TIME 100 Talks
October 8, 2020 2:45 PM EDT

Mark Ruffalo may be best known as a Hollywood star, but for over seven years, Ruffalo has been leading in a very different arena: the fight for clean energy for all in the U.S.

During a TIME100 Talks discussion, Ruffalo and Gloria Walton, the incoming CEO and president of The Solutions Project, the environmental activism organization Ruffalo co-founded, shared their insights on the ways that climate justice and racial justice are related—and why supporting on-the-ground work today is more necessary than ever.

The Solutions Project has distributed more than $5 million in grants to over 100 community projects around the country, giving support to frontline leaders working on policy changes and community development, focused on combating the ill effects of climate change and encouraging equitable solutions to clean energy needs.

Ruffalo was inspired to start The Solutions Project after getting involved in local anti-fracking activism near his upstate New York home. His journey through the environmental space has brought him to recognize entrenched inequalities in the movement, like the whiteness of environmentalism. “I hate to say it, but the environmental movement is mostly white, and the power is mostly with white people in leadership. And we’re seeing a shift in that,” he said. “The more we center on those who’ve been living with this and already developing the solutions, I think the quicker we’ll move along.” To that end, they are focusing on funding projects led by BIPOC women.

Walton, who is joining The Solutions Project following a decades-long career as a community organizer in the environmental space, highlighted the intersectional nature of the fights for climate and racial justice. “The power has not been in the communities on the front lines, the ones who are first to die and have the hardest time recovering,” she said, referencing poor, black, indigenous and immigrant communities who are often conservationist by necessity. Racial justice, she noted, “can’t be an add-on when it comes to climate, but it’s an essential element,” she said. “People are in the streets calling for transformation. I’m here today calling for transformation.” To her, climate justice is the “solution of the time” because it touches on so many of the core challenges Americans face today.

Recalling his early experiences in the anti-fracking fight, Ruffalo reflected out the power of female leadership specifically. “It has nothing to do with self-aggrandizement or ego. It’s all about taking care of the community,” he said of what women bring to the table. “When you look at Congress, it’s mostly old white dudes,” he said. “We need balance. Balance shows us what we normally don’t see.”

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

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