Mark Ruffalo on Climate Change, Activism and the Power of Anger

Mark Ruffalo Avengers Screening NY - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Mark Ruffalo Avengers Screening NY - H 2015

At the Giffoni Film Festival in Italy, the Academy Award nominee says renewable energy is more accessible than ever before.

Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo is attending Italy's Giffoni Film Festival, Europe’s largest festival for children and teenagers, to receive the Giffoni Experience Award.

Ruffalo, whose family originally hails from Naples, was thrilled to come to the south of Italy to speak with the young jurors of the festival. The two-time Academy Award nominee and Avengers star met with children from 52 countries, discussing his career, his films and how he succeeded in life.

Ruffalo can next be seen in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, with Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber and Michael Keaton, about how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive cover-up of child molestation within the Catholic church. He hinted the film will screen in the upcoming Venice Fim Festival in September.

THR spoke with the actor about the power of films to effect change, what the average American can do to fight climate change and the links between his acting and activism.

With the recent news that water levels may be rising faster than scientists had originally estimated, are we all doomed?

There are some people who think we are doomed, some very, very bright people in the science world who think that we’re past the moment where we can do anything significant, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t. I do think we’re on the line right now.

What’s the number one thing we can do now to prevent this?

There’s a big movement to shift completely away from fossil fuels, which is, I think, the greatest thing we could do. And not only for climate change, but for the four to seven million people a year who die from fossil fuel pollution, the degradation of water.

So you can accelerate that shift by putting solar panels on your roof. You can do it in America now for free. It doesn’t cost you a thing. You can lease solar. You’ll cut your energy bills by 20 percent. You’ll save money. You’ll put people to work. That’s one thing that everyone can do.

It’ll stop the wars from expanding as we fight more and more for energy. It’ll deflate a lot of the regimes that use energy dollars to fight wars and to create chaos in the world.

And so pushing our governments to embrace the idea of radical change and creating a new paradigm of energy, a decentralized paradigm of energy, is probably the fastest way we can do it. Because today the economics are finally favorable for these different energy forms. It’s actually cheaper right now to go to wind than it is for coal, to burn coal or gas, and in five years it’ll be cheaper for solar, so I think that’s one of the biggest things.

How are you helping to spread awareness?

I have an organization called the Solutions Project, which I started, that literally shows people how they can go to 100 percent renewable energy today, from state to state. We have plans for every state in the nation, and in Paris at COP 21, we’ll be introducing plans for every state, every country in the world to go to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

What else can the average person do?

Another thing is to stop eating so much meat. You know, a third of the methane comes from our meat production. And eat more locally. Sending food and bringing food all over the world creates an enormous amount of carbon.

What has your Hulk character taught you about activism?

Well, it’s a very interesting relationship between, I think, the Hulk and Bruce Banner. I think it captures people’s imagination because I think we all have a Hulk inside of us somewhere or another that we’re pressing down or afraid of.

And our relationship to anger is also interesting, anger and the destructive nature of anger. But I also have come to see, through my own personal journey because I am a pacifist personally, that there’s a lot of power in anger and that it can be channeled to do positive things as well. And the more you repress it, the more it needs to come out in perverted ways, you know? But this duality is really interesting to me as an actor; it’s a mythological component that has been with us a long time that I think we work out in a lot of our storytelling.

You’re an active blogger. Do you see this as a powerful way to fight climate change?

You know, it all started from fracking, and that led to water and the degradation of water. Then I said, "Well, we want to live in the modern world, we want to turn on our lights and we don’t want to give anything up, and can we move forward without giving anything up?" And so that became a question that I had. And then there was also the specter of climate change looming over all these things.

All of these things, I found, were intertwined, and that led me to the Renewable Energy Revolution, which I have coined the Sunlight Revolution. That’s my hashtag for all of these, even sunlight in government, that sort of transparency in the world around us, you know? Bringing light where there was darkness, you know? We’re not hearing about it, and the people who are supposed to tell us aren’t telling us.

And so I did see my voice, and my reach as an actor, and I know I’m just a stupid actor, but I did see that I could actually take the spotlight that was on me and put it on a scientist or take the spotlight that was on me and put it on a victim, take the spotlight that was on me and put on a genius businessman who could see a way forward where we can all benefit and don’t have to give up anything.

And so I do think it’s an important platform, and it can be used in a positive way. That’s part of my teaching: I was taught that an artist must get involved socially and politically and understand the time that you live in, and usually speak for a voice that’s not spoken for often. It’s my personal way of giving back some of the great fortune that I have been given. It takes a lot of time, and people hate you for it. Some people love you for it. It’s not without its risks, but I also feel like it’s the right thing to do, and that’s why I do it.

Can you also harness this power in films?

That’s where it starts for me. I think that’s the most transformational place. Whether you’re talking about gay marriage or bipolar disorder or now the spotlight on the priests who molested children over many, many decades, hundreds of years.

Telling myths like the Avengers, to me, that will always be the most immediate way to communicate with people. There’s just this whole other thing that’s opened up around journalism, but for me, storytelling is where my passion is, I think, and that’s where I feel like I’m most effective. And it’s a way that isn’t political.

What I love about Giffoni Film Fest is that you’re bringing all of these children from all over the world here. It’s storytelling that connects us all. The stories are no different whether you’re in Israel or Palestine, Iraq, America, Iran. And it’s the children who have that wisdom inside them. You are taught to hate, and I think the stories that aren’t political, that are just human stories, bring us together. And that’s one of the things I love about what I do and one of the things that I think is so important about what I do, more than anything else that I do.