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Video: Edward Norton on the environment

TODAY contributor
updated 4/22/2008 12:36:35 PM ET 2008-04-22T16:36:35

Many of the early advocates of environmental consciousness were actors and entertainers, and now it’s time for the film industry itself to retake a leading role in minimizing waste, actor and activist Edward Norton said.

“The film industry needs to confront the physical footprint of the way films get made,” Norton told TODAY anchor Matt Lauer Tuesday in New York. “There’s a lot of waste in the way we make films. I know a lot of people who are talking about that.”

Norton said progress is being made, if only because of its impact on budgets. “The studios are doing their part, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s cost effective,” he said.

Norton was on the show to promote “Strange Days on Planet Earth,” the continuation of a series produced for PBS by National Geographic. Norton narrates the show, which he described as sort of a CSI with the web of life as its subject, which premieres at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday. One episode, for example, shows how overfishing affects both global warming and the disappearance of animals in the jungle.

“It’s very much an investigation experience, about taking mysteries, things that are actually happening in the world that seem impossibly disconnected and showing, in fact, how scientists are connecting the things that are happening,” Norton said.

“Strange Days” is an example of how the battle to save the planet is transcending traditional boundaries and mind sets.

“This is something that’s becoming a very broad, new social consciousness,” he said. “It’s way beyond politics. I think it’s moved beyond being a liberal issue or a conservative issue. Conservatives are realizing that the economic interplay with sustainability is essential for us to grapple with. It’s reaching that level of a national mission.”

Beyond that, it’s an international mission, and in many ways, the United States needs to catch up, he said.

As part of a TODAY Show Goes Green promotion, he had passed out reusable canvas shopping bags to the audience on Rockefeller Plaza. One of the simplest ways to help the environment, he said, is to stop using the disposable plastic bags that are made and discarded by the billions. The bags are made from petroleum and do not biodegrade. They permeate the food chain and are a big component of the Texas-sized mass of floating garbage that has become a permanent part of the Pacific Ocean.

“People say, ‘What’s the one thing they could do to help?’ I say you gotta do more than one thing,” he said. But, he continued, “One thing for sure is the bags. Plastic bags are turning out to be one of the worst stupidest things that we’re doing to the environment. Those little bodega-deli plastic bags we use for 30 seconds and then throw away.”

He wants them banned, a move many countries have already taken. “When China is ahead of us in banning these things, when other countries around the world are banning these things, we need to get in line with that and catch up,” he said. “That is a simple, small thing that everybody can do—forget about those silly plastic bags.

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Some people discover environmental awareness. Norton was raised in it. His father, Edward James Norton, Jr., was a federal prosecutor during the Carter Administration who went on to become the head of public policy at the Wilderness Society and the founder of the Grand Canyon Trust. He also founded and ran the nature Conservancy’s China Program for many years.

“Some people are grocers, our family was environmental activists,” he told Lauer. “I grew up so immersed in this, in a lot of ways I was lucky. A lot of what people have been coming to realize on a broader level in the last five or ten years, my dad, he was way ahead of the curve.”

Norton, who attended Yale with fellow actor Paul Giammati, has been nominated for two Academy Awards, for “Primal Fear” and “American History X,” and won a Golden Globe along with numerous other awards for his performances. The film “Frida,” for which he wrote the screenplay, was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two. He won the Obie Award in 2003 for his performance Off-Broadway in “Burn This,” by Lanford Wilson.

He produced and directed “Keeping the Faith,” produced “Down in the Valley” (a Cannes Film Festival selection) and “The Painted Veil,” and is currently producing “The Incredible Hulk,” “Leaves of Grass,” and adaptations of Dan O’Brien’s “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” and Jonathan Lethem’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” for which he is currently writing the screenplay.

He recently completed five months of filming “The Incredible Hulk: Part 1,” for which he also wrote the screenplay.

Norton also founded and runs Class 5 Films in partnership with writer Stuart Blumberg and producer Bill Migliore. Class 5’s first two features, “Down in the Valley” and “The Painted Veil,” were released in 2006. The company’s documentary division produces nature, science and documentary films independently, including a feature length film about Barack Obama and the American political system currently in production.

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