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Jane Fonda on taking action to address 'dire' climate crisis


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Jane Fonda is a Hollywood icon, with her Academy Award-winning acting career spanning decades. She is also famous for her political activism.

She describes her passion and protests advocating for climate change in her new book, "What Can I Do?: My Path From Climate Despair to Action."

Jane Fonda, thank you so much for talking with us. It's good to see you again.

When we sat down together at the end of last year, you were sitting in at the Capitol. You had been arrested four times. You said you had to put everything on the line. And you're still at it.

Jane Fonda: We're still facing a dire situation.

The scientists tell us we have until 2030 to cut our fossil fuel emissions in half. And it's going to take an unprecedented effort by unprecedented numbers of people prepared to commit civil disobedience.

And that's why I did Fire Drill Fridays. It's why I'm still doing them and it's why I wrote this book. This answers a lot of questions and tells people what they can do. I'm really proud of this book.

Judy Woodruff: What's the main thing you want to get across? You -- it's your story of these protests and your engagement.

What do you want people to take away?

Jane Fonda: I want them to understand, A, that it's a dire situation that we're facing, and we have little time left to really do what's needed, what the science tell us we have to do.

The reason we have so little time is because the fossil fuel industry lied to us 40-plus years ago. They knew what they were doing. Their scientists told them that they were causing global warming and that it was going to be catastrophic for the world.

And they did it anyway and lied to us and tried to make us doubt the science. And, as a result, the window has shrunk in which we can do something.

So, the book shows is -- shows what we can do, from both individual actions, but, most importantly, group actions, getting together with a movement with large numbers of people and acting in concert to force the government to do what's needed.

First of all, we have to vote. All the way through the book, it talks about the importance of voting, but then not to have it end with the vote. Then we have to roll up our sleeves and force the government to do what's needed. It's very, very practical.

Judy Woodruff: Of course, since you started this, some pretty big things happened, first and foremost, the pandemic.

How has that affected your ability to get your message across?

Jane Fonda: We were worried, of course, with the terrible things that has happened to people in the United States and in the world because of the COVID pandemic.

We took our Fire Drill Fridays virtual. I may be 82, but, boy, do I know how to do a Zoom meeting.


Every Friday, we do Zoom.

Judy, last Friday, we had 750,000 people following us across all platforms. I mean, that's kind of amazing. And tens of thousands of people are signing up to volunteer, writing letters, making calls to elected officials, getting people to vote, especially going into the -- going into -- virtually going into Latino communities, making sure people vote and that they understand the importance of the climate.

So, what it shows us is the , in spite of everything, people are still really concerned about the climate and are using this time, when they're sheltering in place, to do something about it and to sign up to volunteer.

Judy Woodruff: And it's been the pandemic.

And, of course, also, Jane Fonda, there has been the Black Lives Matter movement, which has come back to life over the summer, people marching, taking to the streets, pushing for racial justice.

Do you find there's -- it's just harder to get people's attention, that there's less of a bandwidth for environmental change, when there's so much else going on that people are concerned about?

Jane Fonda: Actually, no.

I don't know if people are familiar with the Yale Project on Climate and Communications. It's -- it does amazing research. And one of the things that it has shown us is that, apparently, Black people care more about the climate than white people do.

And of all people, Latinx are the most concerned about the climate crisis. The climate crisis, it very much shows how much racism there is. The fossil fuel industry has, for decades, put their drilling and their fracking and their incinerating and their refineries in communities of color and low-income and indigenous communities, under the assumption that these people lack power and won't be able to do anything about it.

So, people of color have really been impacted by the fossil fuel industry.

Judy Woodruff: You have talked about the importance of voting.

I looked back at what -- at our interview last November, and you said, no matter who we elect, no matter how progressive they are, it won't work unless we're going to hold their feet to the fire.

Does it make that much difference who's elected in November? President Trump, after all, is saying this week he's the best environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.

Jane Fonda: Yes, well, wouldn't we all rather push a centrist than have to fight a fascist?

Trump has been terrible for the environment, rolling back all the environmental regulations, improving clean air and clean water. At a time like this, the last thing to do is drill, drill, drill. He's in the pocket of the fossil fuel companies. He's the opposite of an environmentalist.

Joe Biden can be persuaded and pressured. He's already moved very far in the last year. So, we have to get him elected, and then hold his feet to the fire, as I said a year ago.

Judy Woodruff: And you acknowledge that Joe Biden has not embraced the Green New Deal, which is something you advocate. So you're saying you think he can be persuaded?

Jane Fonda: I do. I think so, if there's enough of us out there doing the persuading.

Again, the Yale Project on Climate Communications says, we only need 3.5 percent of people to win new policies. That's 11.5 million people in the United States. We can rouse 11.5 million people to pressure the Biden administration to do what's right.

I think we can win. There are already, according to that project at Yale, 13 million people who say they're ready to engage in civil disobedience. But nobody's asked them.

I mean, there's a great unasked out there. And it's our job to ask them and then organize and mobilize them to do what's necessary.

Judy Woodruff: One last thing. And this has to do with the other part of your life, and that is acting.

You're about to shoot the final season of "Grace and Frankie." There was a -- we heard this week from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that they have a new standard they're going to impose in coming years, requiring more diversity and inclusion, both on camera and off.

This is for shooting movies. Do you think this is going to make a difference? And do you think Hollywood is doing enough in that regard?

Jane Fonda: Well, this is a big deal, if it happens.

I have not read the details of it yet. I mean, obviously, the devil is in the details. For example, if you're making a movie -- if you're making "Mad Men," well, there just were not a lot of people of color in those offices back in those days. So, you have to be honest to the period that you're -- that you're filming.

But I like the idea that you put rules in place that require companies to hire more diverse -- with more diversity in mind. I think that that's really -- that's really good. But I don't know the details yet. This just happened, and I haven't read yet.

Judy Woodruff: Jane Fonda, again, the book is "What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action."

It's so good to have you with us. Thank you very much.

Jane Fonda: It's good to see you again, Judy. Thanks.

Judy Woodruff: Eighty-two years old, and she just keeps on going.

Thank you, Jane Fonda.

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