Jane Fonda on Virtual Fire Drill Fridays and Trump’s ‘Catastrophic’ Move to Roll Back Pollution Rules

“When there’s bad air, air pollution makes you so much more vulnerable to something like COVID-19,” activist tells TheWrap ahead of Fire Drill Friday virtual rally on April 3

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Jane Fonda said in an interview with TheWrap that if President Trump continues to use the coronavirus as an excuse to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations, the results will be “catastrophic.”

It’s one of the reasons Fonda is not stopping her climate change-focused Fire Drill Fridays rallies, which are going virtual starting this April 3, despite her being stuck at home during the pandemic.

Last week the EPA and the Transportation Department rolled back key Obama-era gas mileage and emissions standards, something Fonda says is highly irresponsible during a public health crisis.

“It’s catastrophic! They should be put in jail for what they’re doing,” Fonda told TheWrap while isolated in her home. “It’s not unrelated. When there’s bad air, air pollution makes you so much more vulnerable to something like COVID-19. Living in a polluted area caused by fossil fuel emissions is a pre-condition. That’s for sure. It’s disgusting what they’re trying to do, but it’s what they always try to do.”

Fonda said this pattern of removing public resources and safety nets in a time of crisis is true following any natural disaster, and it’s important to put pressure on politicians now.

“All the public organizations, the institutions, the financial entities that exist in cities to help average people are done away with after these crises, and that’s what we have to fight against right now,” Fonda said. “That’s why Fire Drill Fridays is focusing on getting people to write their elected officials. You can go to FireDrillFriday.com and hit Take Action, and it will tell you what to do. Because they have to be forced to not do away with things that help the general public.”

The spread of COVID-19 and the deterioration of the environment are not unrelated, Fonda explains. As polar ice caps melt, gases and foreign diseases are released into the atmosphere. And as forests shrink, animals carrying viruses that otherwise wouldn’t come into contact with humans end up spreading illnesses.

“There’s a big cross over between doing what’s right for the environment and doing what’s right for a health pandemic like we’re facing right now,” Fonda said. “You need a system of preparedness, a system of making sure that whatever comes this way, we’re prepared for it, we have all the equipment we need, the doctors and nurses have the protective gear they need and we have research into how to handle future pandemics, because we know that they’re coming.”

But rather than merely draw the connections between the coronavirus and climate change, Fonda says her Fire Drill Fridays will be geared toward what can actually be done about it.

This week’s virtual rally is focused on the work of youth climate activists and what the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 will look like for activists in the absence of being able to congregate in public. Fonda and Greenpeace will be partnering with California Youth Vs. Big Oil and the Sunrise Movement for the rally. And Fonda has also enlisted famous friends like Chelsea Handler, Piper Perabo, Amber Valetta, Alyssa Milano, Norman Lear and Marisa Tomei to get the word out.

Unlike last week’s one-on-one conversation between Fonda and senator Ed Markey, Friday’s rally is meant to be a “highly produced,” organized event. Last week’s conversations helped drum up support for how the average person can put pressure on their elected officials, and though they didn’t get everything they wanted, Fonda says the people who participated made a noticeable difference on the final stimulus bill.

“If it had gone through the way it originally was written by [Sen. Mitch] McConnell and the Trump administration, it would’ve been the end of democracy,” she said. “It was a huge improvement what Democrats and some Republicans forced into the previous bailout packages. But it’s not nearly enough, and it has to take into much more consideration the climate crisis. We don’t have the time or the resources to address both crises, both pandemics at the same time.”

Fonda says over 17,000 people have registered to see Fire Drill Fridays come to their city, and the rallies were in the process of touring across California before the coronavirus hit.

“When we first started last October in Washington D.C., we didn’t know if this was going to take off and mean anything, but it didn’t take long to realize that this was meeting a need across the country,” Fonda said. “We’re not going to just let all this energy and this passion and this desire for action dissipate. We’re going to stay in touch with all these people and maybe grow their numbers.”

A list of activists and speakers attending can be found below, and you can register for the rally via Zoom here. This week’s Fire Drill Friday rally starts on Friday, April 3 at 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST, and Fonda will continue to conduct one-on-one “Fireside Fire Drills” every Friday throughout the month, which began last week with Fonda’s conversation with Sen. Ed Markey. You can also visit FireDrillFridays.com to learn more.

Fire Drill Friday Attendees:

  • Annie Leonard,  Greenpeace USA Executive Director
  • Charlie Jiang, Greenpeace USA Climate Campaigner
  • Cesar Aguirre, Central California Environmental Justice Network
  • Bii Gallardo, International Indigenous Youth Council SoCal Chapter
  • Carmen Bouquin, California Youth Vs. Big Oil and the Sunrise Movement