Laurie David:
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good

Features, FILM, Interviews
img_lauriedavid-elinanykanenA chat with Laurie David, environmental activist and producer of seminal climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Illustration by Elina Nykänen.

On Curb Your Enthusiasm, Laurie David laughs warmly. “Cheryl is Larry [David]’s fantasy wife, a fantasy version of me.”

David, initiator and producer of classic climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, is a formidable presence, even over the phone. I’m half awake, in the shower, and nervous as hell, when an American lady rings. Luckily, it’s only David’s assistant Claire (“So sorry to interrupt you before you’ve had your coffee”) wanting to reschedule my interview with Larry David’s wife. David rings back soon to discuss her urgent work, smartly structured around a convincing lecture Al Gore has devoted much of his life to.

I tell her Prime Minister Helen Clark was taken with the documentary, and arranged a special screening for Parliament’s MPs and government officials. “I want to write about this,” David exclaims very excitedly. “Our President refuses to see it.” New Zealand Leader Embraces ‘Truth’, U.S. President Ignores, David then titled her blog, concluding “There’s no better way for President Bush to commemorate the tragedy of [Hurricane] Katrina than to see this film now.”

Katrina was a “seminal moment for Americans,” David tells me. “Why were the oceans abnormally warm?… We have had Hurricane Katrina, record heatwaves, people are starting to ask, why is all this happening?”

Americans have flocked to An Inconvenient Truth, then the third most commercially successful documentary of all time. It rehabilitated Al Gore, made him cool. David fervently hopes the burgeoning groundswell will persuade him to run for high office again. He pretends his cellphone’s broken when she asks him about it. “I believe he has no plans to run at this stage.”

An Inconvenient Truth highlights how Tuvaluans have already had to flee to New Zealand due to rising water levels. “It affects all of us,” David says. Auckland’s Flux Animation Studio animated two scenes including one of David’s favourites, where a polar bear drowns searching for an ice flow.

David takes the media to task for their misrepresentation of global warming (“Out of 925 recent articles in peer-review scientific journals about global warming, there was no disagreement”) and Gore. “I blame the media. The ten second soundbite. This is the same Gore he’s always been.”

Conservatives used to believe in conserving the environment, but they’ve lost it. “They’ve really gone astray, we’re destroying our forests, wetlands, climate.” David’s approach to combating global warming is non-partisan. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue.” With Republican Senator John McCain and Robert F. Kennedy Jr, she formed popular Stop Global Warming, a virtual march on Washington (to conserve fossil fuels).

“She can get any studio head on the telephone within a few minutes, and virtually any Hollywood celebrity,” Kennedy tolf Rolling Stone. “She’s opened up new corridors of power to the environmental movement.”

David is coy about the surge in political documentary, endorsing “the right issues at the right time when done well.” Her favourites include Who Killed the Electric Car? and The Man From Flint’s oeuvre. “Michael Moore makes great documentaries.” She’s forgiven him for campaigning for Ralph Nader and against Gore in 2000. “We all make mistakes.”

David urges people to make steps to reduce their environmental impact, following the mantra of her book The Solution is You! “Not to do everything. Everyone to do something. Tell people. Word of mouth’s what’s spreading it.” David dismisses sanctimonious, unhelpful environmental-leftist purism. “It’s not all or nothing.”

David’s passion is infectious. She even got the notoriously lazy Larry—“My toilet paper’s been changed. That’s been a hell of a struggle”—so enthusiastic he campaigns for environmental causes. She says he will stump for Gore if he runs again. “Absolutely. We’ll be the first two to sign up to help him.” Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry pointedly drives a Toyota Prius Hybrid, is peppered with references to David’s environmentalism, her NRDC (National Resources Defence Council) role. There’s no greater present Larry can give her than a Curb mention, David says. “I’ve alleviated the stress of him coming up with the right present.”

ILLUSTRATION © Elina Nykänen 2015. All Rights Reserved.

A version of this article was first published in The Press in 2006. Read more from Laurie David at lauriedavid.com.
Filed under: Features, FILM, Interviews

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Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.