Actor + Eco Powerhouse. He’s Leading the Charge for the Planet, bringing Awareness AND Action. This star of Vampire Diaries uses social media and his foundation to bring on the next revolution.
Maranda Pleasant: What is it that makes you feel the most alive?
Ian Somerhalder: It’s one of those things that hits you when you’re not even looking for it. It’s a moment when you find those words surging through your mind—“I feel so alive right now.” There’s varying degrees of it. Acting definitely makes me feel so remarkably alive. Sitting on a beach or walking through nature makes me come alive always.
What I’ve started to realize is that social media is not just technology—it’s become its own entity, full of energy waves. These energy waves could be a Tweet about something you are furious about, like the Keystone Pipeline, or a piece of legislation. Instantly, energy surrounds and adds traction, influence, making it come alive. Within hours, this piece of information you’ve just doled out has become a monsoon, a hurricane of tangible energy that is literally circulating the world. It’s helped me sense the undeniable truth of quantum consciousness, the whole butterfly effect. I witness it daily. Being witness to it not only makes me come alive, it enables me to maintain hope.
Thirty years ago, if you wanted to start a campaign against or for something, you had to print flyers, you had to make a million phone calls. Remember presidential campaigns and stuff? It was a very laborious thing. Now we can literally talk to each other in a nanosecond. I’m starting to realize there’s no stopping us now. An idea, a feeling, a movement can’t just be squashed. It’s impossible now.
MP: Wow! I talk to you for five minutes and I’m so excited!
IS: But you know what I mean?
MP: Yes, I know what you mean. You infuse everything with energy.
IS: Up until the second you asked that question, I hadn’t thought about that in months. I haven’t actually articulated it to another human being, other than in my own head. Even to hear it come out of my mouth is really awakening.
MP: Yes. You’re so wonderful…what is love to you?
IS: Another phenomenal question. The word love carries the same vibration in any language. You probably know this guy, you probably had dinner with him yesterday. The Japanese water crystal guy?
MP: Yes, Masaru Emoto! I met him in Houston.
IS: He’s incredible. When you look at his work, you can’t help but expand your concept of love. And when you really think about it, it’s not a notion, it’s not a feeling, it’s truly an expansion of what you project and receive on a daily basis.
Whether that expansion is towards the beings around you or flora, fauna, and creatures. Love has so many unique yet consistent forms. People like Branson–he’s an idea guru. Guys like Allan Savory–he’s like Father Earth. Allan has literally discovered how to stop desertification and make Africa come alive with plant life. In each of its forms, love has an infinite scope of potential expansion, all of which I see leading to growth.
It’s interesting, the big major game changers—Branson has it. Allan has it but it hasn’t played itself through. But it will, we will see to it. Because we the people are the change makers. Policymakers are not the change makers. Because policymakers can’t make policy unless we allow them. Not anymore. Not with social media. Take a peek at the traction from the Tweet I posted about Origin.
MP: My daughter called me from Indonesia at two in the morning and woke me up to tell me you Tweeted at me! She’s so excited about your work. She’s actually delivering babies in Indonesia.
IS: I can’t wait to meet her! After I tweeted I was browsing the mentions and the dialogue is really quite dynamic due to the fact that our demographic is such a generational wave.
MP: She called me and told me that. What is commitment to you?
IS: Making a choice to follow through or to honor. Engagement and guarantee—we all love guarantees in life. Making a commitment, whether it’s for something like climate change or to my family, or even to my fans—what that means to me is, whether on paper or verbally or spiritually, making a promise to guarantee that I will fulfill whatever agreement we have. Usually you just use these words: “I give you my, I make this commitment to you, I honor this idea between us.” For me, commitment boils down to honor. Because you make a commitment to protect our environment, you make a commitment to species preservation, you make a commitment to stop things like human trafficking. You make a commitment to stop smoking, to eat better. Typically, something that is positive. A positive notion of honor.
MP: What is it that makes you vulnerable?
IS: A great question, and it actually leads into the reason why we’re having this conversation right now. I feel vulnerable when I have no choice. It segues into every facet of life, whether it’s love, work, family, or conservation. Here it is: the whole reason that I started the Ian Somerhalder Foundation was the feeling of complete vulnerability during the BP oil spill.
The whole bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is destroyed. All the fauna. I knew what was happening below the surface, I know what was happening above the surface. I’m from that coastline, that’s where I grew up. It’s so dear to me. The nutrients I grew up with, feeding myself, my parents feeding me, literally came from those waters. There’s an interconnectedness, a connectivity, a connection, that is beyond. Like mother to child. I was watching that happen, and the policymakers weren’t doing jack shit. BP was running the show, which was unbelievable to me—that this was happening in front of all of our eyes. I felt the most awful feeling of vulnerability and helplessness. I remember where I was standing at the time when I said, “I never want to feel this powerless again.” I had just done a bunch of interviews and I didn’t trust what the media was saying. And I love the media, I live with the media. But I realized that something wasn’t right and I wanted to make it right. So it’s serendipitous you ask that, because ISF was born out of the feeling of utter vulnerability, and the desire, the need, the absolute deepest need, to overcome vulnerability with the awareness of your true power.
MP: What is ISF Focusing on? What are you most excited about?
IS: Habitat conservation, deforestation, plastics, fracking, coal, biodiversity, life reverence. ISF’s view of the environment is as an interconnected organism of which we are not separate but a part of. There is no differentiation between all living things: trees, river, animals, and humans. We are all one interdependent organism, so our focus may seem broad but each element interacts with the other. We have so many phenomenal eyes, skills, and hands on deck. It’s mind-blowingly exciting. ISF is in more countries than our counting can keep up with. We have hundreds of ISF kids armies collaborating and creating projects for global impact. I’m excited to learn, grow, and develop new solutions with this entire worldwide family called ISF. We are in the midst of creating a truly unique space and program. We’ve been working on our very own animal sanctuary.
Our Animal Sanctuary initiative has many layers. We are aiming to create a place where abandoned and bullied creatures come together with bullied youth. We feel that bullies have leadership abilities, albeit these abilities are totally skewed and misdirected. Through the art of personal development, we see an opportunity for these animals to inspire compassion, essentially creating a path to deep personal growth. This program will deploy ISF’s youth development program, U Factor. The program helps youth identify their passion, cultivate their talent, amplify their purpose, and connect the younger generation to diminishing species and biodiversity.
What we were just talking about previously—commitment and love—is surfacing here again. When you feel compassion for a tree or a dog or an elephant or a human being, all of a sudden you realize, man, I’m in a world filled with these beings and I am so close to all species. I have this amazing feeling when I’m sitting under a tree and realize, Wait a minute! I don’t want to destroy all this shit. I don’t need to make money destroying my environment. Why don’t I just love it and figure out a way to be more sustainable?
It’s the coolest thing—showing young, bright, and creative people that compassion and a compassionate life is the richest way to live. When you live that life, you create progress, productivity, and innovation. The sanctuary would be the epicenter for the foundation. We’ll have think tanks there. It’s going to be a really, really amazing place. As an educational home base, we will also focus on the development of sustainable agriculture initiative. It’s a huge project but one I am exceptionally passionate about.
A company I’m part of started called Go Green Mobile Power excites me. Go Green Mobile Power manufactures and provides mobile power and lighting equipment throughout the world. We can produce light and energy, and use 90% less energy than anyone else. Ninety percent! Providing clean, efficient solar/electric generators to industries such as oil companies, spanning from film and event production, construction, disaster relief, agriculture, forestry, and nonprofit organizations. We’re literally helping green oil companies, helping them find ways to pollute less while creating jobs. When I look at the breadth of positive impact these technologies can have, I truly get excited. Imagine a generator where ZERO fuel is used!
MP: Any way that we can help you with any of your programs, anything we can do—I am so excited. This is amazing.
IS: I’m going to take you up on that. There are so many ways to help, by either sharing your skills or expertise, joining our board of directors or advisory boards, and donating. Regardless of what or how you share with ISF, we recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that solutions lie not in commonality but in diversity. Welcoming a broad range of thinkers, creators, and doers is what makes this organization thrive.
Visit isfoundation.org and get involved. Within the ISF family we have volunteers as young as seven and as old as eighty-six, and these individuals have a craft of their own to share with our forward movement. It’s unreal how incredibly important passion and talent are. So many people are working in industries that don’t inspire them, to pay the bills and survive. In an ideal world, everyone would get paid to work within their passion and expand in their talents. If you have a skill, a passion, and a love for creating change, the best way to support us is to co-create with us.
MP: I love how you use entertainment as a tool for change. I notice you talk about celebrities for causes. That’s the biggest thing. You are a well-known artist, a well-known actor. You use that voice and you use entertainment to impact the planet.
IS: Two women have made this possible: my mother and my other mom, Brenda. Brenda was my manager in Louisiana for years. They both put their hearts and souls into my career. I am so happy that twenty-four years ago, my mom supported my desires to move into this realm. My mom spent every dollar she ever had on getting me modeling/acting classes when I was a kid. I’m really grateful for that foresight. She’s brilliant, kind, and so loving as a mother. I was told a million times in a day that she loved me. All the women in my life have really made my life what it is, and I feel so fortunate, so whole because of them.
MP: Let's talk about how to tackle these big issues facing the environment.
IS: Now we take all that information, we create the most anti-problematic, forward-moving, sustainable way to hit all of the problem areas and produce solutions. And you’re also empowering and employing governmental bodies, for-profits, nonprofits. Big, big, big collaboration all around. That’s a ginormous project, but a project my mind is eager to chomp at.
When you look at the sheer volume of paper usage in the U.S. alone, it’s truly frightening: paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, writing paper. Our consumption of trees is endless. We are working on a project that aims to make the United States “tree free” in its paper use. We have so many alternatives, like kenaf. It produces more crop, it’s hardier, and creates incredible paper products. Why are we deforesting for pulp and paper when we have a logical and efficient solution in plants like kenaf or bamboo? It doesn’t make sense to me at all. I’m inviting anyone else who thinks the same to reach out and get involved with our think tanks around creating tree free alternatives ASAP.
I was just in Thailand, and there’s more shit in the ocean than you can ever imagine. But if you go into the Pacific, we have these massive, plastic floating islands of trash. What do we do with it? There’s a certain amount of salt water and solar degradation to this plastic—what’s happening is, it’s keeping ocean temperatures warm because it’s absorbing all this heat. It’s getting into the DNA of plankton. Why are we not creating programs to extract this plastic?
There is a Japanese inventor who created technology that takes all this disgusting plastic and turns it into oil. Why are we not looking, thinking, and leveraging ideas like this more? We don’t have the time to dick around anymore—the time is now. We need to do as much as we can from every direction or we will surpass that two-degree climate increase. Actually, the science is showing we are already en route to surpassing two degrees.
David de Rothschild has the Plastic Genie, and he is committed to getting rid of all this plastic in the ocean. I know that if we put all our heads together with corporate money, government money, for-profits, and nonprofits, we can literally dismantle this massive island of plastic floating. Get rid of it. Come up with solutions for it. Let’s reuse whatever we have now, stop making more of it, take what we gather, and make—whether it’s car parts, computer cases, anything that we can use.
Then there’s the issue of water—hydrofracking. We’re destroying our water supplies like you can’t even imagine. The ISF’s Executive Director, Co-Secretary, and I just think-tanked about an hour outside of Toronto on a lake. I learned that Canadians are furious because Canada is exporting water to the United States. Their lakes are shrinking because they’re selling water to the U.S. We water our golf courses and every ice cream shop and every coffee shop in the country because the health inspector has said you have to have a steady stream of water cleaning your spoons that you’re frothing milk with and their ice cream scoopers. Are you kidding me? We’re wasting all this water while we’re sucking it from Canada and they’re watching their lakes shrink?
Water conservation goes hand in hand with education. Teaching people that if you literally run the water while you brush your teeth—we go through 602 million gallons a day of waste in the United States because people are used to hearing the water run while they brush their teeth.
If you look at all these different facets, where does it come from? Education. It comes from empowerment of young people. Because the bureaucracies that are in place now, they’re not going to change, they’re not going to stop. If you want change, it has to be generational. We have this unbelievable opportunity to make that change. Entertainment enables us to entice and educate mass audiences into a shift of consciousness. I am seeing a resurgence of entertainment that not only entertains, but inspires, evokes, and moves. I am seeing strength in the ability of artistic expression to change our future.
MP: Awareness isn’t enough—how can we activate this change? Can you speak on fracking?
IS: Fracking is our biggest enemy right now in the U.S. Actually, not just in the U.S., because all our water systems are interconnected. Whether you’re reading this in New York State or in Japan, fracking is screwing you over.
What is it that we need to do to explain to the public exactly is what is happening? We are destroying our precious water resources at this alarming rate, and again, why? When we have so many viable alternatives? “Oh,alternative power is too expensive, what about the jobs”—this is dinosaur thinking. Oil is dead, on its way to extinction. As a group of citizens we must speak up and act towards ending fracking. Let your government know you will not tolerate a technology that not only poisons your family but our creature family at large; let them know you want sustainable power and all the jobs that will come with that new growth.
To me, it’s not rocket science. There is resistance in old habits, old paradigms. I learned from my past, and I now employ those lessons going forward, looking to the future—don’t you think it’s about time our government did, too?
Photos by Renee Scott