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January 26, 2007
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Transcript - January 26, 2007

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW. On the road in California, where for the first time, a film featuring a slide show by a former Vice President of the United States has just received an Oscar nomination.

The documentary, an inconvenient truth, has done much to bring the debate over global warming to mainstream America. Those concerns even made it into the president's state of the union speech, when he called for a 'mandatory fuels standard' that would push Americans to increase our use of renewable and alternative fuels nearly fivefold by 2017.

Anything that would cut the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas production is good news for Laurie David, one of the producers of the Al Gore film and a woman who has spent a lot of energy of her own getting the conversation about global warming in front of our eyes.

It's more than the movie. Laurie David got global warming onto the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful with a guest appearance. She cajoled magazines like Marie Claire and Elle to take on the issue. She did Oprah. And she even got the Fox network to run an hour doc looking at the threat of climate change.

You may also know Laurie as the spouse of comedian Larry David and the force that put him behind the wheel of a hybrid car in his hit series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

BRANCACCIO: Laurie thanks for doing this.

DAVID: Thank you for having me.

BRANCACCIO: You've been working on global warming for what years now?

DAVID: Yes, years. But not as long as other people have been working on it. You know—scientists have been ringing the bell for about 30 years.

BRANCACCIO: You were a producer of "An Inconvenient Truth"; Al Gore's film about this topic. Started as a slide show and became this—this hit film in—in theatrical release. The question is this: you're trying to get copies of that film to an even wider audience. What was the deal, 50,000 DVD copies into America's schools? Tell me the story of what happened when you tried that.

DAVID: Every single person that I talked to at every screening we had, the first thing people said was, "This has to get into every school in America. Every school kid needs to see this film." And of course I totally agree

But in the Untied States we had to figure out a way to distribute it. Right? How do you—how do you get it into—teacher's hands? So we approached the National Science Teachers Association. The National—we approached the National Science Teachers Association. Which seemed like a logical place—if we gave them 50,000 free copies, then they can give it to the teachers—

BRANCACCIO: And what did they say when you offered this—

DAVID: And—well there was a whole series of email exchanges. And eventually the last one said, "No thank you." And I mean I found this really shocking. So we started to dig a little bit. Well why not? And it turns out a couple of things are going on. Number one, they take money from Exxon Mobile. Okay? They—

BRANCACCIO: The—the—the Science Teachers Association—

DAVID: The NSTA accept—has taken over $6 million in the last 10 years from Exxon Mobile; number one. There's an Exxon Mobile executive that sits on their Advisory Group; number two. And there was a—a—a remark in one of their emails saying, "You know—this might affect our capital campaign."

"So maybe we shouldn't be doing this." Now I find this outrageous. And it's not just about the DVD. It's the fact that our—our science teachers, and access to our teachers is up for sale. I mean they did offer us, "Well you can—you can buy our mailing list. You can—you can rent a booth at one of our conventions." Well why is the mailing list of the nation's science teachers up for sale for anyone who has the cash to buy it

BRANCACCIO: Well what do you want from them? You know how strapped teachers are these days.

DAVID: Well I've gotten—you know—hundreds and hundreds of emails from teachers across the country saying—you know—"I can't afford to buy a DVD." Which is—you know—it just—it's unbelievably painful. They have to pay for all these other things themselves out of their own pocket.

So we have to get—figure out a way to get the—the DVDs to them. And we are figuring out a way to do it. And we're—we're—we're talking to independent donors to get the DVDs to teachers that want it. But the fact that the—the Association that represents science teachers is in business with an—a corporation that has spend millions of dollars misinforming the public on global warming.

Is—you know—I find that personally outrageous. I really do. And by the way, you know—people say, "Well why has it taken so long for people to get this issue?" You know—for people to understand it? Well Exxon Mobile's one of the reasons. You know—they have—it's just like the tobacco industry.

They have spent a lot of time—you know—causing doubt. Well cigarettes—you know—don't really cause cancer. And your doctor suggests that you should smoke—you know—cigarettes. They're—I mean that was a campaign for awhile you know? And that's there—that is in "An Inconvenient Truth".

And—and here we have—you know—Exxon Mobile in bed with the Association of Science Teachers of America. And—and they have—they have a self-interest to keep us dependent on oil. I mean it's really outrageous.

BRANCACCIO: Wasn't there a suggestion—from the Science Teachers Association—that they can't take a film like "An Inconvenient Truth" because it would be an advocacy piece within a school. And they shy away from that.

DAVID: Well they say they have a policy that they can't endorse it. But guess what, they've endorsed other things. They endorsed—a—they sent 20,000 films of something that they produced with Conaco Phillips. So—you know—basically they have loopholes big enough to put an oil tanker through. Okay?

And by the way, you can distribute the DVD without endorsing it. You could say, "Hey, this has been given to us for free. You know—it's—it's an acclaimed film. Take a look at it. If you want to, you can use this in your science class." You can do it without the official endorsement.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah, there's plenty of things in a school library that perhaps the school itself doesn't endorse—

DAVID: Exactly.

BRANCACCIO: —for instance.

DAVID: Exactly.

BRANCACCIO: Now as—now as 2006 turned into 2007, one of the last hearings conducted on Capital Hill in the old Congress was Senator Inhofeof Oklahoma, looking into media reports of global warming. And the distortions therein. What do you make of that?

DAVID: History will judge Senator Inhofe. You know he has a lot or responsibility on his hands for keeping any kind of movement and—and serious, meaningful action on global warming happening in the Congress.

And—that—the American people have spoken. Senator Barbara Boxer is gonna be taking over that committee. And her first goal is to hol—have hearings on global warming. I mean when Senator Inhofe—you know—wanted a scientists to testify on global warming, he called in a science fiction writer; Michael Crichton. I mean that's outrageous.

BRANCACCIO: But a hearing like that is directed right at somebody like you. I mean images of global warming in the media. That's kinda Laurie David.

DAVID: this isn't—you know—I don't own this issue. There's a lot of people've been working on it. And I think that—you know—every night when people turn on the evening news, and they hear there—the latest extreme weather event. Or the ri—the latest record being broken. That—that people are—you know—getting pretty smart to this issue.

BRANCACCIO: So you feel there's a seen change going on with this issue? I mean—as—as 2006 came to a close—late in 2006—Senator Olympia Snow—a Republican—and J. Rockefeller—a Democrat—Sent a letter to Exxon Mobile's Chief saying—an I paraphrase—would you please Exxon Mobile quit funding those groups who say they ain't no global warming. I mean clearly something is shifting.

DAVID: Something is shifting.

I mean one of the great—the great—signs that—that things are shifting is how business has taken this on. That companies like DuPont, and Johnson Johnson—all kind of companies that you might not expect are taking a very aggressive stance on global warming. You know—Duke Energy—which is a coal company—you know—the—the CEO of Duke Energy is saying, "WE have to have—you know—we have to figure out our limits on carbon emissions." "WE have"—on their annual report, 30 pages on global warming.

So when a company like Wal-Mart comes out—that has lots of things about it that—you know—people object to. Or that—that I would object to.

The fact that they are—they have sent a me—a very strong message to suppliers and said, "You have to change your packaging. Because we need to reduce our carbon emissions." Like that's a powerful thing.

BRANCACCIO: Energy experts tell me that is a major step. Because one of the constituencies here are energy companies that are actually calling for regulation—

DAVID: Right.

BRANCACCIO: —because they want an even playing field.

DAVID: Right.

BRANCACCIO: They don't wanna like spend a lot of money to clean up their act, and their competitor being able to not clean up their act.

DAVID: Right. But they know legislation is coming. I mean we are going to have legislation. The key is—you know—how long is it gonna take? And hopefully it won't take that long. But—you know—another Side of that is—is a corporation like TXU in Texas. That is fast tracking 11 new dirty coal plants.

Okay, they're—the—the governor of Texas is helping them fast track it. It used to take a year and a half to get a permit. Now it's taking a couple of months. Because they know that legislation is coming. Now we have to stop those plants.

WE have to—you know—there shouldn't be dirty coal plants built anymore. There's—there's—there is technology to make them a—cleaner then they are. And we have to—you know—we need legislation for that too. But because they know that legislation is coming—it's in the wind. Look when you have Jeffery Immult(PH) the head of—you know—of a huge corporation like—

BRANCACCIO: General Electric—

DAVID: —GE, say, "Green is Green. WE know that we're gonna make money—you know—in the future by going green." Then—you know—again, that's another huge shift.

BRANCACCIO: And flabbergasting to some people—Newscorp—Rupert Murdoch—


BRANCACCIO: —apparently he's—been telling his own company to—

DAVID: Well Newscorp—Ro—Rupert Murdoch—a couple days after Thanksgiving issued what I thought was an earth shattering memo to all his—corporations—all his employees—saying, "We are gonna get engaged on global warming. And we're gonna do it in a big way. We're gonna reduce our own personal carbon emissions."

"We're gonna—inspire our employees to get involved in this. And we're gonna permeate all our media groups on this issue." Now that, I think, is huge. Now let's watch and see what he does. But the fact that he's saying it is big.

BRANCACCIO: One of the concerns people tell me when I discuss global warming with them is this. And these are pretty good hearted people who wanna do right by the world. They would agree with you on the issue of global warming.

But they say this, "Look, every improvement that we make as Americans is going to get reversed by what might happen overseas. As China's economy grows, and India's economy grows. That it's a futile enterprise because—we might be able through your efforts change America's culture. But we're not gonna change India's or China's."

DAVID: Well I don't agree with that at all. And first of all—you know—if we show no leadership, how can we ask anybody else to show leadership? Right? And by the way, the United States is the biggest cause in global warming pollution. And we're doing the least about it.

I—I find that personally embarrassing. You know—I—that's wrong. And we have to show leadership. You know—we could be selling cars to China, but guess what, we can't. Because our car—they get higher mileage standards then we have of our own cars. You know—we should be selling technology to them.

And—and we need to be leading the way. We need to be the leaders on this.

BRANCACCIO: Laurie, of all the issues you could have taken on, human rights, Guantanamo, Darfur, global poverty. How did you light on this one?

DAVID: Well—you know—it happened to me when I became a mom. And I had a colicky baby. And I was on the streets of my neighborhood pushing a stroller. And it happened to coincide with the explosion of SUVs.

And I understood—okay, SUVs 12 miles per gallon. You know—double the global warming pollution. Double the amount of gas to get where you need to go. And I just started reading everything I could about it. And I—you know—I got more and more disturbed. All my friends drove them.

So—you know—that's when it happened to me.

It's like I just—you know—I connected the dots. And—you know—once you know something—like if you know the things that you love and care about are at stake. Like you have to do something about it.

There are things that you can do to help solve this.

I mean that's empowering. I mean you're telling me by the choice I make in toilet paper, or in a vehicle, could actually—in—in—in my—my cell phone charger pulling it out of the wall. In the light bulbs I buy. That I could actually help reduce my own personal carbon emissions? And help stop global warming? Well wouldn't you do that if you understood that? Or course you would.

BRANCACCIO: Did you convert your famous spouse?

DAVID: I did convert—well we were the first ones—really, one of the first ones to buy hybrid cars. And he put it on his television show. Which—you know—gives him lots of brownie points with me. And—you know—and I think—you know—I—a—a bald man driving a hybrid is a very sexy thing.

You know—and I think it becomes a babe magnet. I tried—we tried to get other people buying them. Next thing you know—you know—you can't—you can't go out in Los Angeles now—I mean every other car is a hybrid. And—you know—Toyota is—is—is raking in the—the dough. And—and Detroit isn't.

And one of the reasons is because they—they didn't see the writing on the wall. That Americans want fuel efficient cars. Americans want to reduce our dependence on oil. And Americans really don't wanna be contributing global warming if they can help it.

BRANCACCIO: Do you want your husband to be a babe magnet? (LAUGHTER) What are you doing? You talk about the shift that we're starting to see. Maybe your work is done. You can move onto something else now. You did it. You got that issue front and center in the culture.

DAVID: My work isn't' gonna be done till the federal government of the United States takes a leadership role on this issue. And some serious legislation comes down to reduce CO2 emissions. You know—I mean that's—we're not gonna be done till we get there.

All—the only place we're at right now is that people are finally understanding the urgency of the issue. And I think they're starting to look at what they can do. And there's a lot they can do. But now we have to get government to change. I mean we have to take a leadership role.

WE have to join the rest of the world—you know—in dealing with this problem. And we have to do it fast. I mean there is a 10 year window, they say, to solving this problem in a serious way. And—if they're saying 10 years, and that's the—those—those are scientists saying that; the most cautious people on the planet.

You know—in my mind, okay, I'm thinking maybe we have five years. So, I mean we have to get going on this issue. And it's—and—and the work's not gonna be GU—done until—you know—till government takes—takes this on in a huge way.

BRANCACCIO: Well Laurie David thank you very much.

DAVID: David thanks for having me.

BRANCACCIO: Since I sat down with Laurie, there have been additional signs that thinking may be shifting at some of our largest fuel producing companies.
Exxon Mobil has just announced that it has quit funding groups that dismiss global warming claims and that people from Exxon Mobil and about 20 other energy companies are meeting to talk about options for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. You can read more about these meetings over on our web site: PBS dot org is the jumping off place for that.
And now we turn to a woman who picks up on this theme of what we can do in our own lives to help the environment.
Majora Carter has taken up this challenge in one of the toughest communities to make it work - her own neighborhood in the South Bronx. Dedicated to the proposition that low-income communities of color are just as deserving of clean air, clean water and open space as richer ones. Carter started an organization called "Sustainable South Bronx" which is bringing parks, greenways and bike paths to her urban waterfront. She has also rallied residents to oppose dumping and air pollution, and is challenging New York City's plans to fill a vacant lot with a jail in favor of creating a recycling center. My colleague Maria Hinojosa visited with ms carter on the roof of her headquarters in the South Bronx.

HINOJOSA: Majora Carter, the screenplay of your life could have been of a granddaughter of a man who was born into slavery. Raised in the south Bronx. You go to these elite schools, study fine arts, literature, film. You could have left the south Bronx and you end up back here doing environmental work.

CARTER: Right. I did leave the south Bronx and came back only after I realized you know, realized that the things that I—made me want to leave, the fact that I thought this neighborhood
was nothing except ugly and dirty, and—and disgusting, really had much more to do with the
regulations that were thrust upon it rather than—with the people that were here.

HINOJOSA: You've said that you feel like your community, the people of the south Bronx are like the yellow canaries I—

CARTER: Yeah. In the coal mine.

HINOJOSA: Because?

CARTER: Because we feel the effects first. But, ultimately, everybody around them—will also be impacted by it.

Communities like the South Bronx are the point sources for—for the—diesel emission or power plant emissions. they're the point sources for the green house gasses that everybody's trying to curb. you know, we may feel the effects of it right now in terms of our very high asthma rate and our respiratory issues and all that stuff. But, ultimately, we all pay, you know, in terms of—increased global warming. you know, with—and actually poor air quality everywhere.

And that's why all of our work really is helping to support you know cleaning up
here, but it's—it really is, like as far as we're concerned, a we're starting to save the world
starting in the south Bronx.

If you look right out there...

HINOJOSA: Majora Carter knows exactly where the dirty air and pollution are coming from. One source: the smoke stack of the New York organic fertilizer company.

HINOJOSA: So, this here—

HINOJOSA: —this is putting out what into your community?

CARTER: Dioxins—nit—nitrous oxide—sulfuric oxides. Probably some heavy metals. There's a whole bunch of other things that we're not sure of. But, that's what we're trying to find out. But, we know that all the things that I mentioned already, particulate matter 2.5 and smaller—those are the kind of things that actually lodge deep into people's lungs and actually cause public health impacts—anything from—upper respiratory problems and, of course, asthma.

HINOJOSA: So, in order to confront this problem, you didn't stand out here with—with placards and protesting. You —


HINOJOSA: —did something else. What did you do?

CARTER: —well, we did that, too. But, the thing I think that got the most attention was actually buying stock in the company—the—in the parent company of that facility.

HINOJOSA: And, how much stock did you buy?

CARTER: Fifty shares.

HINOJOSA: So, that means that with that, you can go into the shareholders meetings and voice your opinion?

CARTER: Absolutely. Put out resolutions, you know, make re—requests and we did just that.

HINOJOSA: Different kind of activism

CARTER: Completely. But still a form of activism.

HINOJOSA: And, then you've got trucks.

CARTER: Well, yes, plenty of 'em delivering, you know, goods—well, some are goods like the produce market is right down the hill as well as the meat and fish markets. Or, you will see garbage trucks either dropping off or picking up uh—picking up—garbage

HINOJOSA: But, this noise—these heavy trucks in and out—

CARTER: It's—it's pollution. It is noise pollution

HINOJOSA: Right. Here comes another truck.

CARTER: Yeah. Yep. Ah, take a deep breath of that.

HINOJOSA: So—"Of all the places to take on and try to change a neighborhood, you choose the south Bronx which has, for years, for decades, for more than a century, been the industrial hub of New York City." some people say, "Majora, you're gonna take away jobs, perhaps, by closing businesses down."

CARTER: We're not trying to close business down. That's a fallacy that lots of people like to throw on environmental justice activists. Absolutely not. We're trying to build a different kind of job that actually supports the environment, supports the people, and supports your business's bottom line.

We're trying to create something called a recycling industrial park that actually takes recycled materials and uses them as raw materials so there's a collection of businesses that do that. and—that would reduce the amount of solid waste in New York City.

It could—it could—prepare like 3 to 500 jobs, you know. And, unfortunately, that same site is the same place the city wants to build a 2,000 bed jail.

So we believe our—our shot, you know, at a—the best alternative to incarceration is actually a decent job. Crazy. I know.

HINOJOSA: What's going on here?

CARTER: This is Baretto Point Park. It's about five acres, like literally the greenest place in all of Hunts Point. We're really excited that we have five acres of green open space here, but it came because the city kind of wanted to pay us back a little bit for the sewage treatment plant expansion that we're getting. This park is about I think $7 or $8 million. The sewage treatment plant expansion comes at a—a public expense of like close to a billion dollars.

HINOJOSA: So, where we're standing here, we're on a park, but actually we're looking at a sewage treatment plant?

CARTER: Yes. Yes.

HINOJOSA: Those flames, they are—

CARTER: Those flames are actually burning off the excess methane—that is produced as a result of the sewage treatment process.

HINOJOSA: So, not necessarily the healthiest place to have a park?

CARTER: Yeah. Yeah. (LAUGHTER) I'd say that. Yeah. Yeah. But you know, it is a start, and we are happy that we have something here. But, no, it's not enough.

HINOJOSA: So you say that this is not about bringing green to your community just to make it look nice.

CARTER: Unh-uh. Although that helps. Oh, believe me, I like pretty things as much as anybody else does.

HINOJOSA: So it's not about making pretty things. You're—it's about what?

CARTER: But it is about making pretty things. Because, you know, I do think your environment will reflect on you.

CARTER: And If you're told, you know, from birth, that everything—in your neighborhood, and that would include you in it, is less valuable than other parts of the city, how is it not gonna reflect on you?

HINOJOSA: And less valuable because you're being dumped on?

CARTER: Yeah. It's like, you know, that's where all the nasty dirty things go.

And I think—the work that we do, you know, here in Sustainable South Bronx is designed specifically, you know, to provide people with an opportunity to—to see their community, and therefore themselves, you know, as powerful, beautiful beings.

CARTER: I mean I don't think that, you know, too many folks, you know, really consider the—environmental justice, the civil rights issue that it actually is.

HINOJOSA: A civil rights issue.

CARTER: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, Martin Luther King, is—his birthday just passed. You know, injustice—anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

And, you know, it's not just the south Bronx.

You know, it's not just, you know, the gulf coast. It's not just, you know, places in—in—in—in Oakland. you know, there—these places—places—we—the whole—all the cities around the world have little south Bronx's. But, ultimately, you know, I see people in my own community suffering in ways that they don't need to. and—it—it—it—it really—I'm sorry. (LAUGHTER)

HINOJOSA: It—it's that upsetting.

CARTER: Yeah, it is upsetting. It is really upsetting.

HINOJOSA: Because when you see people in your neighborhood suffering, you're talking about—

CARTER: They're—the—the—the—the degraded public health. you know, the fact that—you know—our obesity rate is as high as it is because we don't have, you know, the—what—because we don't have access to like decent affordable produce. Even though we've got the world's largest food distribution center here, where food is trucked out.

I think that is an environmental justice issue. that you can't buy a decent head of lettuce in most of the neighborhood stores. you know, and the fact that when we try to build things like green manufacturing jobs, that we're told that, you know, that that—that the—the sites that would be perfect for it are better used for jails. you know, what are—what are people trying to tell us here?

HINOJOSA: when you step back Are you optimistic? Or do you see a battle everyday that's just like, wow, it's gonna be hard one yet again today?

CARTER: Oh, I see the battle everyday. Every single day. But I also see that—there is—so much—there is so much hope. And, like I don't see hope as like this like very passive thing.

It's the fact that like, you know, we've got, you know, parks in the neighborhood. The fact that we've got, you know, now—about $20 million coming in for like green way, bike way development. The fact that, you know, we did put it on the table, you know, the—these green manufacturing jobs. The fact that, you know—it is not over, you know. as far as we're concerned, you know, that jail is not gonna be built here.

You know, that's what I see. And I think that's why the role that we've been playing here is all about creating, you know, something new for people to see so that it will reflect back on them. And I'm really, really proud to be a part of that.

HINOJOSA: Majora Carter, director of Sustainable South Bronx, thanks for speaking with us on NOW.

CARTER: Thank you for having me.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for now. From San Francisco I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you again next week.

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