Q. You're passionate about nature. How did this start?
A. I was a city kid. I grew up on the 42nd story of a building in downtown Chicago. I always felt kind of like an alien in the world—until I was 7 and my dad sent me to a camp in the Colorado Rockies where he'd gone as a kid. We lived in covered wagons and had to groom horses, build fires, pitch tents. It was great. It was the first time I felt like things made sense. Before that, I'd been diagnosed as borderline autistic; I'd had a hard time. This was very healing for me—and empowering, because I was good at all that stuff. So it became like my church. It still is. Whenever I'm sad or confused, I reorient myself in some beautiful place in nature.
Q. This must fuel your environmental work.
A. It's just common sense. All creatures live off of (and on) the planet. We're so fortunate to have the rare confluence of circumstances that allowed us to exist…. And we're doing our damnedest to screw it up, just because of greed and ignorance. Mother Earth is like a mama who's spoiled her kids—and we're spoiled! We think it's going to just keep coming and coming. But there's a certain point when Mama's gonna say, "You're out on your own," or, "Get off me!" Q. What's an easy first step to help protect the earth?
A. Remove all the chemical cleaners under your kitchen sink. You don't want to eat off dishes that have been cleaned with stuff that causes cancer. Go get biodegradable, nontoxic cleaners for your floors, windows, dishes, laundry. All of it works great. You can make formulas at home with vinegar and lemon; it's easy to find recipes on the Internet.
Q. Your Telluride place runs on solar. What else?
A. It was an old stagecoach stop. I used materials I found on the property to rehab it. I have an outhouse and an outdoor shower and tub. It's also passive solar. Concrete floors help absorb the sun's heat; I embedded my horse's shoes and sea glass and things I'd found. I have a gray-water system. I salvaged beautiful maple planks from a condemned building and built what I call the Art Barn. It's my winterized dwelling now, with indoor plumbing—luxury! A creek runs through the living room to humidify the house, and it waters the plants as it goes through, too.
Q. You're also a proponent of biodiesel-fueled cars.
A. If we can go take pictures on Mars, we should definitely have cars that don't run on fossil fuels. That's a no-brainer. The more consumers start demanding that, it'll be there in, like, two seconds. And if you can't run off green power at this time, you can carbon-neutral yourself—your business, your cars, your plane flights. It's a great thing to do, and it's not expensive. You can offset greenhouse gas emissions for a year of driving for about $25 [which goes toward renewable energy projects]. Sites like www.native energy.com can help you assess your car's carbon output.
Q. Your independent film projects also seem directed toward inspiring positive change.
A. Right now, I'm producing and directing a documentary on human trafficking. I know that I really hadn't realized that there are more slaves now than at any other time in history. I was on a panel the other day talking about this problem. Part of me wanted to just run in and yell, "There's a little girl down the street who's been kidnapped from her parents and is being forced to have sex with disgusting old men 40 times a day!" You'd think people would run out of there screaming and do anything to help. But it's happening by the millions and everyone just says, "Yeah, it's horrible. What do we do about it?"
Q. Obviously, your activism goes beyond the environment.
A. Environmental concerns and humanitarian concerns are one and the same. Why do we care about the [planet] if we don't care about the creatures living on it? It's all just about—I hate this phrase, but being "conscious" and making healthy choices all the way around, and considerate ones as well. Greed kills, and not just people.