Audubon Women in Conservation 2011: Sigourney Weaver

Actress Sigourney Weaver received one of two Rachel Carson Awards at Audubon’s recent Women in Conservation luncheon. Audubon magazine sat down with the actress to discuss what it means to be a woman activist, what environmental issues concern her, and how we can all play a part in protecting the planet. See Weaver's acceptance speech here, and stay tuned for an interview with Audubon's other honoree, artist/architect May Lin.

Audubon: What does it feel like to win the Rachel Carson Award?
Sigourney Weaver: I’m overwhelmed by the honor of winning the Rachel Carson award. I’m a huge admirer of hers and of women in conservation in general in the Audubon Society. To me she showed, well, first of all, such vision, but also such courage in standing up to  agribusiness and holding her position. And of course she was right, but she was remarkable in all of this.

How has your interest in conservation changed or matured over the years?
Well, I think the situation on our planet has become more dire, so my interest in preserving the planet has grown. I think I was lucky enough to grow up in nature and always felt very nourished by it. Look at the changes made and the way people live, the loss of habitat, that there’s so many children now who don’t have the experience of being in nature—it's so much a part, to me, of what makes us human and what makes us understand our relationship to the rest of the world. We are one of many species—we are not the main species—but if you’re in the forest, you know that you are there with the animals, the birds, the insects, the plants; then you understand that balance. I think that working with the gorillas in Gorillas in the Mist was the first time I understood how much our species thinks of itself as the most important species, and I think for Diana Fossey, she felt very strongly that we are all equal and we must respect each other’s habitat and each other’s needs. And in the name of progress a lot of that understanding for the balance of nature and what’s good for the planet has gone out the window.

Is there an environmental issue that concerns you most?
I’m very concerned about the acidification of the oceans. Since about a third of the CO2 from burning fossil fuels goes into the ocean, I think there was a feeling, ‘Well, at least it’s not going into the atmosphere, creating more warming,’ but in fact, CO2  mixed with seawater creates carbonic acid, and that reduces the amount of carbonate in the water, which makes it very difficult for shelled creatures to build shells. As they struggle longer to make shells and as they make more brittle shells, it will mean they have less energy to find food and to reproduce. Scientists are already predicting that by the end of the century, our ocean water will be twice as acidic, and we really don’t know what will happen to the food chain in the new scenario. I did a film called “Acid Test,” which is on an NRDC website which can tell you the whole story. It’s a big problem, as well as the overfishing of the seas. And that’s why, frankly, Sylvia Earle, who won the Rachel Carson award a few years ago, has these marine protected areas in the oceans that she’s trying to develop which are "hope spots." In these marine protected areas, life can come back because man has left it alone. We need to create hope spots on land and on sea, and in each of our homes so that we can come to grips with what’s happened on the planet.

What advice would you give to young girls and even women interested in getting into conservation, whether it be a vocation or an avocation?
I think women, traditionally, have been conservationists, because since time began, we have been the ones making food last and keeping fires going, and so I think whatever one decides to do as an individual, we are well-suited to being smart about Mother Earth. I think that it’s a field that we need to put a lot of energy and new thinking into, so it would be wonderful for young women and young men to go into this field. But whatever field you choose—I mean, in my field, I can step up and say, ‘We don't need a generator, I mean...Bring the solar panels in to fuel the generator.’ We have the capability of finding solutions to a lot of this waste of energy—but, people have to speak up. So, whatever career you’re in, whatever career you choose, whatever community you’re active in, even in your own home, there’s so much we can do to improve the situation. And you can vote for a politician who will actually address the climate change concerns properly, and not someone who goes, ‘Oh, well, you know, our economy isn’t good enough; we really shouldn’t be switching over to sustainable fuels right now.’ Are you kidding me? Ask the people of Mississippi what they think about waiting.

For interviews with last year's winners, click here.


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