Actor and activist Andrew Jackson
Actor and activist Andrew Jackson is on a mission. Blending his passion for preservation with an incredible drive, he works tirelessly on a unique project designed to save the world's remaining polar bears who remain at risk. In a recent chat, Jackson revealed the secret to the project's success thus far and the global impact that continues to grow.
Tell me a bit about your background and the pathway to the project.
My parents shared a common passion for music, arts and culture. As a result I was frequently taken with my parents to classical concerts at a tender young age for both educational and practical reasons. It was cheaper than a baby sitter. My father had a deep attraction to the outdoors and our family headed off on numerous wilderness camping adventures. Those wild outdoor experiences shaped some of my finest childhood memories.
When I was the mere age of two, my mother awoke in our family tent and saw the shadow of a large bear through the canvas. It began sniffing our heads through the tent wall. After a few gasps and prayers the bear moved on. Many more bear encounters followed.
While camping on the Gulf Islands off the coast of Canada’s British Columbia, a team of scuba divers arrived on the island with a recently captured octopus. I had the honour of placing my fist inside the living mollusk while onlookers took pictures. I was only six years old at the time. I was literally holding the life of this amazing animal in my hand as it changed into the most iridescent colours. Minutes before, a diver had firmly placed his hands against the animal’s suction cups and it took three men to pry him free. The parrot-like beak or mouth was considered dangerous and deadly.
In spite of my childhood fear, I recognized the power and beauty of the experience. These intense nature ventures left a mark on my young world, one that is filled with a great sense of love, respect for life and an appreciation for the integral relationship we share with our untamed animal world. I consider that early life bond a gift. Given my great love of nature and polar bears, Polar Bears International seemed to be an ideal choice. I have found solace in my commitment to Polar Bears International and Project Polar Bear.
What was the tipping point for you that inspired you to delve into this project?
Months ago I was requested to write an article on my favourite charity and was unable to select a specific cause. I realized that I had helped raise funds and done volunteer work with numerous charities over the years. Fortunately I was granted some freedom with the article and shared the personal impact that each individual charity had on my life. At the end of the article I stated, "I have a great passion for wildlife and I’m in search of a particular cause that shares my passion." A few weeks later my publicist provided me with an introduction to Polar Bears International. I was thrilled.
I work in an extremely competitive industry that feels somewhat self-serving at times. In order to be truly successful as an actor one needs to explore their inner emotional world, be sensitive to the current global environment, and continually explore a range of potential characters. It’s healthy to reach outside my somewhat mad profession and serve the global community in some capacity.
We are sitting on the precipice of a very important point in human history. Our present and future choices regarding the planet must be fused with a strong sense of responsibility and urgency. The polar bear has been described as the proverbial canary [in the coal mine]. If we don’t change our habits as they relate to rising CO2, the bears' sea ice habitat will continue to melt and the polar bears will vanish before the end of the 21st century. This would mark the beginning of an ongoing pattern of damaged ecosystems.
I love the fact that PBI is a nonpolitical organization that is focused on the protection of the polar bear and its habitat through education and stewardship. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded in our shared efforts to save this magnificent animal.
What’s been the proudest moment for you so far?
Project Polar Bear has given me a greater sense of hope for the future. The teens who have devoted hours to the cause have blown my mind. They are my inspiration and I am deeply proud of their accomplishments. Just last year the 17 teams that completed the contest managed to reduce an estimated 31 million pounds of CO2. That is amazing! Imagine what could be achieved if 50 or indeed a hundred teams completed the project.
One of the teams that lived in a community that didn’t provide a door-to-door recycling service decided to gather boxes from local businesses and deliver them to a local elementary school. The boxes were neatly stacked in the front of the school auditorium and the team embarked on a presentation on the subject of polar bears and recycling. After the presentation, all 500 students were given a box to decorate in art class and take home as a tool for recycling. The kids were excited by what they had learned that day and the difference they could make in the world. One of the parents stared in bewilderment as 500 kids ran from the school with boxes in hand and a mission to fulfill.
Another group of teens made tote bags from polypropylene feed bags and sold them at local markets. They sewed each individual bag with its own sense of style and the public loved the cause and wanted to buy the bags. They were selling off the shelves. Each of the reports and findings were supported by science, research, online blogs and statistics. The team work was nothing short of exemplary.
How do you envision the impact of youth involvement? What types of changes do you feel it will bring to the movement?
We live in interesting times. Adults face increasingly challenging concerns with the economy, volatile world governments, threats of terrorism, war, an overwhelming communications network and an ever increasing feeling of fear and uncertainty. The last thing many adults want to think about is the environment. Children, however, are for more apt to handle the major shifts that are taking place in our world and are open to exploring solutions.
I loved reading about the reaction teen contestants had when they suddenly realized the impact they were having on their community. They were surprised that a teenager could make such a difference. The young people today communicate on a daily basis with a global community. They quickly realize the potential of a message on Facebook or a popular YouTube video that touches the world’s heart or makes people laugh. I believe that young people have the means to create a tidal wave of change. They have the power to inspire a raised state of consciousness. If we see our relationship to the planet as a vital, sacred and a meaningful part of life, we will possess the desire to change our habits; saving the polar bear, it’s habitat and ourselves.
What are your thoughts on other youth-targeted social/viral campaigns of late, such as KONY 2012? Do you feel this is the direction for the future regarding world issues?
The KONY 2012 video as a formula for change was brilliant. I am saddened, however, by the shocking controversy that shattered what appeared to be a sincere and noble cause.
What do you want the world to understand, at the very core, about this project?
I want everyone who learns about Project Polar Bear to understand and embrace one fundamental idea: YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE! If you are a teen, a parent, a teacher or someone who shares the passion, get involved. Project Polar Bear teaches young people the principles of team work and encourages them to go out into the schools, communities and local businesses to educate and inspire others.
PPB inspires students to explore innovative ways to dramatically reduce CO2 in the environment. Each team works collectively to explore and fulfill their initial objectives through solid research, field work and reporting under the supervision of an experienced adult. The tools that these students gain through the Project Polar Bear contest will enrich their future academic, personal and professional pursuits.
What is the big picture goal for the project as it relates to schools and children?
Many schools are currently teaching students about environmental issues and are always looking for programs like Project Polar Bear. It’s the job of PPB to make the schools aware of the project and continue making the requirements and parameters of the contest as accessible as possible. Environment is an extremely important issue and should continue to be fundamental part of education. My personal goal is to do my part to encourage children to make a conscious shift. Their efforts and imagination will inspire the world.
What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to overcome with the project?
The biggest obstacle is TIME. We need to move fast on this issue. The polar bear’s future is threatened. Its habitat is quickly unraveling. If we don’t do something now, not only will polar bears be gone by the end of the 21st century, but other vital species and ecosystems will follow.
What’s next for Andrew Jackson personally and professionally?
At the moment I am playing a cameo role as a professional stage actor on two episodes of BBC America's new TV series, Copper, set in the 1800s. This week my character will deliver passages as Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
I have returned to the anime series Beyblade in the role of Doji and have been granted another villainous character. I have the joy this week of recording two characters that act opposite one another. I’m sure I’ll feel a bit like the character Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream who wants to play all the parts. I continue to support myself through commercial voice work and I’m currently recording a number of movie trailer style ads for a major television network. I am attached to a wonderful film script that is still working on completing its funding. Fingers crossed. It’s an amazing and powerful script that takes place in an Arctic environment.
I will continue with my commitment to Project Polar Bear and do all I can to raise awareness. Making a difference isn’t difficult — it’s merely an adjustment. Here's to our future!
More information on the project can be found at Polar Bears International's website.