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Mark Ruffalo Wants the Avengers to Divest From Fossil Fuels

The actor tells us he's pledged to divest all his money from fossil fuels and invest in cleantech, and wants to convince Leonardo DiCaprio and the cast of the Avengers to do the same.

by Brian Merchant
Sep 17 2014, 1:30pm

Image: Flickr

Mark Ruffalo is not the kind of celebrity activist who shows up at a charity ball once a year, writes a check while the cameras roll, then extols the virtues of altruism. Mark Ruffalo is in the trenches. And he wants his friends and fellow Avengers in there with him.

I've seen him hit the pavement in DC, protesting the Keystone XL. He's joined anti-fracking demonstrations in New York and Detroit. You can bet he'll be at  this weekend's People's Climate March. Ruffalo is well-versed on climate issues, and advocates a plan to move to 100 percent renewable energy

He's also officially joining the movement to dump fossil fuel investment.

"I'm in the process of divesting. I took the pledge," Ruffalo told me, "between 3-5 years, to completely divest in any fossil fuels or anything climate change related and put it into renewable or clean tech." Ruffalo had just been a guest on Al Gore's fourth annual  24 Hours of Climate Reality program, and he was enthused.

"And that's a pledge that I'm making here today to you. I'm asking all of my friends to do it. I'm going to ask Leo[nardo DiCaprio], I'm going to ask all The Avengers, I'm going to ask Robert, I'm going to do the 'put your money where your mouth is' challenge. And it's going to be: divest and invest."

Now, Ruffalo's ditching fossil fuel-related stocks is not going to send the oil industry reeling, in and of itself. But like a small college or church's divestment, it sends a message—to the public as well as the market—that brands investments in carbon-polluting entities as immoral. If all of the Avengers rejected fossil fuels, together, for instance, it would make for a headline-grabbing story. It's probably why you read this one. 

Then, that perception can inflict very real damage on said stocks, driving more conscientious investors to dump coal and oil, thus further perpetuating the trend—which is precisely how the divestment movement is supposed to work. 

Ruffalo also talks about cleantech, divestment, mass extinction, and climate science with the easy charm of a movie star; I'll include a lightly edited version of our full interview below.

Image:  Wikimedia

MOTHERBOARD: So where are we at right now? You've protested Keystone, you've been out with the climate movement...

Mark Ruffalo: We're in the balance, man, it's like 50-50. Some people think we're totally and completely screwed. I don't happen to believe that. But we gotta get on it. 

But I also think that at the same moment things are pretty dire. We're also well positioned to make the shift. And that's based on the technology available today, but tomorrow, a year from now, who knows if this stuff exponentially ramps up and becomes cheaper. And once we hit critical mass, which I think is five percent of the population—once five percent of the population adopts these technologies, then it goes on its own. So right now it's just a matter of ramping up the speed from which we make this change.

You're not just calling for better technology, you really think that people should be out on the streets and really calling for change.

Yeah, well change takes a lot of different avenues. And you have to craft a lot of different messages for different people to hear. Getting to the streets is an important way to indicate power, social power, power from the community. And so that's a really important thing to do. 

There's going to be civil disobedience around this, peaceful civil disobedience is another tool. Positive messaging is a tool. Celebrity is a tool. Economic drivers are tools. It's going to take a multi-faceted approach to do something that—it's been a hundred years, this [fossil fuel] paradigm has been in existence for a hundred years. And it took a long time for us to get to where we are today. So it's going to take a significant amount of time to get us out, but not a hundred years.

You're there, you participate in the civil disobedience yourself. You don't have to be doing that, you don't have to be out on the front lines. What brings you out there?

My kids, man! My kids were there at the climate march with me. It's my kids. I could live my life rather comfortably and I could do a lot to stem off climate change. I won't be able to fight it forever, it's going to happen to everyone, I don't give a goddamn how much money you've got, it's coming to your door, there's no area you're going to move to that's going to be less affected, this is a global issue. 

But it's my kids, man. I look at my kids, and the thought [of] mass extinction, and I see the change that's happening with the trees. Even in upstate New York I see the trees that are dying off and the blights that are compounded by warming. And the crazy cycles that we're going through with temperature swings. And I see it happening and it literally is heartbreaking to me. 

I see the reefs dying; I know what a reef that's been dying looks like. You can see the life is still there, but it's decaying. And if I have any care at all in the world then I have to do something. I can't just sit by and watch this cataclysmic event unfold without a damn care. If someone was breaking into my house to hurt my children, I would be there to stop them. And this is no different.

I don't give a goddamn how much money you've got, it's coming to your door.

Do you remember the moment or era when something clicked, and you're like, 'I've got to do something about this'?

Well for me activism probably started out of the AIDS crisis. That's when I really witnessed it and really understood the power of it and learned an enormous amount from it. I saw what they were up against and how hopeless it appeared and how terrifying it was and how many really big powerful forces were pitted against them, including the media, religion, politicians, businesses – I mean everything was against them, and yet they triumphed. So that was my first glimpse into it. The Iraq war came another sort of calling. 

What are you going to do, you know this is wrong, it's illegal, it's immoral. What are you going to do, are you going to stand to the side and pretend like it's not happening? Is that who you are? Is that your values as a man? And that started to become the rallying cry: Are you who you say you are? Are you someone who cares? Are you someone who cares about your community? Are you someone who cares about your children? Are you who you say you are? And that is like my mantra. 

And that's what puts me out at the tar sands or a fracking event or what have you. Or a renewable energy event. I've been looking for the way forward and I don't think it's enough to say no. I think you have to find the yes. And I've found it in renewable energy. So I'm hammering the extraction of fossil fuels, the idea that we're going to be moving to natural gas is insanity. Methane is a 30 times to 70 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon is, although Obama is embracing it as a bridge fuel—it's insanity. And I know the way forward is 100 percent.

Are you going to come to the climate march?

Yeah, baby, I'll be there! I'll be there with Leonardo DiCaprio and Darren Aronofsky. And we'll be carrying the 100 percent banner. That's the "ask" coming out of this climate march, is 100 percent. Let's move to clean energy 100 percent.

Can I just ask you, you're up on everything. You're talking about roving storage, you're talking about fracking, you're talking about the whole picture. 

There's a lot of moving parts to it. I started  the Solutions Project specifically, it takes business culture and science and real life experience and puts them under one roof. And so I knew it wasn't enough for just an actor to be talking about this shit, I had to have a scientist next to me. But it wasn't enough for an actor and a scientist to talk about it because the business people say you don't care about the economy, so we had to bring that guy in. And then where was it happening in the world? 

This farmer in the central valley of California who is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by moving to solar energy, let's bring him in. And you know what, he's a Republican. And so the Solutions Project has become a platform for people to talk about this and learn about it. Not only to learn what's available to us, but how to move forward and get it. We've created 50 plans for 50 states that show us how to get to 100 percent renewable energy based on the resources that that state has available to them. Each plan is customized for that state and it shows us how many jobs it's going to create, it shows us healthcare savings, it shows us how many dollars it's going to put in the average citizen's pocket because they don't have to pay for energy anymore. It's…

Super clear.

Clear. So that's a good place to go to be plugged in. Not just for the abstract or the high-level education on academic view on how we get there, but also the people's stories that are actually making it happen.

Absolutely. And speaking of those stories, you mentioned that we need all different kinds of messaging, and cultural products are part of that. Do you see any scripts in your working life…

It's funny, you don't come across it. I like to use The Kids Are All Right as an example because that was a movie that was pretty much apolitical, it wasn't a polemic but it had incredible cultural significance to the gay marriage question. It humanized it. There was a movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, that I felt like talked about this in a really beautiful way that wasn't for the mainstream. Avatar did it really well. They use these kinds of allegories to tell the story. 

I knew it wasn't enough for just an actor to be talking about this shit.

The culture was sort of ready for The Kids Are All Right to come out at that time. It was like a tipping point, and Kids came out of the culture, it was called for by the culture, but the culture also had to have the ears to hear it or the eyes to see it. And I feel like that same thing is happening with climate change. Just this past year, the confluence of people—this is something I used to be banging the drum on alone. 100 percent renewable energy, when I came out with that phrase three years ago, people thought I was a nut job.

They were like "what are you talking about." I went to every major green organization and begged them to adopt it. It was the science that came out of Stanford, it wasn't me making this shit up; I begged them to adopt it. They held us off with like a ten foot pole. Today, they've completely embraced it. And that's because a lot of people from a lot of different areas are converging on this moment. People's Climate March is going to be a historical moment. 

Those are the things I've been saying for years. But it's taken us to this moment to get there. And we're not going backwards, babe.

So where are we going? 

Yeah, man, I'm going to keep telling the stories. I'm going to keep pushing them out. I'm going to push this invest / divest program to really make people aware of where their money is going, where they're investing and how they're investing in the past and not the future.

So you're out at this point? You've divested?

I'm in the process of divesting. I took the pledge. I've been doing this for a while and have made an effort to make sure that I wasn't in any way outwardly attached to any kind of investments that—my 501c has really been doing it. But I made a pledge now to have them, between 3-5 years, to completely divest in any fossil fuels or anything climate change related and put it into renewable or clean tech. And that's a pledge that I'm making here today to you. 

Have you announced it yet?

No, I'm making it up all right here. You just got the story. That's what I'm doing.

That's a good story, and I think your friends are going to be into it.

I think they will. I really do.