one or two degrees warmer, and all the ramifications of that? Or are we going to live in a world that’s five to 10 degrees warmer, and all the horrible ramifications of that? That’s the choice we have to make right now.
BB: It’s a tough sell because of the immediate gratification culture that we live in. This is something that’s going to more greatly affect future generations.
LD: I don’t agree with that either. I think this is going to affect us right now. This is happening right now. The more horrific ramifications are going to be in the next generation, but this is in my lifetime and in your lifetime. Right now, global warming is impacting us! We have to make some choices here. The irony of the issue is that all the things we need to do to stop this thing already exist, and are things we should be doing anyway, that are going to make this economy stronger, and that are going to provide jobs. A clean industrial revolution is going to be the best thing that ever happened to this country, for a million reasons.
BB: What’s your vision for the future of cars?
LD: Cars that are now getting 45 miles to the gallon will soon be getting 100 miles to the gallon. They will run on gas, and you’ll plug them in. Eventually, we can wean off gas altogether. We’ll have biofuels and a lot of other choices for cars. The only question is how long it’s going to take. It’s urgent to get this thing happening now.
Detroit spent a lot of time saying that customers don’t care about fuel economy. That’s why we don’t make fuel-efficient cars. We now know that they do care about it, and they are proving they care about it by how they embraced hybrids. Hybrids were not well advertised when they first came out. They didn’t have a ton of financial support. It was a tiny niche. Everybody made fun of them. And here we go. They can’t make enough hybrids to meet the demand.
Berman is editor of hybridcars.com