“Happy, honored and humbled” is how actor, director, producer, and environmental activist Robert Redford described his feelings about the Nov. 19th Pitzer College launch of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. Addressing a full house of faculty, students, media, and eco-enthusiasts at the Los Angeles Press Club, the Sundance Kid said he was proud to serve as advisor and trustee for the conservancy that plans to fuse art, media and environmental sciences to equip students, help shape public policy and solve the most pressing sustainability issues facing our planet.
“It’s late in the game,” Redford said. “But it’s not too late and as long as there’s an inch of possibility, we have to give it all we’ve got.”
Located on 12 acres in a sustainably constructed Claremont campus and scheduled to open in 2014, the Redford Conservancy will pursue viable solutions for human and ecosystem health, ethical water use, air and food quality, as well as transportation alternatives. Redford intends to document the conservancy’s research through his Sundance television channel.
“What we do here in L.A., we have to do for the world,” he stated. “And the entertainment industry can play a role by helping with the storytelling of this idea.”
Accompanied by Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley and trustees Nicholas and Susan Pritzker—whose $10 million donation made the conservancy possible—Redford recalled how his early years in Santa Monica were filled with green spaces, fresh air and healthy oceans.
“We didn’t have much,” he shared. “I walked to the local theatre, I had a paper route…it was beautiful and clean, the oceans and mountains…I took it for granted. But drastic and rapid changes began happening– it felt like this giant machine brought buildings, concrete, pavement, skyscrapers, and freeways. It no longer felt like home.”
Following Redford’s comments, a group of panelists noted that urban development in Southern California had destroyed 90 percent of its ecosystems and wetlands. Lance Neckar, newly appointed director of the Redford Conservancy, said a primary goal will be to arrest this development and restore the balance that has been lost.
“You don’t achieve change without wake-up calls,” said panelist Joel Reynolds, Natural Resource Defense Council’s western director. “And we’ve had a few of those. No time has been more critical than this time.” As an example Reynolds highlighted the precariousness of the California Bay Delta, the hub of the state’s water supply, and how ongoing efforts are critical to balancing competing interests, restoring ecosystem health and stabilizing the area.
Pitzer Professor of Environmental Studies, Paul Faulstich, agreed. “The environment changes and adapts, for sure, but we’ve never experienced the pace, the intensity or the extreme nature of these changes in our world like we are experiencing today.”
Redford noted that many sustainability solutions are likely to come from women as well as the youth who will inherit our world. With Pitzer leading the nation in Fulbright Fellowships, it’s easy to imagine these exceptionally bright and passionate students making a significant contribution to a greener future. Rachel Warburton, Environmental Architecture major and Fulbright scholar applicant is currently doing her thesis on Ethical Architecture which includes the design of healing gardens.
“These are spaces specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs of its users,” she explained. “They’re therapeutic.”
(L to R) Paul Faulstich, Trustee and Pitzer Professor of Environmental Studies, Marion MacKenzie Pyle, Writer/Producer, PGA Green, Rachel Warburton, Pitzer student, Lance Neckar, Director Redford Conservancy
Skandera Trombley said that the Redford Conservancy brings both evolution and innovation to a college that has always dreamed big. Neckar, its champion dreamer, added with a smile, “I do believe that on this modest area of land, we can learn how to change the world.”