Here’s the elevator bio: Alexandra Paul is a zealous environmental and political activist, who has received a plethora of acclaim – and jail time – for her work within the overpopulation, animal rights, and electric car spheres. More than that, Alexandra is a competitive endurance swimmer and, of course, a former Baywatch lifeguard.
Off camera: Alexandra is verily a compassionate and awe-inspiring human being, who is unapologetically frank about where we’re heading as a species: “Right now, we’re chasing oil – soon we’ll be chasing water.” Check out Alexandra’s TEDx talk on overpopulation – the problem no one will discuss.
The Aesthetics Coach Interview: Alexandra Paul
Tye Riviera: Why is human overpopulation still an elephant in the room?
Alexandra: It’s certainly not an elephant in my room! But, yes, some people don’t want to talk about it. I think it’s because of [four] things: first of all, it’s to do with sex. Secondly, it has to do with something that people consider very sacred to their family – they don’t want the government or anybody to tell them about it. And thirdly, it’s our biological imperative to reproduce – that’s what normally makes a species successful. We’re going against our own biology by trying to minimise our reproduction. For millions of years, humans have [believed that] the more you had in your army, the more you were out to win. We still have that mentality. Except, now it’s become about winning through capitalism – more consumers – so most corporations, or even governments, don’t want to talk about it. Lowering the population means the economy will fall; and guess who will get blamed for that fall? The government. We think short term instead of long term. [Lowering the population] will be better in the long run, but, economically speaking, it will be difficult in the short term.
The last thing is this: in the 70s, India and china resorted to ways to curb population growth that were coercive [one-child policies, for example], meaning everybody now associates population stabilisation with population control. I don’t use the term population control because I don’t believe in controlling [the population], I believe in encouraging people to have [one child families, or no children at all].
Tye Riviera: Can the hazards associated with human overpopulation be counter-balanced by consuming fewer resources?
Alexandra: No, they cannot. Because, now, we want people to live better in developing countries, so, [those people] are going to be increasing their consumption, China especially, but in [other] Asian and African countries, too. [Moreover], a lot more people are eating meat now, and that’s a huge waste. We’re not just talking about what you’re buying in store, we’re also talking about how you live, and the food choices you make.
But consumption is still important to curb. Folks in the U.S., use twice as many resources as somebody in England – we [Americans] need to bring our consumption down. A scientist has said what the optimum number of people and the optimum lifestyle is – I know it’s not the American lifestyle! Some people say the optimal population count would be 2 billion, nearly a quarter of the size we have now.
Tye Riviera: According to topical stats, there are 84 million people being added to the planet, per year. How can we stabilize and, as an inference, contract the human population count?
Alexandra: I think the best method is to change our culture: how we look at small families and family size. Right now – as I said in my TED talk – we tend to feel sorry for people who don’t have children. We label them barren; [infer] they don’t have a point in life. And that’s not only in westernised countries. [This ideology] is very powerful in a lot of developing countries. And religions, too. The most religious of the main religions tend to have more children because [they believe] God has told them so. It’s really important to change our mind-set.
In the United States, you get a tax reduction for every child you have – it’s an incentive [to have more children]. And then there’s a baby shower for every child you have. We have to change cultural mind-sets to get people to see the benefits of having one child births or no children at all and how there’s a lot of wonderful [benefits for that]. Studies have shown that both couples and single people, who do not have children, are happier and less stressed – and it’s true.
Financial incentives are another way [to the lower the population count]. They say the way to get to people is through their pocket books: if you can give people financial incentives and reward them for not having children, then that’s great. I’m not saying people should be penalised for having children (yet), because that would seem too coercive. It’s more about highlighting the perks for people who don’t have children. There needs to be some sort of social security system, because a lot of people have children so they have someone to take care of them during old age. I respect the fear that if we have one child and that child dies, then we have no children, but on the same hand, you’re hurting the planet for that extra insurance. If everybody had two children right now, the population will not have decreased by 2100, because there are so many young people in their reproducing age. Eventually it will go down – some way or another. I just hope it doesn’t go down because of famine, disease or war.
Tye Riviera: Can you recommend some resources – books, documentaries or podcasts – for people interested in human overpopulation. (Alexandra’s TEDx talk is a great one).
Alexandra: I like this 7 minute video – Population Connection – which shows how fast the human population is growing. I also recently read a book by Alan Weisman called Countdown – that was a great book.
Tye Riviera: In 2003, you were incarcerated for protesting the war in Iraq. Moreover, in 2005, you were arrested after a two-hour standoff with General Motors, protesting the crushing of stockpiled EV1s. Just how far are you willing to go to save our planet?
Alexandra: Not far enough, unfortunately. I look at my own life and I see that I live a life where I drive a car, my husband drives a car, we have a condominium, we have a rental property – we have too much. If I’m living like this and I care about the planet, what hope do we have for people who don’t care about the planet? John Francis, for example, he’s an amazing man who gave up riding in [motorised] vehicles for 22 years – more than that, he refused to speak for 17 years – after witnessing the oil spill in [San Francisco Bay]. John really committed. I have never done that. But I am willing to be arrested. In 2003, I was sentenced to 6 days in jail, and spent a couple days in jail during the 80s for protesting a nuclear bomb. I’m willing to go further than the average bear. I feel so strongly about overpopulation that I’m willing to say things that most organisation won’t – they have donors and I don’t. But it’s not enough – it’s just not enough. And I see that in myself. My own selfishness, you know?
Tye Riviera: I think all of us who care about the environment, see that in ourselves: we get comfortable; we opt not to push the boundaries. I think your one-woman protest in west Los Angeles for black equality in America was an incredibly brave act.
Alexandra: I had done that before when California wouldn’t let gays marry. I was so pissed off that I went to a street corner and just stood there by myself with a sign that read: straight against hate, let gays marry. I was nervous because I was alone, but then I got over it because I realised people don’t really care, ha! But sometimes, one person standing on a street corner is more noticeable than five. So I did it again after Ferguson. I had been to a protest the week before – in a [predominately] black town – but thought it was the affluent white people that needed to hear this message. It was funny because people pretended they didn’t see me – they were embarrassed by me.
Tye Riviera: Are there ever times when you are worried for your own safety during a protest?
Alexandra: No, and I’ll tell you why: I’m a white, middle-class woman who could hire a publicist in a second. That’s the truth of it. I have a lot of empathy for people of colour who go out there [and protest]. That’s a whole different story.
Tye Riviera: In an elevator summary, are you pro- or contra-:
Alexandra: I’m on the fence. I support any activism as long as it doesn’t hurt, or have the potential to hurt, any living creature. My brother went to prison for arson of a slaughter house. Nobody was hurt, but there was the potential for people to be hurt. I supported my brother, but I wouldn’t do it myself. I feel that [eco-terrorists] have to be willing to pay the consequences. [Someone] once said: it’s so interesting that we feel it’s okay to cut down trees, but don’t feel like it’s okay to destroy a building made of those trees.
Alexandra: As a vegan, I don’t agree with aquaculture or any type of food culture using live creatures as feed. I also believe that it’s hurting the planet because of the diseases these farms create, and the pollution from their waste. I know that people say we have to do it so we can feed all the people on the planet, but that’s one more reason why we should [lower the human population count].
Alexandra: I am unequivocally against factory farming, from an environmental, ethical and economic point of view. A lot of small farmers are getting pushed of their land by organisations like Monsanto.
Alexandra: I’m against it. I’ll tell you what I’m most against: the [bio-tech] companies will own the seeds. And therefore, the farmers will have to keep on buying them.
Alexandra: No, I’m against them – [even for the purpose of conservation]. In fact, somebody sent me a video of snow leopards frolicking in the snow at New York Zoo. I told them I couldn’t enjoy [the video] because I knew the leopards were captive. He wrote back and said: ‘Yes, but there are so few snow leopards left in the wild.’ For me, that’s because we don’t want to make the hard choices and give up our own habitat. We opt to put [endangered animals] in a little room – the size of a bathroom – and look at them believing they’re saved. It’s comparable to a man who kidnaps a woman because he loves her and keeps her captive in his house. It’s also speciesism: our inherent belief that we are better than non-human animals.
Tye Riviera: Last spring, you travelled to Taiji, Japan to boycott the dolphin drive hunts.
Alexandra: Yes, it was really interesting. I was asked to go along by philanthropist, Sam Simon, to support the Sea Shepherd activists. No dolphins were slaughtered whilst we were there, which was good. But I think for Americans – or anybody, even – to be outraged at the Japanese for killing the dolphins, first we have to look at our own slaughter houses. We do the same thing. We tend to pick and choose which animals [deserve to be treated with compassion]. Again, it’s just speciesism.
Tye Riviera: In 1997, you participated in the Hawaii, Ironman Triathlon. (Alexandra completed the course in 13:18:52.) That must have been the most gruelling – albeit rewarding – endeavour of your triathlete career, right?
Alexandra: It was. I took nine months off to train for it. It was after Baywatch and I had shot a couple other series and films. I wanted to try a new challenge. [The organisers] invited me as part of a [promotional deal]: I would give the [Hawaii Ironman] publicity, and etcetera. Although I was a good swimmer, I had never done a marathon and hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 14, so I was almost starting from scratch. It was a challenge, for sure!
Tye Riviera: This winter you swam a 13.7 mile route, circling Acapulco Bay. In terms of nutrition and training, how do you condition your body for ultra-endurance events?
Alexandra: It’s basically slow and steady. I follow a training programme that has regular short swims during the week, and longer swims during the weekend. I can’t do speed work because I have a weak shoulder, but [you could add] some speed work during the week. In terms of nutrition, I drink protein shakes with lots of bananas and peanut butter. I like to make a concoction, ha!
Tye Riviera: You derive all your macro- and micro-nutrients from plant foods. Ergo, what are your main sources of protein?
Alexandra: I have a vegan protein powder, which has hemp and rice protein. I also eat a lot of nuts and nut butter. I try not to do soy. I aim for about a 100 grams of protein per day, which is more than enough; people who aren’t as active wouldn’t need as much, but it works for me. I like to stay in great shape – I want to be a billboard for veganism.
Tye Riviera: What is your school of thought re: the Paleolithic diet?
Alexandra: I look at it like this: our colons and intestines are really long, yet most carnivores have very short intestines. I think looking at the [physiology of other species] is a better way to look at how we should eat. Dr Michael Gregger, for example, who [specialises in clinical nutrition], found that overall vegans are far healthier than meat eaters. But I don’t eat vegan for health, I eat vegan for ethical reasons. My husband, Ian, is a meat eater. For Christmas, I asked him to gift me three weeks of him going vegan. (He gave it me last year for my birthday.) [Ian] felt great as a vegan, he has a lot more energy. He’s a triathlete coach and an athlete, too, so he worries about performance. Plus, I’m not a great cook, so it’s not like I give him all these great vegan meals, although I have been trying to cook for the last couple of weeks so he has a positive experience, ha!
Tye Riviera: Slow-mo running aside: Baywatch explored a plethora of ecological discourses; there was an episode (featuring The Beach Boys) where a surfer contracts E.coli, after surfing in contaminated water. Nonetheless, you asked producers to write your character out of the Baywatch at Sea World episode. What was the reasoning behind this decision?
Alexandra: Even back then I was a vegetarian – almost a vegan; I was not wearing any wool, leather or silk, and I certainly wasn’t going to any circuses or zoos. I didn’t want to promote [Sea World]. The prop department tried to put Johnson & Johnson products on my desk once. I was being polite, and told them to put the [products] on somebody else’s desk. They test on animals, so I’m not going to associate myself with [their brand]. We have to remember that everything we do we communicate to other people. I don’t have control over everything, but when I do, I at least try lead by example.
Tye Riviera: You worked alongside Kelly Slater for season’s three and four of Baywatch. Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories to share?
Alexandra: Kelly did most of his scenes with Nicole Eggert, who played Summer, so during his entire run on the show I only had one scene with him. But I do remember him being polite and professional. He was very quiet. I actually ran in to him about three months ago at the beach. It had been over 20 years since I had seen him in person. It was really nice to bump into him. He’s really a nice man.
Tye Riviera: Here’s something I have always wanted to ask you – can you watch my water?
Alexandra: Ha! In the summer, I was helping my husband with a beginner’s ocean triathlon. A man started panicking in the water and waving for help. I was like: ‘Hold on! I’m coming!’ I held his head above water but the waves kept pounding us, until, finally, a lifeguard with a rescue can swam out. He says I saved his life! [So], if you fly me over to Cornwall, I’ll watch your water for you, ha!
Thanks, Lieutenant. How does business class sound – one way?