Sophia Bush on Climate Change & Why ‘One Tree Hill’ Was the ‘Best of Times’ & ‘Worst of Times’

Sophie Hanson
Sophia Bush
Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images for 3M; Adobe. Design: Sasha Purdy / StyleCaster

Sophia Bush is a self-described “nerd” and not afraid to admit it. She’s fascinated by science and the world around her, which piqued her interest in activism long before she became famous for her roles on One Tree Hill and Chicago P.D.

As a young woman growing up in Pasadena, California, Bush dedicated much of her time to tackling the issues important to her. Given the earth’s rising temperatures, seasons of drought and disastrous wildfires in her home state, combatting climate change has dominated her psyche for the last few years. “Growing up in Southern California, having access to the mountains, the desert, the ocean, it, it feels crazy to me that we can’t all agree that climate should be number one priority,” she tells StyleCaster. “And I think at times, like the ones we’ve been in especially for the last couple of years, where we’ve been suffering public health stresses, where we’ve read the UN Climate report that we’re on our way to an unlivable planet, it feels hopeless.” Technological innovations are what keeps Bush optimistic, she says, while discussing her partnership with multinational conglomerate 3M for Climate Week. “You turn to organizations and companies like this one that are doing the data research, to find solutions,” she says, “and that’s where I see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s where I find the joy.”

Bush also found joy in reconnecting with her costars, Bethany Joy Lenz and Hilarie Burton, to rewatch episodes of the popular teen drama One Tree Hill and reflect on episodes in a podcast called Drama Queens. It’s not just for nostalgia purposes, though. Bush has talked at length in the past about her unpleasant experiences on-set as a 20-year-old with a burgeoning career in Hollywood. In 2017, the cast members and crew, including the Drama Queens trio, wrote a letter accusing former showrunner Mark Schwahn of sexual harassment and cultivating a toxic work environment. “Many of us were, to varying degrees, manipulated psychologically and emotionally. More than one of us is still in treatment for post-traumatic stress,” the letter read published by Variety and signed by 18 members of the cast and crew. “Many of us were put in uncomfortable positions and had to swiftly learn to fight back, sometimes physically, because it was made clear to us that the supervisors in the room were not the protectors they were supposed to be.” Now 40, Bush and her “sisters” Lez and Burton are reclaiming the show for themselves and healing in the process.

What does feel very clear to me, which took us time to learn back then, because it was a tough environment, is that we’ve always been the love story. It’s always been about female friendships.

It all ties into Bush’s fundamental drive to advocate for change. While some celebrities simply use their fame platform to just raise awareness, Bush is all action. She’s raised close to half a million dollars for charity, built schools in Guatemala and Laos, and is a founding member of the Time’s Up movement, a non-profit that supports victims of sexual harassment. Bush is unapologetic in standing up for what she believes in on social media, even in the face of backlash (online bullies love to tell celebrities to “stay in their lane”, seemingly forgetting that actors are living on the same planet they are). “At the end of the day I don’t believe in ceasing to do what’s right because it’s hard,” she previously told Women’s Wear Daily. “I think very often the right thing is hard, but I view that as a really sacred responsibility.” While combatting climate change as an individual can seem overwhelming, Bush talks passionately about the little things she’s done to improve her environmental impact on the world. Her eyes light up like a kid on Christmas when she talks about sustainable packaging. “I did the switch from the normal plastic storage bags and plastic wrap to stasher bags and beeswax wrap,” she explains to StyleCaster. “Last year, when my lease was up, I moved over to an electric vehicle and I swear I will never look back.” She even got her New York friends composting in their apartments. “When they start composting, everyone has that same reaction of ‘I literally can’t believe I used to throw all of this away’.”

What small changes have you made to your life to live more environmentally responsible?

I keep a garden and I started building my garden out five years ago, little bit by little bit, planting fruit trees and then I planted avocados. Then I started keeping bees and then I got chickens. It’s been like a whole adventure. Even prior to having a garden, I tried primarily to shop at the farmer’s market so that I’m supporting local farmers, but also buying produce that doesn’t have to travel very far to get to me.

Also, most of us send mail. 3M has created this plastic wrap or a bubble wrap substitute. It’s sustainable. It’s paper, and as a beekeeper, when I pulled it apart this morning, it looks like a honeycomb. It even locks in on itself so it doesn’t even need tape. I work in an industry where I have to send a lot of mail, people are sending scripts, they’re sending products for things, and sometimes we have to send wardrobe to other states. And I’m amped on the idea that we could stop using plastic when we have to send mail.

You’ve started a podcast called Drama Queens for which you rewatch, and in a way relive, One Tree Hill. What has that been like? I get the feeling it’s been quite cathartic.

We talk a lot about how our show felt like the embodiment of the adage, “it was the best of times, and the worst of times,” and most people don’t get to go back and reclaim things that have been important to them. We’ve had this incredible moment as three women, who are advocates, actors and producers and directors, and creatives, and opinionated at that, to go back and reclaim our show. And essentially what we’re able to do is hold on to the best of times and throw everything else in the trash together. That is such a profound experience.

What lessons have you learned about yourself since then?

There are so many, there are so many lessons that you learned over a decade of working with people and then another decade of friendships, I don’t know that I could distill them. But I think what does feel very clear to me, which took us time to learn back then, because it was a tough environment, is that we’ve always been the love story. It’s always been about female friendships, it’s always the community that you will have and that you will hold and that will hold you. And it’s really beautiful for us. As we’ve processed the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s been amazing to do it together. And it’s been immensely touching and meaningful to hear from fans of the show that our friendship has set examples for them to have to prove friendships or heal their own experiences in their lives. In the same way that we need to be talking about climate and we need to be talking about innovation, we need to be talking about mental health and communication skills. So, for us to be able to tackle all of this together feels pretty cool.

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