Biology graduate turned professional race car driver, Leilani is a "vegan hippie chick with a race car." Discovery's Planet Green named her the #1 Eco Athlete in the world. She is a recipient of ELLE Magazine's Genius Award and Sports Illustrated named her one of the top ten female race car drivers in the world.
Who or what was your motivation to become an activist?
I think I was born with activism in my blood. I have a memory from grade school of yelling at a boy for smashing an ant hill. He was bored and was just destroying it to entertain himself. I told him to think about how long it took those ants to build their home and asked him how he would like it if someone smashed his house to pieces just because they could. I never saw him do it again. I have always felt strongly about trying to be a voice for creatures that are unable to defend themselves. Activism is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
What special or unique skill can you bring to help race extinction?
As an activist, I know that it is not my biology degree, but in fact it is my racecar that allows me to reach a large audience that is typically not seeing environmental messages. I realized quickly in my career that my racecar is a powerful tool I could use to send messages to millions of people. I wanted to use that opportunity to fight for a better future for our planet and all the species we share it with. I may not be in a racecar as often as I could be due to my outspoken work as an activist, but when I am on the track, I am sending messages I truly care about and fight for outside of my racecar.
Why is this such an urgent issue for people living around the world today?
With 7.3 billion people on the planet and a growth rate of over 200,000 people per day, the decisions and actions we take every day have a huge impact on the world around us. If all of us would make choices to reduce our footprint on the planet, whether it's a big move like owning an electric car or putting solar panels on your roof - to smaller, simple things like eating a plant based diet, we can all make a positive impact every single day. The choice is yours whether or not you want to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. It is essential for humans to adapt and evolve the way we are living on this Earth to a sustainable way that does not destroy the world around us.
What environmental issue is most important to you and why?
All the issues are intricately tied together - I don't believe you can separate one from another. Climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, habitat destruction, species extinction - they are all related so I think it is difficult to try to say one is more important than another. Our ecosystem is dependent on balance and I think it is painfully clear that humans have disrupted that balance in a way that may be the beginning of the end of not only a vast amount of species on Earth, but us as well. What is most important is that we focus on solutions and take action without delay.
The immensity of environmental issues can seem overwhelming at times, but if we all #StartWith1Thing we can make this planet a better place. What is your one thing?
I have three things! First, my personal car is an electric car and that decision has changed my life for the better. Every single day I wake up with 265 miles of charge and I have not been to a gas station since September 2013. It is a great feeling to not have to give oil companies my money every time I need to drive my car. My second thing is that I have solar panels on the roof of my home and I am producing more power than I use to power both my home and car so I am actually putting solar power back into the electric grid. And my third - and by far the easiest thing we can all do to make a huge impact on our planet - is that I am vegan. A plant based diet is good for your body, it's good for the planet, and it's good for all the animals we share it with. It's a win-win-win.
What is your favorite animal?
I couldn't possibly pick just one! From the tiniest of insects and nudibranchs in the sea (they look like aliens!) to farm animals (who for me, are friends not food!) to the largest of creatures like whales and elephants - they all are amazing and it is painful to think of the way so many of them are mistreated and how many of these species we are losing at an alarming rate.
Favorite inspirational quote?
It's from an old Think Different commercial: "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."
We need to take a stand for our planet before it's too late.
Click here to find out how you can #StartWith1Thing and make a difference.
On Wednesday, December 2nd, Discovery will present a global broadcast of Racing Extinction, a powerful eco-thriller that exposes issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Visit RacingExtinction.com for more information.