Jane Fonda discusses how to motivate politicians on climate issues

2024 TIME Earth Awards Gala

Actress Jane Fonda plans to devote the rest of her life to fighting for climate justice because she knows what is at stake.

“I grew up hearing the sounds of coyotes, nightingales and mourning doves. I’ve swam and scuba dived on the Great Barrier Reef and in the Galapagos, I’ve looked sea turtles right in the eye,” she said after accepting an Earth Award from TIME CEO Jessica Sibley on Wednesday evening. “One of the big problems is that we’ve become disconnected from nature.”

In recent years, Fonda has become known as a champion for environmental activism—most notably founding Fire Drill Fridays with Greenpeace USA in 2019 to demand legislative action on the climate crisis.

Fonda said the movement’s target audience was not politicians but everyday people.

“We knew that the majority of Americans are really concerned about the climate crisis,” said Fonda. But despite their concern, she said, most have not participated in the kind of civil disobedience that has historically paved the way for change.

“When they’re asked, ‘Well, why haven’t you?’, they said, ‘Well, nobody asked us.’ So Fire Drill Fridays was addressed to the great unasked.”

Fonda notes that despite the movement’s size, it’s often still difficult to translate energy into legislative change. “I realized that with all the protesting, and the arresting, and the lobbying for decades … we still can’t get the legislation we need that’s commensurate with what science says we have to have,” she said. “Why is that? Well, it’s because so many elected officials, Democrats as well as Republicans, take money from the fossil fuel industry.”

That’s why she emphasizes the need to make politicians care by getting people to center the climate crisis at the ballot box. “What happens in November in this country is going to play an oversized role in whether or not we have a livable future,” said Fonda. “Even though the majority of Americans really care about climate, I don’t think they necessarily take it into the voting booth with them.”

TIME Earth Awards was presented by Galvanize Climate Solutions, Amazon, Deloitte, Delta Air Lines.