Sigourney Weaver, reflecting on being selected to win a 2011 Rachel Carson award, wondered what the pioneering environmentalist and author of Silent Spring would do if she were alive today to face the world's environmental problems.
"What would Rachel Carson do?" the actress and activist asked. "More."
Weaver's rousing pep talk served as the keynote address for the National Audubon Society's Women in Conservation awards ceremony Monday at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Women have always been environmentalists, concerned with conserving scarce resources for their families, Weaver said, and it's now time for women to "kick some ass" on behalf of the environment. "Contemplate the beauty of the Earth," she said, "then fight like hell to protect it."
The Rachel Carson awards raise money for Audubon's Women in Conservation program, which encourages women in environmental careers. The centerpiece of the program is an internship for a young woman entering the field of conservation science or advocacy.
Weaver, the Golden Globe Award-winning actress well-known for her roles in science-fiction thrillers like Alien and Avatar got a real-life education in the importance of protecting wild habitats when she played primatologist Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist. She was honored by the award for that role, as well as for her narration of the Planet Earth series and the documentary Acid Test about ocean acidification, and for her budding activism on issues ranging from the Gulf oil spill to the proposed building of a huge dam in the Brazilian Amazon to the need for birth-control and the empowerment of women worldwide. (If women had the access to birth control that they desire, fewer children would be born, Weaver said, and the impact on the environment would be equivalent to ending deforestation.)
"I'm only starting to work on behalf of our planet and the systems that sustain us," she said, after expressing her admiration for the long career of the day's other awardee, artist Maya Lin.
Best known for the work that catapulted her career, the moving Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., Lin has focused on environmental themes frequently since then. Her Wavefield, a stunning stretch of grass she's transformed to look as if it's rippling with water-like waves at Storm King Art Center in New York's Hudson Valley is nothing short of extraordinary.
She was inspired, she said, early in her life by the idea that humans stand alone among species for our ability to destroy, or to save, other species.
Also honored were dozens of women activists who have helped respond to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Dubbed the "Women of the Gulf," and, more spiritedly, "an incredible army of women," by awards chair Allison Whipple Rockefeller, their varied contributions were celebrated amid a general call to action to restore the Mississippi River Delta ecosystem with the help of fines collected from BP by the federal government.
The Gulf provides 40% of the seafood caught in the lower 48 states and supports 400 species of birds and other wildlife, but the ecosystem is badly degraded and endangered by, among other things, the "latticework" of oil and gas pipelines serving 19,000 offshore wells, and by the system of levees that has starved the delta of the Mississippi River mud its needs to replenish itself naturally, David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said. So far, he added, the total amount spent on ecosystem restoration from BP fines is easy to quantify: $0.
"If they don't restore that coast," Anne Thompson, the chief environmental affairs correspondent for NBC News and the ceremony's emcee, said, "then cleaning up the oil was money wasted."
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