Former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore energized a room filled with celebrities, environmentalists and UCLA researchers at a March 5 fundraiser that garnered more than $1 million for the university's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

"Last year was the warmest year in the history of North America. We had $110 billion in climate-related disasters in the U.S. last year, smashing all the previous records," Gore said. "There are some people who go straight from denial to despair without pausing on the intermediate step of actually solving the problem. Some of the damage has been done and will continue to unfold, but it is nothing compared to what would happen if we do not say, 'All shoulders to the wheel. We are going to change this.'"

The work being done by UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) and by others in the room is critical, Gore said, building to a crescendo.

"We have a lot more work to do ... There are some who say it's impossible," he said and began to shout. "I refuse to believe it. I refuse to accept it. We will solve the climate crisis."

Gore's audience was a star-studded group of more than 350 guests celebrating "An Evening of Environmental Excellence" at the home of Jeanne and Anthony Pritzker in the Bel Air hills.
Celebrities attending included Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Courteney Cox, Jeff Goldblum, Zach Braff, Sarah Silverman and Lawrence Bender, an IoES board member and producer of "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Pulp Fiction." 
The dinner recognized the environmental accomplishments of Gore and of Lyn Lear, co-founder of the Environmental Media Association. Pritzker, chairman of the IoES board, and board members Bender, Sydney Holland, Alexandria Jackson and Tina Quinn chaired the event, and actors Amy Smart and Carter Oosterhouse hosted.

The event took place after polls closed in Los Angeles' mayoral primary election. The top two vote-getters, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, who will be headed for a runoff on May 21, have both voiced their support for the IoES plan to green the city. At the gala, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block praised the institute's growing influence.

"Think about the critically important work being done at IoES," Block said. "We're sending the urgent — some might even say 'inconvenient' — message that humankind is headed for disaster if we don't change our course ... I'm very proud that IoES, here at UCLA, has emerged as a real leader in sustainability."

IoES director Glen MacDonald reminded the crowd of the vast expertise the institute supports.

"We support research in conservation biology, climate change, urban and corporate sustainability, energy efficiency, renewables, water treatment and management, and environmental health," he said. "We really have a full portfolio of the challenges that we all face."

The crowd raised an extra $56,500 for UCLA's environmental institute with a live auction featuring prizes such as a week in a private villa at a Thailand resort, donated by the Pritzkers, and a custom full-home solar-power package, donated by Verengo Solar. The crowd was also treated to a performance by musician Jason Mraz and a standup routine by Sarah Silverman, who made a few token references to the academics and science the event supported.

"I believe in miracles — they're obviously science-based, but they're beyond my comprehension, so to me, they're miracles," the comedienne said in what seemed like a possible segue to discussing climate change. Instead, she launched into a raunchy body-humor routine that left the audience in gales of laughter.

When Lear accepted her award recognizing her environmental contribution, which was presented by longtime UCLA School of Public Health supporter Cindy Horn, she acknowledged the difficulty the world faces in confronting climate change.

"When President Kennedy decided we would put a man on the moon, there was very little science on how we would actually achieve that, but JFK had a vision, and he understood the most powerful statements in the English language: 'I will,' 'We will' and 'It shall be done,'" Lear said. "Solving climate change is our moon landing. From what I understand, this is the most difficult challenge we human beings have ever faced ... So let's remember JFK, and let's remember the words 'I will,' 'We will' and 'It shall be done.'"
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