Last month, I met English actor (appearing in X-Men: Days of Future Past) Gregg Lowe. Having recently returned from Toronto, Gregg is now settling back into the London lifestyle, so I got to ask him a few questions about his experience working with marine animal protection organisation Sea Shepherd as part of their Operation Milagro II campaign to defend the endangered vaquita porpoise. Gregg explained that volunteering with Sea Shepherd was certainly an eye-opening experience.
“Sea Shepherd are amazing, I felt so blessed to be able to work with them. I think they’re such a great organisation and just being on the ship for a week was a great experience. What was amazing was that most of these people are there as a volunteer, because they want to make a difference and help in some way. It was a great energy. I’d love to work with them again for longer.”
Like many others, I have felt inspired by recent documentaries such as The Cove, shining light on the annual dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan. You can read my blog about a screening of The Cove with ex-dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry here and find about about my experience of the London Against Taiji Dophin Massacre March here. Gregg has also felt inspired by such game-changing documentaries to take action for marine animals.
“The Cove was just traumatic and engrossing in so many ways. It really inspires you to do something because you don’t realise stuff like that’s actually going on. I think we all know something’s happening, but when you’re faced with the realness of it, it really affects you.”
In light of shocking statistics such as the prediction that there won’t be any ocean life left within the next forty years, I was interested to see what somebody who has actually been out in the oceans to defend marine life believes the biggest threat is to the under-water world.
“The biggest threat to ocean life? Us, probably! Over fishing, over consumption, silly markets like the Black Market and Chinese Medicine Market. In Mexico, the reason we were there was to try and save the vaquita (a type of porpoise). It wasn’t because they were being fished – a seabass called the totoaba was being fished for its gall bladder for the Chinese medicine market. They’re the same size as the vaquita and were being caught in the nets and getting wiped out – there’s only around twenty of them left now. It’s silly things like that, and also shark fin soup – shown in documentary Shark Water. We are the biggest threat to animals, well to our planet really. So I think its time that we recognise that, as people are, and start to live in more of a symbiotic relationship with animals in the ocean.”
In Operation Milagro II, Sea Shepherd have worked with local governments to prevent illegal fishing in the area, and are in turn protecting endangered marine life. So could working with governments be the way forward to protect the ocean?
“Definitely, it makes things easier and is a huge support. The problem with working with governments is a lot of them are so corrupt and if you’re taking money away from the country, they don’t really want to know because they don’t really care that animals are being killed when they’re making money out of it. That’s always the problem that you come up against. But the more support you can get, the better.”
As a vegan activist, Gregg’s interest in animal rights grew when learning about eastern philosophy. This developed into a strong interest in Buddhism and living a life centred around compassion, causing as little harm to the earth as possible.
“I was living in Thailand and Napal for a while, staying in different monasteries and studying Buddhism – it was during that period I was looking at things to do with animals. I haven’t always been vegan – I used to eat meat when I was younger, but during that time I found a new appreciation for life and started to see things from a different angle.”
There are a number of reasons why people may decide to choose a vegan lifestyle – personal health, environmental impact – but for Gregg the main basis for this decision stemmed from this idea of compassionate living that he discovered in Buddhism.
“As I learned more about compassion, it was definitely more of an ethical thing. Later on, I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and watched more documentaries like Vegucated. Once you start learning all that – you can’t unlearn it. It’s all about being passionate and living the most compassionate life possible, and for me taking care of animals, humans and everything around me is like the baseline for compassion.”
And with more information, naturally comes more debate. It’s fantastic that the vegan lifestyle seems to be something that is popping up all the time in the news, but this has also come with some criticism. One common topic is the palm oil debate – a product which is found in a lot of vegan (and non-vegan) products, the production process for which is causing severe deforestation to the planet.
“You can’t do everything to save the planet, you can only do as much as you can. It’s all about having the right intention. Being 100% cruelty-free is an ideal, not a reality. They talk about this in buddhism, their first precept is that they can’t kill, but inevitably they stand on the ground and they might kill some ants, but its having the broader knowledge of knowing that your intention is not to harm, so once we’re informed that something has palm oil in, which is harming the environment, then we can make those choices. Its a journey. Of course we all do things in our daily lives which can have a negative effect down the line, but its about trying to balance it out as much as you can.”
Gregg continues to explain that although the production process of products such as palm oil is devastating to the environment, there is still one clear factor that is the leading cause of deforestation, global warming and climate change amongst so many other things – animal agriculture.
“Palm oil is horrendous and it is causing deforestation, but as I’m sure you’ve seen in Cowspiracy, nothing is causing more deforestation than animal agriculture, so I still think you’re winning by living vegan. There’s cause and effect to everything, every action has a reaction so even doing good things will somewhere down the line have some kind of negative effect on something, but if you’re intention is right, then you can let that go.”
As well as appearing in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Gregg has also appeared in several TV series including Murdoch Mysteries, Doctors and Beauty and the Beast. So I was curious as to whether he has had the opportunity to incorporate his passion towards animal rights into his acting.
“I’ve been acting for a long time and I got to a point where I needed more of a purpose for doing what I do, other than just because I want to do it. I think we all get to a stage like that in life where we sit back and think ‘why am I doing this?’ ‘what can I offer to society and the world other than i’m doing this just because I enjoy it?’ and animal rights and veganism became my purpose for doing it because I can do interviews like this and put my name to things. Actually having those beliefs has supported me through tough times, it gives you more of a purpose and that extra support. When you’re not driven by a passion or a purpose, it feels kind of empty.”
Currently, Gregg has just finished computer game Assassin’s Creed which was released in February, and has just decided to move back to England to do some more voice-over work. Having enjoyed his experience volunteering with Sea Shepherd, he also hopes to get involved with more of their projects in the future.
“I’d love to work with Sea Shepherd again, but I’m staying in London for now…saying that I change my mind like the wind, and also with my work I travel quite a lot, but for now my base is in London.”
Welcome back to London, Gregg! Thank you for taking the time to talk about animal rights and your experience volunteering with Sea Shepherd. Sea Shepherd do some fantastic work protecting marine life in our oceans and need your support. Find out more about them here. You can also keep up to date with all of their latest campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.
Gregg mentions a number of animal rights and environmental documentaries and books, check out the following links and inform yourself about important issues that are affecting our planet: