To make a difference in our planet’s health, people need to be aware of what’s happening — and what they can do about it.
But taking environmental issues to a global audience requires time, money and personal energy. At its recent annual gala, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability raised a record $1.75 million for UCLA’s environmental research, education and community projects and honored four individuals who’ve made major contributions to that effort.
Former Vice President Al Gore, whose landmark film “An Inconvenient Truth” shed light on environmental realities, thanked the honorees. He described the moment as hopeful and urgent. “We’re winning, but it’s very important that we win faster,” Gore said.
The four honorees were Ted Sarandos (chief content officer at Netflix); husband and wife Eric Schmidt (executive chairman of Alphabet, formerly known as Google) and Wendy Schmidt (president of the Schmidt Family Foundation and founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute); and Jeff Skoll, chairman of Participant Media and the Skoll Foundation.
After accepting her award, Wendy Schmidt issued a call to action to the more than 400 supporters in attendance .
“The world needs leaders in this fight, and this room is filled with leaders,” she said. “It’s time. Our fate as a species depends on billions of us now making peace with the natural world we depend on each and every day.”
The event, hosted by Tony and Jeanne Pritzker at their home in Beverly Hills, highlighted UCLA’s Hollywood connection. Environmentally committed stars including Goldie Hawn, Courteney Cox, Maria Bello and Rashida Jones all walked the red carpet.
But Jane Fonda stole the show. During the live auction, the 78-year-old showed her youthful spirit by straddling a high bidder and giving him a kiss, causing the crowd to erupt in applause and laughter. Even Al Gore was impressed. “I think the MVP of this evening is Jane Fonda, clearly,” he said.
Peter Kareiva, director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, drew attention to UCLA students in attendance, asking them to stand for recognition.
“The students I’m working with here are the best I’ve ever worked with,” Kareiva said. “What really sets them apart is that they’re impatient. They all get off campus and solve real-world problems.”
In addition to honoring environmentalists of all ages, the event raised money for faculty and students to continue developing solutions for the future. In a surprise announcement, Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars presented professor Thomas Smith with a check for $400,000 to support the Congo Basin Institute — a campus in Cameroon that will train West African students to deal with climate change, disease, food and water security, and loss of biodiversity.
The money raised is part of the $4.2 billion UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.