Arnie: the Unlikely Eco Warrior Saving our Oceans

8 mins

The Hollywood actor and ex-Governor of California is back – making waves about the state of the world’s oceans. By Jason Adams and Karen Pasquali Jones

He’s known as much for his 80s action movies as he is for his latter-day politics. But now it seems former body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger – who celebrated his 70th birthday on July 30 – is making a splash as an unlikely eco warrior getting ready to rescue our seas too.

The Hollywood actor cum ex-Governor of California is busy making waves about his latest passion – saving the oceans. And he’s put his muscles where his mouth is by narrating, and throwing his considerable weight (113kg to be precise, but we’re not talking about that, we mean in a political sense) behind an environmental documentary, Wonders of the Sea 3D.

Directed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of the legendary French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, the film explores the very real threats that put our oceans at risk. Arnie saw some early footage and decided he had to be involved, taking the film to Cannes to show and sell around the world.

Save the oceans

‘I’m an environmental crusader,’ Arnie says. ‘When I first saw the footage of this film, I was blown away and I immediately wanted to be involved.

‘Jacques Cousteau always said that you protect with your love. And we want people to fall in love with the footage, fall in love with the idea of the ocean – it gives us half of the food, half of the oxygen. Let’s protect it.’

Jacques Cousteau always said that you protect with your love. And we want people to fall in love with the footage, fall in love with the idea of the ocean – it gives us half of the food, half of the oxygen. Let’s protect it.

Backed by Green Cross, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which ‘supports innovative projects that protect wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened eco systems and communities’, as well as Jean-Michel’s Ocean Futures Society, with Arnie as producer as well as narrator, the documentary was filmed over three years from Fiji to the Bahamas. It uses the latest in filming technology to bring the underwater world literally to the audience, and shows how the world’s oceans are in crisis.

plastic in the ocean

Plastic – which is often only used once – threatens marine life. Image: Shutterstock

The documentary, shot by Cousteau and his children Celine and Fabien, shows from being choked with plastic, over-fished and melting ice caps, which threaten marine life thanks to climate change, we all need to take action to protect our oceans before it’s too late. After all, it provides half of all the oxygen on earth and absorbs 30 per cent of all man-made carbon dioxide.

‘I like to get involved,’ Arnie says. ‘This is what Jean Michel has done. He loves the ocean, he has learned this from his father Jacques Cousteau, to protect the ocean. For the last three years he has been involved in shooting this footage in 3D. I mean imagine the passion it takes to do that. So, this is what we want people to do, just to get up and say: ‘I’ll do my own thing, I’m going to get involved…It’s people power.’

Arnie took the film to Cannes, the place where he first started out with bodybuilding movie Pumping Iron 40 years ago. The irony isn’t lost on him. ‘In Hollywood, they always told me: “You’ll never become a leading man.” When I wanted to get into movies they said: “Forget it.” I didn’t listen.”

The rest, as we know, is movie-making history. From Conan the Barbarian to Terminator, Arnie won everyone over – remember the cute comedy Twins? – and now thinks that films are the way to inspire and educated people about the environment.

‘A film like the ‘Wonders of the Sea’ is very entertaining. My kids loved watching it when I showed it to them,’ he says. Everyone loves it. Everyone walks out loving it. And so we have gotten an interesting reaction. At Cannes we have people from Australia to China to Italy seeing it…and they all came and said: “We loved it – we’ve got to buy this movie.” You’ve got to have a message that really translates and everyone can enjoy.’

And, not surprising for a man who crossed over into local politics as Governor of California from 2003 – 2011, he is demanding that people take action now and don’t wait for government intervention.

‘I’m very passionate about this crusade and I want people to understand that they all have the power to do something about it and protect what we have and don’t wait for government to solve problems,’ he says.

Arnie at the Paris COP21

Arnie at the Paris COP21, United nations conference on climate change. Image: Shutterstock

He’s quick to single out President Donald Trump – who he argued with during a stint on The Celebrity Apprentice, and who recently withdrew from the Paris climate change accord that was dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, due to start in 2020. ‘When he does something wrong environmentally I will be the first one to say it,’ Arnie says. ‘I will always let my voice be heard because I will not stop when I believe in something.’

Arnie: The Jolly Green Giant

It’s not the first time Arnie’s flexed his muscles over the environment. He signed the Global Warming Solutions Act as Governor in 2006, creating America’s first cap on greenhouse gas emissions. He signed another global warming bill ensuring that corporations only have contracts with suppliers who meet the state’s gas emissions standard. Together the bills aim to cut California’s emissions by 25 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. He has signed an executive order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and has also adapted his house to reduce his own carbon footprint.

In 2011 he founded the R20 Regions of Climate Action to create a sustainable low carbon economy. Not bad for a man who was known for his brawn, and Austrian accent, rather than his brain.

Last year he wrote a piece entitled ‘I don’t give a **** if we agree about climate change,’ on his Facebook page, which also discussed moving away from fossil fuels and adopting green energy.

‘Do you believe it is acceptable that 7 million people die every year from pollution?’ he wrote. ‘That’s more than murders, suicides, and car accidents – combined,’ he wrote. Every day, 19,000 people die from pollution from fossil fuels. Do you accept those deaths? Do you accept that children all over the world have to grow up breathing with inhalers?’

Then he posed this question:

‘There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast. I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask. I’m guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes? This is the choice the world is making right now.’

That’s why he’s waded in, taking on anyone who stands against him on the environment, and ultimately saying it’s a ‘people issue’ not a party political one.

‘If you can prove to me that we have Democratic air and Republican air and we all breathe different air, it’s one thing, but I think we all breathe the same air. I think we all drink the same water and we all use the same world,’ he says. How we deal with education, how we deal with environment or we deal with keeping the budget straight or on foreign policy issues – these are people’s issues, it should not be a fight amongst parties.’

Arnie knows that showing people how their lives are affected by the bigger environmental issues is paramount. He always uses the example of an advertising campaign in California that showed little children sucking air through inhalers because their respiratory systems had been damaged by polluted air. It changed opinion and poll numbers.

‘People saw this commercial, what we are doing to our kids, and thought “we have to protect our environment,”’ he said. ‘My job is to get the message out there.’

How we can save our oceans

Don’t use plastic. More than eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown into the oceans each year. As well as threatening marine life, our health is also affected as the toxic chemicals in plastic which accumulate in the seafood and fish we eat. Experts warn by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the sea. Choose paper or glass containers and avoid plastic bags and packaging.

Arnie saving the ocean plastic on seabed

Discarded plastic on the seabed. Image: Shutterstock

Reuse and recycle. Most of your rubbish will end up in the oceans – around six million tonnes a year. It kills or maims marine species all over the globe. Stop throwing things away – find a way to recycle, repair or re-use. Share, pass on and give away things you no longer need, such as clothes, and think about what you buy – do you really need another phone, pair of shoes and mascara?

Stop eating fish. Experts say that 32 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are now unsustainable and 90 per cent of large predatory fish such as cod, tuna and sharks have been depleted. Eat less or none at all. If you do eat it choose sustainably caught and farmed varieties – check out the lists from the WWF, Seafood Watch and Marine Stewardship Council.

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