Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Barbra Streisand talks environmental urgency

Barbra Streisand. (Photo by Firooz Zahedi)
With multiple Academy Awards, Grammys, Emmys and a Special Tony Award to her credit, Barbra Streisand is inarguably among the world's most successful and renowned entertainers. Yet Streisand is also a noted environmental activist, having donated $1 million in 2006 to the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation in support of former President Bill Clinton's Climate Change Initiative. She answered questions from POLITICO Senior Editor David Mark about her environmental work.

When did you become convinced global warming was an urgent issue?

I was very frightened after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and I was committed to gaining a deeper understanding about environmental issues. At the time, global warming wasn't on the country's agenda. Outside of the work of some scientists and academics, global warming was a theory, not a mainstream issue. I spent months talking to experts who studied the effects of climate change, and I learned about the work of leading environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.

It was during this time that I was introduced to Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, who was chief scientist and manager of the Climate and Air Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. I connected with Dr. Oppenheimer because he had a unique ability to synthesize his findings on climate change in a manner that was accessible and understandable to the general public. So, in 1989, I decided to create an endowed chair at the Environmental Defense Fund to support his work. This grant was one of the first major gifts of The Streisand Foundation.

From then on, my interest in trying to find workable solutions to help stop climate change only grew. During the '90s, in addition to making grants to support the work of leading environmental organizations, my foundation helped several U.S. scientists, experts and environmental leaders attend the Kyoto meeting on climate change. The meeting produced an international environmental treaty intended to achieve the reduction of greenhouse gases. (Of the 169 signatories, only the United States and Australia have yet to ratify the treaty.)

Most recently, I was one of three lead funders of the Clinton Foundation's Climate Change Initiative. Environmental protection, conservation and climate change will always be a top priority of my foundation.

What do you consider the most important conservation steps for individuals?

The awareness of global warming and the efforts at conservation have come a long way in the past 20 years. But clearly we are not moving at a quick enough pace. The U.S. contains 4 percent of the world's population but produces almost 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. A lot of time was lost over the past eight years to make the necessary drastic and critical changes in our behavior in order to curb climate change. Many Americans feel like the problem can only be solved with significant intervention by the federal government. That is true, but we also need the action of every American to help solve this problem.

It was fantastic that, during the 2008 presidential campaign, President [Barack] Obama highlighted ways in which everyday Americans can help in this fight. ... by filling up the air in their tires, replacing older light bulbs [with] newer, energy-saving ones, driving a hybrid vehicle, carpooling, bringing your own bags to the grocery store, installing low-flow showerheads, unplugging unused appliances and recycling.

These are not just energy-saving tips but cost-saving ones, as well.

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