The star has witnessed the kind of resolve it will take to reverse the effects of climate change

By Mary Green
April 16, 2020 03:15 PM
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Selina Meyer might not have faith in Americans, but the woman who plays her, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, absolutely does.

“The American people are go-getters,” she says in the new issue of PEOPLE. “When there’s a problem, they roll up their sleeves.”

The star, 59, who is isolating in California with husband Brad Hall, 62, and sons Henry, 28, and Charlie, 23, has been watching the coverage and witnessing the determination shown by people as they power through the coronavirus pandemic. It’s one of the reasons she believes climate change can also be overcome.

For example, she cites, simple changes make a big difference. “We can all recycle,” she says. “We can use less plastic. We can waste less food. These are basic things we can all do.”

And as everyone focuses on an economy decimated by the pandemic, she points out that going green is increasingly a money-saver. States like Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma get much of their power from wind, not fossil fuels, saving consumers. Small purchases like energy-efficient light bulbs can also have an impact. “The choices you make when you go to the grocery store or Walmart influence the marketplace,” she says.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Eric Ray Davidson

More importantly, in this era of division, this transcends politics. “No matter what party you’re in, we all want to leave a better planet for our children and our children’s children,” she says. “I remain hopeful in the power of humankind to get up off their asses and get the job done.”

To do her part, Louis-Dreyfus joined the Board of Trustees of the NRDC, the leading environmental advocacy group working with top scientists and health experts around the world to protect the earth, in 2019. “I’m keenly aware of the burden that my children will have, and their children will have, if this challenge doesn’t get met,” she says. “I see it as my responsibility to try and right this ship. My life will be well-spent doing that.”

She adds, “This crisis is really a stark reminder of the importance of having science drive policy. Whether it’s curbing air pollution or addressing infectious disease or tackling climate change, we really do need to listen to the science if we’re going to protect people.”

For PEOPLE’s 50 Things You Should Know and Do to Help the Planet — including advice from top climate scientists and advocates like Robert Redford, Jane Fonda and Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi — pick up the latest issue on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

NRDC President Gina McCarthy says, “I think people will come out of this recognizing that we can’t wait to be hit with this type of a catastrophe before we prepare for it and before we do everything we can to avoid it, and that’s really what climate change is all about.”

She continues, “We do not have control of the world. We have made changes to it that we need to understand and protect ourselves against, but if we don’t recognize that we have to change fundamentally the way we grow our economies and treat our natural world, then this will not be the only time when you see massive change.”

McCarthy says she’s already seen progress made from state and local governments and among major private companies. “Hundreds of states and local governments have made commitments to clean energy and energy efficiency, and looking at better transportation modes that can move people and goods around safely,” she says. “You have big companies like Amazon that are recognizing that they’re moving goods all over the place and they’re going to change the way they do that. They’re going to use electric vehicles, they’re going to look at opportunities in their packaging and other things to reduce the kind of waste that we can’t afford to have anymore.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Eric Ray Davidson

And on working with Louis-Dreyfus, McCarthy adds, “Julia is the epitome of a person who can break through the partisanship, talk about it as a normal fact of life, and engage people, and grabbing solutions that are available to us, and making climate just another fact of life that we all have to address, and whose solutions would be great to take up.”

McCarthy’s colleague at the NRDC, Dr. Kim Knowlton, one of the leading experts on the effects of climate change and health, points out that “19 of the 20 warmest years ever recorded by human society have happened since the year 2000. In the U.S. we see an average of 65,000 heat-related emergency room visits every year.” In addition, Dr. Knowlton says, “Extreme heat not only directly harms and sometimes kills people, but those rising temperatures can affect infectious diseases, especially ones that are carried by insects. The American Lung Association estimated in their 2018 report that 141 million Americans, it’s like four in 10 people, live in counties that have unhealthy levels of ozone, smog or pine particle pollution.”

That is the bad news. But Knowlton adds she also believes there is time to reverse everything. “This is a challenge we all face and we can absolutely 100 percent do something about it to help ourselves get to a better place.”

Says Louis-Dreyfus, “We can do it. It’s a very doable situation. And it’s a great opportunity for all the countries on this gorgeous plant that we live on.”