On Saturday night, the Ian Somerhalder Foundation kicked off Halloween weekend with their first charity event: Empoweresque, a fundraiser and costume party designed to empower women and youth. The event was held in Atlanta, and I had the privilege of attending. Ian was costumed as Damon Salvatore dressed as Captain Planet (Damon got in a fight with Captain Planet [hence the blue punch mark on his face] and stole his outfit!) and graciously took a few minutes to speak to me about his foundation and conservation efforts.
How long have you been involved in conservation and why?
Honestly, ever since I can remember, actually.
What’s your inspiration for the work you do?
I grew up on the Gulf Coast, and my father’s family were these French Cajun people from the bayou and my mother’s family were these half-Irish, half-Choctaw Indian farmers. So on all sides, it was about an agrarian lifestyle. The Gulf Coast is a pretty insanely delicate ecosystem, so my father made sure I understood it. You never littered, you always turned lights off.
One thing that really kind of landed on me was when I was shooting Lost and living in Hawaii. I would always go camping and do excursions when I lived in L.A. and so I leased this Range Rover. And I was thinking, gosh man, I want a Prius, but I can’t do anything. I mean, I need to be able to go into the desert and mountains. But I’m driving a vehicle that gets 16 miles to the gallon. It was disgusting. Driving around Los Angeles, you could literally see the gas gauge going down. I remember being out in Hawaii and driving to work one beautiful morning, and I realized that I had all these amazing aspirations for the climate and for the environment, but I was driving this gas-guzzling SUV. I called my business manager and said, “You know what? I gotta get rid of this thing.” And I did, when I came back to L.A.
I realized that it’s all the small things. You know, we weren’t allowed to leave the water running when we brushed our teeth, which saves 602 million gallons of water a day. It’s things like this that are just crazy. Like turning off your lights. All these things. After the BP oil spill I realized that this is what needs to happen. That was it. That was the time.
You have more than a million Twitter followers and are very active on Twitter. In your opinion, what role does social media play in conservation?
My opinion of social media is, social media changed the world. Social media is the reason this foundation exists and why it’s successful and becoming more successful every day. Whoever invented Twitter, I just want to kiss them. It’s just unbelievable the amount of information that travels in a nanosecond. I owe this foundation to its supporters and social media, bottom line. Facebook and Twitter saved the world.
Why are you so driven to get youth involved in activism?
Because they are the future.
How do you reach them and make it important to them?
You know how you make it important, I think? You let them understand that this is their world. It’s a really interesting thing, if you think about it. How do you get a ten-year-old to think about conservation in any way, shape or form? A year ago, there was a six-year-old girl named Devon Haas who contacted ISF because she wanted to send her tooth fairy money to us because she wanted to change the world. It blew our mind. She said that she wanted to change the world, but she knew that she didn’t have a voice. And the executive director of ISF called me and said, “We have to give this girl a voice.” I literally was almost misty-eyed thinking about it. This girl is now seven-years-old, she has 5000 or 6000 followers on Twitter and she is in this documentary called Kids of the Gulf, about the kids in the Gulf that were affected, and how they were affected and, by virtue of the fact that they have no voice, they kind of were never heard. Having a voice is pointless if it’s not heard.
Kids are the future. The youth of the world are the most underrated, underappreciated and underestimated portion of the world. It’s their world, and you start telling them that these things are gonna disappear, and they get involved. They get angry. And what’s really cool about them is that they’re not conditioned by sociological filters. They’re just open. So their ideas are incredible. And what’s profound about their ideas is that they make a lot of sense.
I read the Huffington Post all the time. I read the The Nation all the time. The Economist. Foreign Affairs. Harper’s. Stuff that you read it, and your head wants to explode because there’s just so much information. It’s all so powerful, and most of it’s so negative, and you and I see the world through these filters. But these little guys — they are just open, and it’s the coolest thing in the world.
So there you have it. ISF is growing and we’re looking forward to more of Ian’s conservation efforts. For more on Ian and his Foundation’s initiatives, follow him on Twitter and check out the ISF website.