Ian Somerhalder on meeting Barack Obama and inciting change: 'Our need for energy destroys everything'

ian-somerhalder-season-4-vampire-diaries.jpgIf you had a chance to speak candidly with the President of the United States, what would you say?

"Vampire Diaries" star Ian Somerhalder was part of a group of activist actors invited to have breakfast with Barack Obama this summer, and he took advantage of the opportunity to talk to Obama about his passion for green energy and environmental conservation.

"It was a pretty surreal experience," Somerhalder tells Zap2it. "I'd just flown in to LA from South America the night before, and I was leaving at noon again to go to Asia. I was up at 6 a.m. to have breakfast with the leader of the free world, and it just blew my mind -- particularly because he was so humble. Essentially, he said, 'Listen,  I'm not pretending to know everything, so I'm asking you to hit me up, talk to me, tell me what you know, and I'll tell you what I know."

What followed was a candid conversation about the issues that are important to America's youth. "Ultimately he's smart enough to understand that our perspective as relatively young people with various influences is different from his. He said 'You guys live on the ground and I live in a bubble, and the stuff that gets to me is sometimes filtered through all the other agendas of people that I've appointed to protect me and feed me the information I need to know. It's just human nature that it gets altered and filtered.' He wants the unfiltered version. He sat in front of a bunch of young people in the 'Hollywood' community, he just said 'What is it that you're hearing? What is it that you know that I don't know?' It was a really cool conversation."

Any fan of Somerhalder's is well aware of his passion for the environment. In addition to starting the Ian Somerhalder Foundation for conservation, habitat, and green energy, Somerhalder was one of the founders of Go Green Mobile Power, a sustainable portable energy company. Naturally, when speaking with the President, it was important to turn the conversation toward energy.

"I talked to him about Go Green and the need for this generation, our generation, from 10 years old, to you and me, to people 10 years older than I am -- our generation needs to know that an investment is being made in our future and in our childrens' future," says Somerhalder. "I've started this green energy company and now we're selling all this green technology to oil companies and governments and all this stuff, and I said to him, it's about producing green energy in this country. You can't say 'I'm going to take as much as I can. I'm going to rape Nicaragua and China and all these places of their natural resources and their labor forces and leave them high and dry,' which is what our need for energy reduces us to. You can't pad the pockets of the rich that way."

ian-somerhalder-barack-obama.jpgEven as a vocal Obama supporter, Somerhalder bluntly acknowledges that legislative changes need to be made in the next four years -- but he firmly believes Obama will be the one to make those changes.

"I said, 'If you want to stay in office the people who are going to be voting for you are the people that know you're going to be investing in tomorrow, because you're only going to be here for another four years, so you've got to let us know that in that four years time, when it's up, that you will have invested all this money, and time, and resources, and energy, into energy.' Honestly, our need for energy is what destroys everything. Our waste and refuse, and our consumption of energy are the two biggest problems in the world. That's what's eating away at the world," he tells us.

Waste management is a particular hot button issue for Somerhalder. His plans to start a sustainable farm in his home state of Louisiana were thwarted this year when some shady land dealings left him unable to acquire the amount of property needed for the agriculture. Fortunately, he was able to get enough space to build his planned animal sanctuary -- unfortunately, that sanctuary will now be neighbored by a waste transfer station.

"It's the antithesis of what we stand for, but it just proves the point we've been trying to make -- if you don't want a waste transfer station in your back yard, don't use so much. Support green companies, buy green products, and be aware of what you're consuming and what you're throwing away, of the footprint that you're leaving," he says.

The animal sanctuary is moving forward, and it's got a fresh twist. The Ian Somerhalder Foundation is not only looking to create a safe haven for otherwise unwanted animals, but they also plan to make the sanctuary available as a place where young people with behavioral issues -- essentially, bullies -- can be nurtured into making positive changes. Through interacting with and caring for animals that have been abandoned or hurt, experts hope to inspire better attitudes and growth.

"We can't progress as a people if we have kids that are killing themselves because they're being bullied. These kids are literally being bullied to death, and we don't know who these kids are. This kid that just killed himself could've been the next Steve Jobs or Steven Hawking or Bill Gates. The girl or the boy we lost could've figured out the formula for cold fusion. We have no idea who these kids are, so if we're losing them because of something as silly as one kid being unhappy, whether it's a behavioral thing or a home environment that's created this mental space for this young person, we've got to make a change."

With bullying awareness becoming more prevalent, one might question the sanctuary's focus on the bully, rather than the bullied. For Somerhalder, the answer is simple -- it's about making a profound impact on one life to preventing further victimizing of many lives. "You get to take those kids and pair them up with animals who have also been abused, abandoned, who have behavioral issues of their own -- the bully and the bullied," he says.

In this, too, it comes down to energy, albeit, a very different kind.

"if you look at a lot of these kids who are labeled 'bully,' what you find is that because they have such strong personalities, they actually possess leadership qualities. It's just misguided. So if you can redirect and repurpose that energy, it's like, bam! Now you have this person who's been to the other side and who now understands that there is a phenomenal amount of leadership and compassion and understanding within them."

To learn more about Somerhalder's foundation, visit the official website.
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