As part of its celebration of Earth Day, NBC's "Today" show invited on actor/environmentalist Ed Norton to promote his National Geographic special on PBS and the "Fight Club" star actually decried America's environmental progress compared to China as he charged the U.S. had to "catch up," to them in the area of banning plastic bags.
ED NORTON: Yeah and when, and when China is ahead of us in banning these things [plastic bags], when other countries around the world are banning these things that we, we need to get in line with that and catch up.
The following is the full segment as it occurred on the April 22, "Today"
MATT LAUER: Two-time Oscar nominee Edward Norton packed a punch with his performance in the film "Fight Club," now he's fighting for a cause, planet Earth. He's narrating National Geographic's series "Strange Days On Planet Earth," which is back for its second installment premiering this week. Edward Norton, good morning, nice to see you.
EDWARD NORTON: Good to see you again.
LAUER: Before we talk about this, this show let me talk about how you come about this because your dad was very active in environmental causes. Is this, were these discussions you guys had on a daily basis or have on a daily basis or do you kind of pick this up by osmosis?
NORTON: Very much, yeah, I sometimes say it was the family business.
NORTON: You know what I mean? I mean some people are, you know, some people are grocers. Our family was environmental activists. My dad was the head of public policy at the Wilderness Society for many years and then founded the Grand Canyon Trust and founded the Nature Conservancy's China program and ran that program in China for many years. And so it's, I, I grew up so immersed in it that, in a lot of ways, I was just lucky. A lot of what people have been coming to realize, I think on a broader level, in the last five to 10 years my dad--
LAUER: Was part of your upbringing.
NORTON: --he, he was, he was way ahead of the curve.
LAUER: So it's a natural fit with you and this National Geographic series because basically each episode takes a look at a problem facing planet Earth but it does it in a way that is, it's, it's I think it's extremely compelling for the viewers. It presents it almost as a mystery that will be solved throughout the episode.
NORTON: Yeah the guy, the guys who make this series just did a terrific job. It was one of the first things I had seen that I felt made a real narrative out of these issues in the sense, in the same way, like if you love CSI, you'll, you'll like this series. It's, it's very much an investigation experience. It's, it's about taking mysteries, things that are actually happening in the world that seem impossibly disconnected like, that seem like they could never be connected and shows, in fact, how these scientists are tracking down the, the connections between these things that are happening. You know the way that, the way that fishing is affecting climate warming or disappearance of animals in jungles. It's, it's, it's really remarkable storytelling.
LAUER: It, it's, it's head turning material. Are you noticing, Edward, that there's a change in attitude across this country? And maybe I should ask you in the Hollywood community as well. That, that these green issues used to be seen as kind of eating your veggies. You know it was good for you. And now people are, are excited about it. And excited about the fact that in small ways they can make a difference.
NORTON: Absolutely. Yeah I think, I think it's gone way beyond the entertainment community. I don't think the entertainment community is even leading the curve any more. I think, I think this is something that, that is becoming a very broad kind of a new social consciousness. I think, I think it's way beyond politics. I don't, I think it's moved beyond being a liberal issue or a conservative issue. I think conservatives are recognizing that the economic, the economic interplay with sustainability is essential for us to grapple with. And so I think it's really, it's, it's reaching that, that level of a national mission.
LAUER: But when it comes to the entertainment community, you know for years we've lived with product placement in movies and television.
LAUER: You see a can of Coke here, an Apple computer here. Have we gotten to the point and are we gonna get to the point where you're gonna start to see leading actors in movies going with reusable shopping bags to the grocery store to drive home the green message?
NORTON: Hopefully. I mean I've seen a few Priuses in movies and things like that. But I think, you know, I mean I think, one of the first places that apart from in the stories I think that Hollywood or, or the film industry needs to confront is, is they need to look at the way, literally the physical footprint of the way films get made. You know there's a lot of waste in the way we make films, even.
LAUER: Is that an active discussion today?
NORTON: It is. I know a lot of people who are talking about that and I think actually the studios are being, are being pretty, you know they're doing their part. I think people, because again not, not just because it's the right thing to do but because it's cost effective.
LAUER: And we had you earlier in the show handing out our reusable shopping bags. This is based on a story that I had done a couple of months a go where you go to a supermarket and they ask you paper or plastic and the answer should be neither.
NORTON: Neither, right.
LAUER: And you made a film about this, a short film.
NORTON: Yeah we did. You know that people sometimes say like what's the, what's the one thing you could do to help and I kind of tend to say that you gotta do more than one thing. Now there's a, there's a list of things and those list of things are readily available to us but, but one thing for sure is the bags. The plastic bags are without a doubt emerging as one of the worst, stupidest things that we're doing for the environment. Those little Bodega Deli plastic bags that you use for 30 seconds and throw away actually--
LAUER: 500 billion of them around the world.
NORTON: Yeah and when, and when China is ahead of us in banning these things, when other countries around the world are banning these things that we, we need to get in line with that and catch up.
LAUER: And paper not much better, although it's somewhat biodegradable. It's just the waste of the trees and resources to make those paper bags is, is crazy.
LAUER: And so it was nice to have you out there.
NORTON: Yeah, no, that's, it's great what you're doing. I think it's, that is a simple, small thing that everybody can do is, is forget about these little plastic bag.
LAUER: If you want to know more about the issues facing the planet, check out Edward's series on National Geographic. It's called "Strange Days on Planet Earth," it airs tomorrow at 9:00 pm Eastern time, that is on PBS. And Edward continued success with this.
NORTON: Thanks, great to be here as always.
LAUER: Thanks very much.
NORTON: Yeah, you're great.