The actor and environmentalist gave us a pep talk—and a challenge.
Adrian Grenier, Co-founder, Lonely Whale Foundation + actor/producer/director
Adrian Grenier may be best known for playing Hollywood heartthrob Vincent Chase for eight seasons on HBO's Entourage, but forget that character's hedonism and devil-may-care attitude. Grenier cares deeply—especially about our oceans. That's why he co-founded the Lonely Whale Foundation in 2015 with the aim of inspiring a deep connection between people and the sea.
Coastal Living sat down with Adrian to talk about the Lonely Whale Foundation, how he got involved in conservation, and what he thinks the future will look like.
Coastal Living: What motivated you to get involved in saving the environment?
Adrian Grenier: I like to think that I was raised right. My mother always taught me to show empathy and compassion for other living beings. Not only other humans, but other animals and the world outside of myself. One idea has always stuck with me: That you can’t be rich unless your neighbors are rich, and in the same way you can’t be healthy unless your neighbors are healthy. You can’t live on a healthy planet unless your neighbors are also living on a healthy planet.
CL: Are you optimistic about our ability to preserve the planet?
AG: I think we have no choice but to be optimistic. What’s the alternative? Pessimism means we give up and what, let ourselves die? Let ourselves just decay? I think pessimism is suicide. But I think we as humans feel much more comfortable when we know something, when we feel that we know and can make sense of something. When we have a sense of order. We’re very uncomfortable when things are ambiguous or subtle or nuanced. I think that’s one reason why climate change deniers have any voice at all, because so many people just want things to be black and white and simple, but the science is complex. Our ecosystem is very complex.
CL: What do you think it will take to ultimately save the environment?
AG: There’s no one absolute answer. A lot of times the answers are difficult to come to, because it requires systems that are global in nature. It requires human behavioral change, which is unto itself complex, so I think we need to let ourselves embrace the complexity and know that there isn’t one absolute answer. The solutions are often going to be intangible and spiritual. What do we imagine is going to happen? What do we think the future will be? If we have this stagnant view of it being one way or another, then certainly you can be optimistic or pessimistic if you think it’s going to be that. But I see the future as being unknown, and it’s up to us to create it, whether or not it’s a perfect replica of the nature that we think is perfect or whether it’s something that is new and different and evolving and changing.
CL: You’ve talked about radical collaboration—what does that mean to you?
AG: I think it’s about having a fearlessness to let go of a sense of ownership and ego around changing the world and really knowing that you alone aren’t going to save the world. We are required to work together to change the world the way that we want. We really, at every turn, have to deliberately decide to collaborate and work with others. Too many times people think that they alone have the answer and they dismiss everybody else, and it’s easier to just do it your way because collaboration can be hard. To change the world we really need to work together as individuals.
CL: What does that individual action look like?
AG: I think [radical collaboration] gives you permission to not have to do it all, to give yourself a break and say, “I’m going to do what I can do, and that’s it,” as opposed to feeling like you’re taking the weight of the world on your shoulders. When that happens, people get overwhelmed and stressed out, which leads to pessimism and apathy because if you’re trying to save the world alone, I would be pessimistic, too, because that’s probably not going to happen. But if you can do a little bit, and then you change your neighborhood or your friends or your family or just even yourself, you’ve done what you need to do.
CL: What kind of impact do you see the Lonely Whale Foundation’s #StopSucking campaign having?
AG: We’re starting with single-use plastic straws. It’s low-hanging fruit. It’s a gateway to other plastics, and it’s really inviting people to take a simple step to change their lives. We don’t want people to feel like they alone have to save the world—they just have to change their world. The people who do take the strawless ocean challenge end up asking, "Why just the straws? Why not plastic bags?" And then I say, "Why not?"
Americans use 500 million plastic straws every day. Many find their way to the ocean from landfills, adding to the plastic-waste crisis. Drink without a straw, and follow #stopsucking for inspiration and action; strawlessocean.org
Responses edited for clarity and conciseness