A Southern California liberal arts college announced Monday that it has created the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, emulating the actor’s penchant for combining art, media and environmental science to educate students about policymaking.
Pitzer College, one of the first to launch an environmental studies program, teamed up with the actor and devoted preservationist known for his consistent and effective advocacy.
The program will combine the school’s core values of conservation and sustainability and blend it with its liberal arts and media curriculum. Redford is a trustee and special advisor to the college on environmental matters.
“Part of this is to create a body of knowledge that our students will carry out of the institution,” said Lance Neckar, director of the conservancy. “And science is great but only effective if you can actually communicate well about it.”
The conservancy was established with a $10-million gift from Nicholas and Susan Pritzker, parents of a Pitzer graduate who support such philanthropic organizations as the Clean Energy Trust, among others.
The new program will preserve and occupy a historic infirmary on nearly 12 acres next to the Claremont college campus. The infirmary was built in a coastal sage scrub ecosystem, one of the most endangered. The rare habitat will be used as a living library for students participating in the conservancy.
“We tend to ship students off to rain forests and more exotic places to look at our environmental predicament, but what a magnificent natural laboratory we have at our disposal right at Claremont,” said Pitzer environmental analysis professor Paul Faulstitch.
“We see that good things happen when people put their minds to it when policy and regulations are directed toward positive change,” Faulstitch said. “But I would argue that in Pitzer’s 40 years of doing environmental studies, there’s no time that has been more critical than the time that we have now.”
Pitzer is the smallest of the seven Claremont Colleges, with about 1,000 students. It boasts the same number of Fulbright scholars among its alumni as Harvard University.
During a news conference at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, Redford reminisced about growing up in a community just east of Santa Monica and “how beautiful it was, how clean the air was.” Brentwood, Westwood and Santa Monica were all separated by green space, he said.
“Suddenly I felt that the city I was born in no longer felt that way. It no longer felt like home,” he said. “This giant machine that was made up of buildings and concrete and pavement, it ultimately became skyscrapers and freeways. That machine was slowly pushing the city that I loved into the ocean.”
As urban sprawl consumed and changed the landscape, Redford said he too began to change.
“As long as there is an inch of possibility [for conservation efforts] then I think we have to give it everything we have to do something about it,” he said.