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Ecorazzi Talks With Edward Norton About "Strange Days"

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nortonEdward Norton wants to talk to you about fish. Not Tyler Durden, or the Incredible Hulk, but…fish. Fascinated yet? You should be. National Geographic’s second season of Strange Days on Planet Earth, (premiering today on PBS) investigates the role of sea life in global climate change, piecing together ecological puzzles so intriguing you’d swear you were watching a detective story.

The star once again proves his commitment to the environment by hosting and narrating the two latest episodes, Dangerous Catch and Dirty Secrets. Even being an activist for years and spearheading such initiatives as Bag the Bag and Solar Neighbors, Mr. Norton admits that the occurrences in Strange Days surprised him.

“My reaction was, Wow, I didn’t know any of this!” he recalled in an interview with Ecorazzi earlier this week. “The science in it was so impressive, and the way it was framed as an investigation..it reminded me of CSI, or some combination of CSI and the twilight zone…because these very strange things are happening. And why? And how can they possibly be connected?”

The point, of course, is to show viewers how everything ties together, from the fish on your dinner plate to the bushmeat people are eating in Ghana. The journey is led by teams of scientists who begin researching unusual coastal phenomena – and find out a whole lot more than they bargained for.

“What these [scientists] are uncovering is really a headspin,” Mr. Norton explains. “It points at the fact that we’re really messing with the whole machinery of the planet…and the potential consequences of it are so enormous, it’s almost paralyzing. But then I like that they took these daunting realities and said, ‘the way this connects straight back to you in your daily life is actually very simple.”

So, what exactly is this mystical fish connection and what can we do? Find out by watching Strange Days on PBS tonight. You can find local listings here.

And for those of you who want more Edward Norton, click “more” for an in-depth discussion between myself and Mr. Norton in our exclusive, in-person Ecorazzi interview. (I can’t be a ‘razzi without a little gushing. This is the part where I get to say I really really really really like and respect him a lot. Phew! Back to our regularly scheduled post…)

A lot of environmentalists mark their moment of inspiration on things like “An Inconvenient Truth,” But you’ve been part of the green movement much longer than that. What inspired you?

EN: I don’t think there was a big light-bulb moment for me…I don’t think An Inconvenient Truth came out and all of a sudden it was like a neutron bomb. I think it was a terrific boost to some people’s level of intensity about things they were already aware of. I think everybody’s been on a slow winding curve of increasing consciousness about these issues.

People our age, we’ve been indoctrinated for a while…even starting with a childhood interest in animals. And someone saying African elephants were in crisis in the 70s. You’re a kid and you get a sense of animals that need protection, or a place that needs protection. It starts with that notion of protecting certain special, valuable things.

And in the same way that we’ve grown up to have a more sophisticated understanding of the environment, the whole movement has grown up as well. Science has gotten more rigorous. People have realized that a boundary line around Yellowstone National Park really isn’t enough, and actually isn’t meaningful, given the way that things are interconnected under the surface in ways we didn’t know. And so for me, I don’t think it’s been different for me than anybody else. It goes to the level of “oh, well I like scuba diving and surfing, climbing and things like that, and these are places that are affected by these things,” so I start to care about it, and then this rising curve of realizing that this isn’t about sewage about the beach in Malibu. This is about the ocean becoming so acidic that entire ecosystems are going to collapse. Or Katrina-level disasters being embedded within these issues of global climate change. It’s been a mounting sense of it, and I think it’s been that way for everyone our age. A growing sense of reality that we’ve got to deal with.

So, how far do you think we’ve come? Do you think we’re doing a good job so far?

EN: No, I don’t think we’re doing a good job so far. I think that we’re learning a lot, and the pace, the speed of the learning over the last 10-20 years has been staggering. I think that’s one thing reflected in the series that is most impressive and cool about it: you watch the depths to which these people are penetrating in terms of their understanding of the way these systems work. In that sense, even though I don’t think we’re doing nearly enough, I think that’s mainly the fault of our political leadership. I do think that one of the things that I like about the series: you see that the huge brain capacity that’s created the technologies and industries causing these problems obviously is capable of solving these problems.

And you’re watching the series…the minds [of the scientists]….these people are going to change the world. These people are symbolic, they’re representatives of our capacity to solve the problem. You go, “These people are ingenius.” We have the ability. But the question is more, Do we have the will? The political will and the collective will to focus on it and do it and embrace the leapfrog our short term desires to see the big picture? I feel like the country at large is not drawing the connections between our energy policy and why we’re in Iraq…or the economy and the fact that that it’s fading because we’re making the wrong investments. We’re gonna end up buying Japanese and German solar panels because we have not pursued alternative energy. And we’re going to end up buying other people’s. When you don’t draw the connection between future environmental sustainability and the economy, you’re not going to remain a superpower. And that’s unfortunate.

It seems like a lot of people are worried about the economy and the elections, and that they feel that there are more urgent issues in the news…how do you feel about media coverage of the environment?

EN: I think that … modern media is so reductive. It’s so short and sound byte driven that politicians are forced to this reductive presentation of who they are. They are forced to talk about Iraq and the economy and health care. They are barely given room around the margins to talk about things broader than that…I think the media is very culpable in the reductivism of it all….


And this, my friends, is where I admit to being part of the reductivist media, in that this is a post for Ecorazzi and not the New Yorker. The interview was tragically short, but we managed to cover all of the above, as well as his thoughts about the recent Democratic Debate, his impassioned view of “fair and balanced” journalism, and a couple of writers he actually trusts. I walked out of the interview feeling totally inspired. What more could a ‘razzi ask for?

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