Badass Women in Green Profile: Leilani Münter on Race Car Driving, Veganism, and the Power of Using your Platform for Climate Action

by Devin Murphy

Badass Women in Green Profile: Leilani Münter on Race Car Driving, Veganism, and the Power of Using your Platform for Climate Action

This blog is a part of a four-part series highlighting our phenomenal Badass Women in Green recipients who will be honored at our ceremony on November 13 at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, CA. You can purchase your tickets here.

Leilani Münter is a badass woman in green. A race car driver, she’s dedicated the latter part of her career to centering on the urgency of the climate crisis and engaging her audiences in the fight. We caught up with Leilani and asked her a few questions before her appearance at our Badass Women in Green Awards on November 13th.

CLCV: What brought you into the fight for environmental justice/climate action?

Leilani: I was an activist from the time I was a kid; I remember getting into a fight in the school playground with a boy who was smashing ant hills. This was probably 2nd grade. So I was always an animal rights person. Spending time with animals was a part of my life in Minnesota, and it made me appreciate what we are killing. I majored in biology specializing in ecology, behavior and evolution at UC San Diego. After I graduated I started racing, but I wasn’t actively trying to change folks through racing. At the time, being one of the only female drivers in a male-dominated sport, I was just trying to be accepted.

In 2006, Inconvenient Truth came out and it made me realize I needed to do something bigger. We need to figure out how to talk about this. I had the platform, so I decided to use it. In 2007, I made the commitment to adopt and protect an acre of rain forest for every race I ran, and started to put environmental messages on my car. I actively used my platform to talk to my audience. In 2008 I began lobbying Congress for the Climate Security Act, which was the first time the Senate would vote on a bill to combat climate change. I received a lot of negative reaction for my activism. The marketing people in racing said I was alienating myself from fans and sponsors, and pushed to take down the environmental messages from my website. They said that I needed to choose my life as an activist or a race car driver. I chose to be both. I chose to utilize my voice as a driver to talk about these issues.

I began an Earth News section on my website. I was getting a lot of traffic to the site from NASCAR folks. There was one fan, I remember in particular, who defended me and asked folks to watch Inconvenient Truth. The conversation began to bring new topics to the NASCAR forums, including people posting graphs on levels of carbon in the atmosphere. It was then I realized I can be a bridge between the environmentalists and the race fans. In 2013, I purchased a Tesla and began driving to all my races in my electric car and inviting the race fans to meet me at the Tesla Superchargers to learn more about electric cars. I used my race car to promote renewable energy like wind and solar power, veganism, and animal rights issues including two documentaries -- The Cove and Blackfish. Last year we gave away 30,000 vegan cheese burgers to race fans at five of my races.

CLCV: What environmental issue is most compelling to you and why?

Leilani: It’s hard to choose just one. I serve on three different boards: Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), Empower by Light, and EarthX. Empowered by Light is a solar non-profit that raises funds and donates solar and battery storage. We have powered 11 fire stations in Puerto Rico that lost power after Hurricane Maria. EarthX is one of the largest Earth Day events in the country, and they also have a film festival that highlights important environmental issues.

The Oceanic Preservation Society are the Academy Award winning film makers behind The Cove and Racing Extinction. Documentary film is a powerful tool. If we don’t communicate effectively and widely, we can’t make strides on this issue, so it’s important to create something that is compelling and that gets folks to think and change. That’s why I retired from racing earlier this year to focus on documentary filmmaking with the Oceanic Preservation Society.

CLCV: What is your proudest accomplishment in your fight for climate justice?

Leilani: I’m most proud of being a part of the documentary film Racing Extinction, which aired on the Discovery Channel. We had 36 million viewers watch the television premiere, which is a really good number for an environmental documentary. Still, I wish more people would see it. Discovery also built lesson plans for teachers (of all grade levels) to utilize our film to educate students. I just held a Q&A at a screening at NC State University last week. Racing Extinction continues to educate and spread awareness to this day.

CLCV: What do you think is most important for our movement’s leaders to focus on?

Leilani: Well, the first is definitely the power of the vote. We need leaders in office to listen to science. Electing people into office who will support environmental and climate justice policies are critical. Secondly, to have individual impact, we have to encourage folks to drive electric cars, go solar in their homes, go vegan, and make good personal choices. Lead by example and you will plant a seed for those around you to follow suit and for the future.

CLCV: What role do all women need to play in this effort?

Leilani: Women will play a big leadership role in changing the way we treat our planet, we need to nurture our planet, not dominate it. Greta Thunberg, for example, went from sitting outside protesting by herself to building this global movement for climate action. Men had their chance to run the world and it hasn’t gone well. It’s time for women to lead.

CLCV: What do you think is most significant about the work CLCV does?

Leilani: CLCV’s focus on electing environmental champions is critical. I also love its focus on keeping easy data where people can look up their politicians’ ratings on environmental legislation and get the facts. CLCV’s website is a simple place where people can go to understand how their politician is voting on environmental issues. While people may not want to be emerged in politics all the time, CLCV makes it easy for them to engage, and that’s important.

You can see and hear more from Leilani at our Badass Women in Green Awards on November 13 at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. Read here for more details.

Posted on October 28, 2019 in Groundswell Blog.

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