The star of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” producer of “All the President’s Men” and director of “A River Runs Through It” has been active on the environmental front since the early 1970s. Serving as a trustee of the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council for more than 30 years, Robert Redford was involved in the fight to pass such watershed pieces of legislation as the Clean Air Act (1974-75), the Energy Conservation and Production Act (1974-76) and the National Energy Policy Act (1989). In the early 1980s he founded the Institute of Resource Management, which fought for sustainability on multiple fronts, culminating with the Greenhouse Glasnost in Sundance, Utah, in 1989. In a recent e-mail interview with TelevisionWeek correspondent Wayne Karrfalt, Mr. Redford shared his thoughts on the Sundance Channel Green environmental programming initiative and discussed how the battle for the environment is playing out today.
TelevisionWeek: How can Sundance Channel make its Green programming appeal to a broad demographic? It can be challenging to attract an audience to documentaries about the environment, even those with a celebrity narrator.
Robert Redford: The general public is focused on the environment like never before, and it’s very encouraging for the kind of corporate, social and political change necessary to secure a great future for generations to come. I feel confident Sundance Channel will program for a broad demographic and I know we will work hard to get them to Sundance Channel Green.
TVWeek: Media-savvy scientists say that one reason the issue of global warming has failed to gain traction is that vested interests, and by extension the current administration, continue to be successful in making an argument about whether or not global warming even exists-or whether it is indeed caused by man. What can be done to take issues like global warming out of the political arena?
Mr. Redford: Never in the history of civilization has the human footprint on Earth been what it is today, and it’s foolish to think we’re not altering the balance of the Earth because of it. Overwhelmingly, the science definitively bears this out.
What is compelling for me is whether or not you believe the science, every step you would take, every innovation that comes forth in the realm of sustainability, is by far better for public health, better for the economy, better for the environment and better for national security. So why not do it?
The public is way ahead of Washington. State and local elected officials, in particular mayors and governors of both political parties, aren’t using the environment as a political football. Rather, they are leading the way in the absence of leadership from the Bush administration. Even many corporations have seen the economic benefits and are pursuing innovations, which will mark an end to business as usual.
TVWeek: You have been involved with some of the most crucial pieces of environmental legislation of our time. Watch groups are deeply concerned that many of the gains made in the last 30 years have been undone in the past five. Would you agree with this assessment? In terms of legislation, what issue should be considered the top priority going forward?
Mr. Redford: I don’t totally agree that 30 years of progress has been undone in the last five, but the Bush administration continues to pursue such a goal with enormous passion. They’ve been successful in dismantling some seminal protections, but have failed with others because hundreds of thousands of people across America said enough is enough.
For instance, they have tried multiple times every year they’ve been in office to exploit pristine wilderness in Alaska, even though the public is overwhelmingly against it in poll after poll. We should never drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it’s not a solution to our energy challenges. It will take at least a decade to see any oil, and when we do it will have absolutely no discernible effect on the energy crisis. And for this failure we would have destroyed one of the last great places on Earth.
Global warming is the umbrella under which everything else sits in terms of importance. It is multidimensional in its challenges and its solutions. Our oceans need protecting. Our air and water need protecting. Species of all nature need protecting. We need good solid laws that look past tomorrow and are enacted for the public good, not for the benefit of a few special interests poised to make a lot of money at our expense.
Native Americans take the approach of understanding what the impact of our actions on the Earth will be in seven generations. We could learn a lot from this.