As warmer summers and ever-diminishing ice make the Arctic easier to access, governments and companies are scrambling for access to oil, gas and shipping rights. It’s been called the next great land rush.
Ezra Miller, the 20-year-old actor best known for his roles in We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, wants to help stop this developing crisis before it’s too late. Starting this week, Miller will be skiing to the North Pole on an icy protest trek, joined by a team from Greenpeace and millions of signatures from people opposed to Arctic development.
“The Arctic is an epitomizing example of the kind of backward thinking that’s happening,” Miller tells Rolling Stone. “Offshore drilling because there’s new, melted ocean – the idiocy of that particular idea is so baffling.” Read on for our full Q&A with the actor and activist.
Why did you decide to ski to the North Pole?
My friend Sol invited me. My first response was, “No, that sounds awful.” But then I thought about it and said, “Wait a second, that actually makes a great deal of sense to me.” Even though it’s a little horrifying, I think it’s worthwhile. And that brought me to hop on later than everyone else – the youngest and by far least experienced member of this crew. I’ve been just in frantic Rocky-for-nature style training, trying to get fit and ready to pull off the demanding physical element of this journey.
Why this specific action? What’s the impact you hope it will have?
Ninety-seven percent of scientists are in complete consensus that human-caused climate change is a reality that we must contend with. You would think all of that awareness would mean that world leaders and corporate interests would take reparative measures to lessen the extremity of this situation and try to ensure our survival, but the opposite is taking place. The Arctic is an epitomizing example of the kind of backward thinking that’s happening. It’s warming faster than any part of the planet, and its melting has massive implications for the rest of the world. But the response to this newly opened ocean is not, “Oh, this is terrible, we should be working to correct it” – instead, the oil companies and the nations that protect their interests are cordoning off sections of the Arctic and starting to think about divvying it up to drill for more oil.
Offshore drilling because there’s new, melted ocean – the idiocy of that particular idea is so baffling. It’s so symbolically off-base that a symbolic action in rebuttal seems called for. So this expedition – Team Aurora, which I have perhaps foolishly joined – is going to the North Pole on skis. We’ll be pulling 140-pound sleds on skis that keep slipping backward every time you take a step forward, so it’s like an endless icy treadmill. We’re hauling all this equipment to make a hole in the ice, and we’re lowering a petition – a capsule with three million names – to the sea bed and offering up the idea that this pristine area of the world should become a sanctuary, as a first step in stating our purpose as a society and a civilization to protect our earth, starting with the most crucial places, like the Arctic.
Your fellow trekkers include people from “front-line communities” of climate change, including the Seychelles and indigenous communities in northern Canada and Sweden. What do you see as your contribution?
Realistically, I think I’m just going to be trying to pull my weight and not slow up the trip as the silly actor on board. But what I’d like to contribute is to be a representative of the people who might think that they’ll be less affected – those of us living here in the United States, for example – who feel like the problems of the world will touch us last or won’t touch us at all.
There’s a great deal of apathy and a lot of cynicism and pessimism, and also just some happy blissful ignorance, that we subject ourselves to and conform to in the United States. Especially in my generation – there’s either the feeling that it can’t be that big a problem or oh, no, it is an incredibly serious problem but what are we really going to be able to do about it?
Those are valid concerns, but the reality of the situation is that it would be very possible for human society to change our course and secure our own survival. The problem is the very small number of incredibly rich people who would like to keep harvesting and burning fossil fuels until there are none left at all, it seems. It’s a cycle that we need to reverse if we’re going to stick around on this planet – which I, for one, think is a pretty fun planet. We’ve been having some good times on it, and it would be nice to continue.
I was here in New York during Hurricane Sandy. I watched as a city that is rather well-to-do and on its feet most of the time was really brought to its knees. I’ve been learning that the temperature changes and melting ice in the Arctic was partially responsible for making Sandy a superstorm.
While we understand how the Seychelles or northern Canada will be affected, it’s important for us all to remember that it will not only be a certain demographic or a certain people in a certain geographical location that will be affected by the changing climate. It will be all of us, and those who come after us.
You were involved in Occupy Wall Street for a while. How does this trip fit into what you learned from that experience?
I’ve been very interested in activism my whole life, since the anti-globalization movement from when I was very young. Having seen the ups and downs of traditional activism I’m very interested in new approaches – particularly ones that involve telling new stories that spark interest in new ways, that cause people to think about situations in a fresh context.
There’s a line that gets drawn where the interests of the public come into conflict with the interests of corporate power. We saw the fallout of a massive populist uprising that happened all around the world, with massive police repression, a lot of violence, a lot of people getting hurt, and not too much progress in terms of opening conversations between those who are centrally involved and those who would like to place their voice and their feelings into the conversation.
By watching the unbelievable sacrifice made by so many people who were occupying Wall Street – which was a really fun, happy, broad movement at first and became a very bitter and complex ordeal by the time it sort of fizzled out – you just get to wondering if that form of mass protest in the streets is the best way. It’s certainly not the only way. Mass movements will always be incredibly important, but I think the creativity of mass movements is going to become more and more paramount, especially as the physical response of police repression becomes more heightened and immediate and total. There’s a way in which we cannot win simply by marching. I don’t know if we can win by skiing, but it’s a new approach. I think mass movements using creativity may be an arena in which we can still win.
Do you see a connection between your activism and your work as an actor?
What it all comes down to is storytelling. When we make movies or music or any type of art, we’re telling stories in order to start conversations. This metaphor is used a lot, but as human beings, we’re constantly telling our own story, writing it about ourselves as we go. The goal is acknowledging where you stand from a historical perspective and acting accordingly instead of feeling like an insignificant part of an uncontrollable machine – you can actually affect the story. I value both of those forms of storytelling immensely, and they do seem interconnected.
What part of the trek are you nervous about?
Cold. Cold! Negative 45, the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same. It’s just freezing-your-balls-off cold. Waking up every morning with frost covering your face and your shoelaces and anything that wasn’t in your sleeping bag with you. It’ll be just a physical effort to survive in an uninhabitable region. I mean, I’ve done a little hiking, a little camping, but usually in the summertime! I haven’t done anything in this ballpark. This is way outside my realm of expertise. I’m in way over my head.
I’m nervous about little things, like going to the bathroom. I asked someone how that works and their answer was, “Fast. Just as fast as you possibly can.” And polar bears are pretty scary, apparently – they hunt you for days and then they charge you and swipe your head off. That’s what one of the guides said. He used the word “swipe.”
That doesn’t sound like much to worry about.
Right! In conclusion, nothing. I’m not worried about anything. It’s a little walk over a frozen ocean.