ian somerhalder scream The Ian Somerhalder Foundation: 'Vampire Diaries' star seeks to inspire and empower 'Generation Extinction'The first time I spoke with “The Vampire Diaries” star Ian Somerhalder, he was still reeling from the shock of B.P.’s oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploding off the coast of his Louisiana home. At the time, he was somewhat reluctant to use his celebrity as a platform for a cause. “I never wanted to be one of those actors with a political agenda,” he told me.

]]>The Ian Somerhalder Foundation.
The Foundation, which has applied for official 501(c)(3) status from
the IRS, seeks to educate youth on a global level to put the power of
change in the hands of the young generation.

“There’s Generation X. There’s Generation Y. This generation is
Generation Extinction,” Somerhalder tells me, calling from his home in
Atlanta as he feeds his beloved cats. “This generation holds that in
their hands – the responsibility of it, and the power to change it. They
have the ability to make the changes for themselves and for their
environment. It’s pretty badass, if you think about how much they can
do.”

The IS Foundation’s main focus, as Somerhalder explains, is habitat –
meaning preserving and restoring the flora and fauna essential to the
planet’s biodiversity.

“We’re getting involved with what Conservation International is doing,”
says Somerhalder. “They were really the inspiration of this whole thing.
Without biodiversity everything falls apart, and we’re destroying it.
By preserving it and helping to recreate it, and helping stop
deforestation and start reforestation, this is what I mean by habitat.”

Conservation International focuses not only on protecting forests, but
on developing ecotourism to what Somerhalder calls “hotspots” like
rainforests and the Galapagos Islands. They’re encouraging tourists to
travel responsibly, help protect the
wildlife they are visiting and contribute to the communities and
ecosystems instead of detracting from them.

“It’s a collaborative spirit. This is about educating and empowering
people globally, especially the youth, to start acting now and
understand that their environment and they have to start learning how to
protect it. Education is going to be our greatest tool,” Somerhalder
says. “Kids are fed up with the way the environment is being treated by
people in power. We just have to give them the education and the tools
to do something about it, and they will.”

He plans to work in collaboration with both Conservation International
and Pew Charitable Trusts to encourage kids. “We’re going to be able
able to put together contests and really cool educational trips for
schools, whether it’s underprivileged or even over-privileged kids,
rural or urban areas,” he explains. “I’m so stoked about this.”

Somerhalder is a veritable font of information when it comes to his
cause. It’s clear that his passion for the environment isn’t about
self-promotion. “With the loss of all the rainforest habitat, all the
deforestation, we lose about one essential drug per year. Did you know
that there’s a pit viper in Brazil whose venom cures Type 2 Diabetes?”
he says excitedly. “It can be extracted in the most insanely humane way,
and it literally cures the disease. You don’t even have to kill the pit
viper. You don’t even have to hurt it. But its habitat is being
destroyed, and we’re going to lose that resource. The rain forest is
destroyed at 80,000 acres per day. It’s unbelievably difficult to stop
that.”

Creating ecotourism builds the financial stability of poverty-stricken
areas around these wildlife hotspots, which decreases their need for
deforestation to stimulate the economy.

Somerhalder has always been passionate about domestic animals and recently hosted a benefit dinner
for his hometown humane society. The Foundation, however, gives
Somerhalder an even broader reach for his cause. It will help to fund
the continued research of species-specific oral sterilization drugs for
domestic animals which will decrease the need for expensive and painful
spay and neuter surgeries.

“We can not adopt our way out of the problem,” says Somerhalder, whose
cats are rescues. “Why can’t we create more stringent spay and neuter
laws and why can’t we finish research on species-specific oral
sterilization drugs? If they can make them, we can give them to
communities all over the world and mobilize groups of people that will
go out and basically administer these drugs to stray animals all over
the world, whether it’s in Rio de Janeiro  or Romania or Dayton, Ohio,
and distribute these drugs. It’s not going to hurt the animals, but
it’ll be affordable prevention for them to procreate. Maybe in 10 to 20
years we won’t have to be so conservative.”

He makes an interesting point about the tax money being funneled into
the humane societies, whose practices are often cruel because that money
still isn’t enough to provide for good conditions for the animals or
for humane euthanization. “What I want to do is go to government bodies
and say listen, City of New
York, City of Los Angeles, City of Chicago, podunk Louisiana –
whatever. You spend billions and billions of dollars a year on humane
societies.
It’s terrible,” Somerhalder explains.

“Could you imagine all of that money that goes to humane societies –
that goes to sadness and pain – could you imagine all that money going
to education? Going to food for hungry people? There’s so many other
places that money could be spent rather than the animal shelters and the
cruelty that goes on within them. If you talk to people who run animal
shelters, they would give their right arm to have to find another job.”

Somerhalder will also be contributing to corporations – both profit and
nonprofit – to fund applications and sources for green energy, like Go Green Mobile Power and the National Resource Defense Council.
In the end, though, his focus remains on motivating and enabling his
young fans to find their own place in the movement for change.

“It’s the principle that this whole foundation is based on. It’s going
to be a lot of work, but at the end of the day, it’s so worth it. It’s
going to be linking kids globally. There are things that we’re working
on where we’ll be able to literally broadcast lessons via satellite from
a school in Toronto, Canada or Atlanta, Georgia to a shoddy school in
East Africa. The possibilities are endless,” he says.

The Foundation is, of course, in its earliest stages, and in order to
get it running, Somerhalder has a suggestion for those of you looking to
send him a gift for his Dec. 8 birthday. “I have the sweetest fans in
the world, and they’re so loyal, they love to send me gifts,” he says.
“People are always asking me what I want for my birthday, but really,
the best thing people can do is just help me get this thing off the
ground.”

As Somerhalder is turning 32 this year – “I don’t know how the hell that
happened,” he laughs – a donation of $32 goes a long way. (It’s also
less costly than a bottle of wine and shipping to the Warner Bros lot,
for the record.)

“I don’t want to be the guy who sets up fantasy dinners and asks a bunch
of rich people for money,” says Somerhalder. “I just don’t know that
world, I don’t relate to it, and I don’t want to. It’s so much easier
for a million people to donate a little tiny bit, then to get 100 people
to donate a lot. What’s really exciting for me in the inspiration
realm, is to see kids, people who are going through a rough time or
people who have found a tough spot they can’t get out of – to see them
become inspired again. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

So how can you help? Visit ISFoundation.com
to find out how you can donate to the birthday campaign. If you’re not
in the position to donate or if you’re looking for other ways to help,
follow @IS_Foundation and @iansomerhalder
on Twitter and spread the word by telling your friends, blogging, and
Facebooking about the cause. Join the revolution for a greener, brighter
future!