Leilani Münter is a “vegan hippie chick with a racecar.” She’s been a successful professional driver for more than a decade and an unlikely champion of environmental awareness in her sport since 2007, when she began racing carbon neutral by buying offsets. Münter has spoken at a White House briefing about sustainability in sports, trumpeted environmental messages into racing stadiums, collaborated with the Ocean Preservation Society, promoted environmental documentaries on TV and online, and won many accolades – including Discovery’s #1 Eco Athlete 2010 and ELLE Magazine’s Genius Award 2012. 

A\J: Why combine racing and activism?

Leilani Münter: One of the reasons was watching An Inconvenient Truth and understanding the urgency of what we’re facing. That’s when I started integrating my racing website with environmental news. Marketing people said, as a driver you need to shut up, drive and plug your sponsors. I made the decision that I didn’t care if it ended my career; I felt like it was important and I wanted to do whatever I could.

How have racing fans reacted?

There were fans that took offence. I found a thread on a NASCAR forum; somebody trashing me for promoting An Inconvenient Truth. Then the argument shifted to global warming. By the end there were people posting graphs of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This is on a NASCAR forum! The discussion evolved from being negative talk about me to this really positive discussion about climate change. That really made me realize why I’m doing this.

What issue is most important currently?

Climate change is the biggest issue humans will ever face. Our generation has been called to answer the most noble of duties, to ensure the future survival of generations to come. Just by being that example, every time you interact with somebody you’re planting that seed – there’s another way, a different system that’s not the system you’ve known. I really feel honoured – it didn’t make sense when I graduated with my biology degree and started racing. But now it makes perfect sense, that as a racecar driver I could carry messages places I never could if I didn’t race.

To change something you have to be willing to have that more difficult conversation with people who don’t agree.

Do you have any advice for environmentalists?

I go to environmental events where people agree with me; they pat me on the back and say good job. But you’re not doing any good by talking with people who agree. To change something you have to be willing to have that more difficult conversation with people who don’t agree.

It seems ironic, using a racecar to send environmental messages. But the racecar is my greatest advantage; it’s what gives me a voice to talk to people that normally wouldn’t hear my message. One cannot exist without the other.   

Michelle is a former A\J editorial intern with a graduate diploma in Science Communication from Laurentian University. 

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