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Daryl Hannah’s off-the-grid life

 Posted by on September 16, 2009
Sep 162009


By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

Daryl Hannah brings a personal sweetness and actor’s intensity to the stage of environmentalism, a term she doesn’t like.

Daryl_HannahLike many environmental terms — green, eco, sustainability, organic – “companies have co-opted and glommed onto these words,” she told an audience in Fort Worth this week. Luckily, she says the public is learning to be more informed.

“People are making ethical choices that help all living things to thrive, not to just sustain,” said the casually dressed actress who has starred in many memorable films such as Splash (with Tom Hanks), Steel Magnolias (with Sally Fields), Roxanne (with Steve Martin) and two Kill Bill movies directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Hannah, who was the headliner for a green event benefiting the Texas Trees Foundation and the North Texas Clean Air Coalition, said that although she has lived off the grid for 20 years, she didn’t speak about it until 9-11.

“It was after 9-11 that I realized we didn’t need to go to war for oil,” she said. “There are other options available and we have the infrastructure to do it now.”

Hannah has two cars – a 1984 El Camino that is powered by vegetable oil from local restaurants and the other, her “Kill Bill Trans-Am” that has been converted to running on alcohol. “I don’t remember the last time I went to a gas station, except to use the restroom,” she said.

Hannah_ElCamino“Rudolf Diesel built the original diesel to run on vegetable oil,” she pointed out. “The idea was that farmers could fuel the vehicle with their produce.”

Noting that the Chevy Volt is expected to debut in 12 months, she said the public will have to recognize that their energy may still be coming from dirty, fossil fuels.

“Electric cars are important,” she says, “as long as they are not plugging into the grid. If they are you might as well be burning coal in your home.”

By living off the grid, Hannah has no utility bills. Her home runs on passive and active solar-power and was built using non-toxic and recycled materials. She uses no petroleum products and uses spring water. The Rocky Mountain home, built in the 1800s and snuggled into an insulating  mountain, is no mansion, she says.

“It doesn’t have 19 bathrooms.”

On the outward facing side of the house, solar panels collect and retain energy to power the home, and while a biodiesel generator is available for backup power, Hannah says she hasn’t had to use it. The home is designed so that all the water from the sink, dishwasher and shower – the grey water – is used to water the garden.

A vegetarian since she was 11, Hannah says she believes that not eating meat is the most effective thing a person can do for the environment.

“The meat industry puts out more carbon emissions than the transportation industry,” she says. “Even giving up meat for a weekend, helps.” In her case, she became a vegetarian, because, “ I couldn’t disassociate from the creature on my plate.”

Hannah’s love for all living things is the inspiration for her video blog, DHLovelife.com.

“I was going to do a TV show with the Discovery Channel, but I was suspicious of some of their sponsors.” Instead, she chose to produce videos on her own and not worry about censorship. “I want to focus on solution to the crises that we face,” she says. She writes and shoots most of the vlog herself, with the exception of some of the interviews she conducts with oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and environmental scientist Dr. David Suzuki.

Hannah sees a three-way solution to global warming: Conserve, renew and offset.

Conserving can be accomplished by buying locally grown food, giving up meat, using a fully loaded washer, air drying clothes, installing CFLs and unplugging small appliances.

By renewing, Hannah suggests buying the new, more energy-efficient large appliances such as refrigerators; insulating hot water heaters; and using public transportation. As for offsetting, she suggests checking out the many websites that can help you calculate how much carbon you are responsible for and then offset it buy purchasing wind power or planting a tree.

Of course, she adds, “It is less important to offset and more important to ask the question: Do I need so much stuff? We need re-evaluate our lifestyles…for our own health and our kids’ future. And we’ll save money in the long run. ” And, she adds, “get the poisons out of your house.” Check to see if the deodorant, makeup, cleaning products you are using are non-toxic and biodegradeable.

Hannah points out that despite what some may think, something that is carbon neutral isn’t all good. For instance, she points out, a so-called carbon-neutral nuclear plant contains radioactive waste. And while natural gas burns clean, it is still a fossil fuel.
The basic thing, she says, is that “we need clean air, clean water and unpoisoned soil to grow our food. It’s common sense. And it’s not a partisan thing.”

Education is key, she says. As her mentor, aquanaut Sylvia Earle, says, “You can’t care, if you don’t know…Once you know, you don’t go back.”

Hannah recommended several authors to the crowd including William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which talks about making ethical choices that will help all living things to thrive, including all children in all species, for all time. There’s also The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Food should be grown in the ground or on a tree, says Hannah. If it’s processed or packaged, it’s not really food.

Lending her celebrity name to a good cause had gotten Hannah arrested twice. Once, she was arrested in South Central Los Angeles for supporting an urban garden that was being threatened by a developer (the garden was subsequently razed). In June, she protested mountaintop removal mining alongwith NASA climate scientist James Hansen.

“Civil disobedience is a useful tool when something’s not right. It brings awareness and supports a struggle. A recognizeable name can help, “ she admits. “When I got arrested in West Virginia, the police were very respectful…they all wanted their picture taken with me,” she said with a grin.

Although making movies are still part of Hannah’s life, she says, “more of my time and energy is being spent on educating ourselves. There are solutions.” She notes that people around the world look to the American Dream subscribing to the concept that “big is better.”

“ I think we can redefine the American Dream as beautiful, well-made, but keep it simple and essential without excess.”

Hannah’s Camino is a good example. It’s hardly the luxury vehicle of a movie star. But it gets 40 miles to the gallon and its fuel has virtually no toxicity (about the same as table salt). She demonstrates this in one of her DHLoveslife videos by actually pouring a glass of grease fuel and taking a drink.

Hannah is an actor who has become immersed in her environmental role and doesn’t just talk the talk. But drinking grease fuel? “I really did that,” she said. “It wasn’t that bad.”

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