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Laura Dern on Getting Red States to Join Climate Change Fight: Calling MAGA ‘Dumb’ Won’t ‘Persuade People’

Laura Dern was honored at the 2023 Environmental Media Association Awards Gala presented by Toyota on Saturday night at Sunset Las Palmas Studios. The event was originally scheduled to take place in 2023 but was postponed due to the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Receiving the EMA Ongoing Commitment Award, Dern was recognized for activism accomplishments, including her role behind the film “Common Ground” — which was the night’s winner in the documentary category.

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“It means a great deal to be part of a community whose entire goal is about taking care of mother Earth and to learn from all the amazing, wise guides that are here tonight and in the environmental world,” Dern told Variety. “But at the end of the day, my favorite thing about the work is as much advancement as there is, the true answer is about leaving our soil and our oceans alone. They have the answers to save us, but we have to fight as consumers to make sure that happens.”

Laura Dern, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sheryl Crow at the 33rd Annual EMA Awards Gala held at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Laura Dern, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sheryl Crow at the 33rd Annual EMA Awards Gala held at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

During her acceptance speech, Dern discussed how those in red states are experiencing the impacts of climate change and then advised on how to better reach those people.

“These people, our fellow Americans, are actively resisting the work we’re asking them to do — work that will save their farms and rivers and towns. Why? I propose it’s because they’ve been told we’re crazy. The news they watch has convinced them that we love open borders, caravans of criminals, smash and grab, cancel culture and late-term abortions on demand,” she said. “They also think we’re elitist, and it’s not hard to see why. Go on Twitter some time. Notice how often the people you follow talk about how dumb MAGA is. That may feel satisfying in the moment for some, but it is not an effective way to persuade people.”

She furthered that polling has revealed that for conservative voters, congressional elections come down to a simple choice: “The Republican was a jerk. The Democrat was an elitist, and at least the jerk never made me feel dumb. This is the difference between saving America and scolding it.”

Dern then called on the power of community as a vital tool in addressing the climate crisis.

“Let’s consider talking less perhaps about climate change — which I think scares the hell out of people — and talk more about climate rescue, a vision of our future that offers a plan,” she said. “Let’s invite everyone into this space … Let’s see all of us not as heroes or villains, but as a community standing together fighting for what’s right because we are the consumer. We all can together change what we buy, what industries we support or squash, what we watch and what we feed our children. We have the power together to save it all. After all, it’s not rocket science. The soil and the ocean already have the answers to save us.”

The night was hosted by EMA executive co-chair Lance Bass, alongside Cheri Oteri and Melissa Peterman.

Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder at the 33rd Annual EMA Awards Gala held at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder at the 33rd Annual EMA Awards Gala held at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

“I’ve been here for a very long time, too long. But it’s what taught me to care … I really didn’t know anything about what was happening before I met Debbie [Levin] and came on board,” Bass told Variety. “Every year, I just learn more and more about what we can do to help save this place and make this place a better future for my kids, so I want my grandkids and my kids have a place to live when I’m gone.”

Other notable presenters included Jane Fonda, Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed and Sheryl Crow, who performed and presented the award to Dern.

Somerhalder and Reed, who also worked on “Common Ground” alongside Dern, spoke to Variety about the significance of the film, which centers how changing agricultural practices could help save the world.

“Hollywood had a chance to put this on a really global scale, which would have been the Academy Awards, and that didn’t happen … At the end of the day, what else do you want? This is the single most important story of our time, without a doubt. Now, people are really starting to wake up to that,” Somerhalder shared.

Lance Bass at the 33rd Annual EMA Awards Gala held at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Lance Bass at the 33rd Annual EMA Awards Gala held at Sunset Las Palmas Studios on January 27, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

The couple then reflected on their transition from the entertainment industry to focusing on their other pursuits, largely environmental activism. “I don’t think I could go back to telling someone else’s stories when I feel like there’s so many that we want to tell,” Reed said.

However, Reed said the “door isn’t closed” when it comes to returning to film business, adding that she would not be entirely opposed to making an appearance in the new “Twilight” television series: “That was such a special time in my life. The cast and I were always looking for any opportunity to run to each other for hugs, so if that’s what that entails, then sure.”

See the complete list of the night’s winners below:

Feature Film – “Avatar: The Way of Water”
Paul Junger Witt Comedy Award – “Unstable”: Unstable
Documentary Film – “Common Ground”
Documentary Series – “Downey’s Dream Cars”: Electric Stingray
Reality Television – “What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel”: Stop Ghosting Greens
Variety Television – “Monumental”: Ellie Goulding at Kew Gardens
Television Episodic Drama – “Extrapolations”: Whale Fall
Children’s Television – “Jane”: Apis Mellifera

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