Redford: ‘Our opportunities our shrinking’ to stop climate change

Actor and environmentalist Robert Redford speaks with Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales about activism, arts and the environment at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. Clyde Mueller/The New Mexican

A sold-out crowd packed into the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night for a one-on-one about the arts, activism and the environment between Mayor Javier Gonzales and legendary actor and environmental activist Robert Redford.

Redford, dressed in blue jeans and a blazer, captivated the audience, sharing stories about his youth, the origins of the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and movies that have made him one of the most recognized actors in American cimena.

While the mood was light, Redford, who owns a home in Santa Fe, also sounded an environmental alarm, saying the planet is changing and that “our opportunities are shrinking.”

“The energy companies are not going to go quietly into the night,” Redford said when Gonzales asked him how to influence policymakers or at least counter the view that “cheaper is always better” when it comes to coal, drilling and fracking.

“They’re going to fight, and they have the money to do it — I’ve been struggling with that imbalance for a long time,” Redford said.

Redford touted the advantages of moving to alternative energy. Not only is it clean, he said, but it creates jobs. But that story needs to get told, Redford said.

“In looking at New Mexico, I’m thinking here’s this rich country, and if it continues going in the way that’s been in the past, which is oil, gas and coal, they [energy companies] have the power to keep the word out like that’s the way to go,” he said.

Redford described that view as short-sighted.

Energy companies are selling their message “without looking down the road and saying, ‘OK, what about tomorrow, and is there an alternative so we don’t have to rip up our Earth?’ ” he said.

Redford said he is committed to looking at New Mexico as a “rich possibility for the future” that strikes a balance and “saves some of the land that would be lost” to development.

“But it’s not going to be easy,” said Redford, who is 78. “I think young people are going to be the ones to really move it along.”

Redford told the audience that his passion for the environment took hold when he was a kid growing up in a lower-class working community in Los Angeles. The genesis, he said, was watching the city he loved “sort of disappear under my feet.”

“I didn’t feel that the quality that I loved when I was a kid was present anymore,” said Redford, who spent “a lot of time” in the Pacific Ocean because he loved to surf. “It turned itself over to indiscriminate development. It was come one, come all. It was like gold rush time.”

When he decided to start a family, Redford said, he decided to do something “to make the world possible for them.”

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“What I was seeing around me was people were developing things right and left, and I wondered, if this continues, if it doesn’t get balanced out from what we preserve and what we develop, then what is going to be left for young people — my kids, their kids and other generations?”

Redford said he decided to live in Santa Fe because he had visited “many, many times over the years” and finally realized “I was coming here so often that there must be something more to it than I was imagining.”

“I felt Santa Fe was unique on a whole lot of levels,” he said. “It had land. It had sky. It had color. It had history. The history itself was fascinating to me because it was putting together three cultural elements: Anglo, Native American and Mexican.”

Redford generated laughs throughout the night.

One of the funniest moments came early in the conversation when Redford talked about the Sundance Film Festival.

“Am I talking too much?” he asked the mayor.

“No, you’re doing great,” Gonzales responded, generating applause.

“I’m suddenly getting bored with myself,” Redford said.

“You just stay talking,” Gonzales told him.

“What was I saying?” Redford asked, generating more laughter.

Glenn Schiffbauer, who has known Redford for 30 years and is the executive director of the Santa Fe chapter of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, said Redford’s attendance demonstrates his commitment to the city.

“Arts, environment and activism — you can’t find somebody who epitomizes all three of those any more so than Robert Redford,” he said.

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(39) comments

Udy Regan

It's quite amazing to see celebrities pick a cause that's special to them and really go all out to talk about it isn't it!

bill carson

I saw this in the paper earlier today on the front page, for crying out loud. It made me wonder about the lives of people who wouild spend $30 each (according to comment I saw) to kiss the you know what of an old movie star. Don't you people have anyone else to worship than Redford?

It also made me wonder about Redford himself. Gee, isn't he rich enough and had his you know what kissed enough in his life? Ha, does he really need another $5,000 or whatever he got. The guy's in love with himself and you paid money to gawk at him and listen to him babble?

Khal Spencer

It was a fundraiser, right?

Unfortunately, I live too far outa town to blast down there for these things on weekdays. Getting out of work late, my first priority is to open the fridge and grab a cold one. Would have loved to give my own two cents having been there.

John McAndrew

Went to this event last night. Enjoyed seeing Mr. Redford, whom I did not realize is now a local. I have a lot of respect for his advocacy for both the environment and the arts over the decades.

But as a catalyst to move anything forward . . . there was nothing, except perhaps the $30 each of us spent which presumably goes to the SF Forward "Community Protection Initiative." Not a single environmental initiative was proposed, much less discussed, in a liberal city that recycles an embarrassing 9% of our waste stream. The mayor mentioned his fond wish that the 2% of solar panels that are now in town might grow to 20%, but there was no discussion of how that might happen. Mr. Redford seemed to have been briefed on PNM's retro plan to replace coal with more coal, but no call to action was given.

Perhaps this is what liberalism has devolved to, at least in Santa Fe: we are content to hold views that reflect the realities of our time – yes, climate change is a real thing – and that seems to absolve us from actually taking any action.

An old college professor once said, "To believe something is to act as if it's true." If he was right, perhaps Santa Fe only dreams that we are liberal, since there is little evidence that we believe what we say we believe.

Dr. Michael Johnson


Well said, and that is one of the reasons nothing is or will happen about "climate change", it is too hard for rich, privileged left wingers to handle.

Khal Spencer

I have no idea what liberalism is any more. Seems to me a lot of people decide whether to drink red or blue Kool-Aid, and that's the end of their story.

Climate change is a real thing (ask the Vikings who had to abandon Greenland or ask the Anasazi), we add to that real thing given there are seven billion of us with an industrial society powered by fuels that put emissions in the atmosphere. We have to think bluntly and honestly about how the human race will proceed into the future. Part of that is being honest with ourselves about the huge scope of the problem (Judy Curry calls it the "Climate Monster") and then deciding, politically, what we will do as we work our way forward. Whatever happens will have economic consequences, and humans will have to deal with it. Scientists have it easy. An honest scientist just tries to acquire the best understanding using climatology, paleoclimatology, and the various resources at our disposal. The economists and politicians have the hard job--making decisions in a fog.

Thomas Franks


Dr. Michael Johnson

Once again the Mayor is pandering to his far left political base and inviting this yahoo to town to talk about things, like climate science, that he knows nothing about. Such a poor student, uninterested and incapable of academic learning, and so flaky that even the Univ. of Colorado ask him to leave. Now he thinks he knows climate science and of course, since he is rich and famous, he has an opinion about everything, just ask him, pay him, and he will pontificate. What a waste of time. But I do hope he is correct that "opportunities to save the planet from climate change" are shrinking". That is wonderful and soon maybe he will shut up about it all and just move on with his life and accomplish something meaningful.

henry Griswold

" I do hope he is correct that "opportunities to save the planet from climate change are shrinking"."

henry Griswold

thought the three cultures are anglo, native americans & spanish
although mexican might be recognized soon!

Jay Baker

It was a great evening. Hats off to the mayor. I do criticize him at times, but this was a good event.

However, there wasn't enough conversation about water, particularly the horrible job that City Manager Bryan Snyder and Utility Director Nick Schiavo are doing in ripping off city residents, as seen in the Albuquerque Journal article below. Why isn't the New Mexican reporting this $90 million slush fund that Schiavo and Snyder have created?

Pat Shackleford

Thanks for the article link, Jay. Seems like I recently heard councilors wondering where they were going to come-up with a half million dollars or so for extra parts for new water meters. Now they know where to look. If that water department surplus isn't enough, Brian Snyder probably has that in "walking around money".

bill carson

you went there to gawk at an out of state movie star and now you're complaining that the conversation was't thoughtful enough? Unbelieveable!

JC Corcoran

Save taxpayer's money AND defund climate change and environmental destruction by ending the enormous subsidies and tax breaks for animal agriculture!

"As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?"

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

"A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy." ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

There is one single industry destroying the planet more than any other. But no one wants to talk about it...

David Mulberry

If I heard right....the subsidies for mills and solar. ....which are billions and billions of dollars...are going to end next year. If that is true it will be interesting to see how they are going to fair. Alt. Energy relies on those massive subsidies

Khal Spencer

Fossil energy gets major subsidies as well, although Mr. Mulberry will not tell you that. Renewables may now be getting more than fossils, but subsidies go out to the whole spectrum, including fossil, renewables, nuclear, and conservation.

"A 2011 study by the consulting firm Management Information Services, Inc. (MISI)[23] estimated the total historical federal subsidies for various energy sources over the years 1950–2010. The study found that oil, natural gas, and coal received $369 billion, $121 billion, and $104 billion (2010 dollars), respectively, or 70% of total energy subsidies over that period. Oil, natural gas, and coal benefited most from percentage depletion allowances and other tax-based subsidies, but oil also benefited heavily from regulatory subsidies such as exemptions from price controls and higher-than-average rates of return allowed on oil pipelines. The MISI report found that non-hydro renewable energy (primarily wind and solar) benefited from $74 billion in federal subsidies, or 9% of the total, largely in the form of tax policy and direct federal expenditures on research and development (R&D). Nuclear power benefited from $73 billion in federal subsidies, 9% of the total, largely in the form of R&D, while hydro power received $90 billion in federal subsidies, 12% of the total."

Emily Koyama

As a percentage of the actual energy produced for consumption, I'm betting that oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear produce far more energy per subsidy dollar than wind and solar energy, but perhaps you know?

Khal Spencer

I suspect you are right, Neal, but don't have numbers handy. One could ratio subsidy dollars to Kwh produced pretty easily, though.

Khal Spencer

Sorry, that should have been either Mr. Neal or Peter....

David Mulberry

So what you are saying is.....The Indians were driven out of Chaco Canyon in 1150 A.D because of the drought .....climate change. ...was caused because of them eating meat? Or eating meat caused the glacier in Northern New Mex....18,00 years ago? Or how about....the famous picture of people ice skating on the Tymes River in 1680....the frozen river was caused because of meat eating.

JC Corcoran

So what you are saying is... you are really clueless around these events and feel righteous and brilliant enough to comment. Where is your science?

Khal Spencer

Khal Spencer

Would have been nice to have a scientist or two on the panel, but this was about entertainment more than about scientific grounding. Good as far as it goes, but if one wants to take a peek at how climate science really works, we need to have a few more public seminars (in the evenings or on weekends, thank you) geared at the non-climate scientist level at places like LANL, St. John's, or Santa Fe Institute.

CO2, like water vapor, is a Tyndall gas, i.e., it absorbs and re-radiates light energy that would otherwise be lost to space. The real question is not whether humans influence climate by changing atmospheric chemistry, but by how much vs. how much is natural variation, and how exactly climate will eventually adjust to long term (i.e., century-long) increases in Tyndall gases. The uncertainties are still rather substantial, which leads some to a "wait and see, do prudent things, and learn more" and others to "gasp, we gotta do something right now" point of view. Both are reasonable starting points of public discussion. The devils, as usual, are in the details, and you won't hear that from movie stars, deniers, or other non-scientists. Unfortunately, you won't hear that from most media, either.

Well, time to trudge off....

Steve Salazar

Robert Redford, that most respected scientist, speaks! Getting to the speaking gig, he flew in on a jet, a jet that spews CO2 into the stratosphere, where it has its greatest effect.

And people bought tickets to this? The Kool-Aid must have been damn tasty.

Denice La Roque

I agree with Steve. Robert is a hypocrite. He lives in Utah also. I was born and raised there and the winter inversions are terrible. I worked at the SLC airport for a private Lear Jet charter company who flew him a couple of times, left the plane a mess. All the celebs try to be "environmentalist" but not one of them live in small homes, or would ride a bicycle to get around.

Dr. Michael Johnson


Jack Rush

Wow, the industry shills are out in force. Climate change is real, no amount of conservative state governors banning the use of the word can deny it. Do the research, scientists across the spectrum agree.

And why would anyone be opposed to cleaning the environment, putting less toxins in the air, adding to the heat level?

You'd either have to be ignorant of the facts, insane, short-sighted or a company shill whose livelihood is based upon the status quo.

Thanks to Mr. Redford and Mayor Gonzales for having this forum, sorry the Koch brothers couldn’t participate, oh wait their minions are here.


Steve Salazar

Just because someone doesn't agree with YOU, they are an industry shill?

Michael Grimler

Man-made climate change is a lie.

Even if it wasn't, the amount of money spent to reverse ANY degree of climate change would have to be massive and will bankrupt developed countries, including the United States.

We should not spend one thin dime on this bogus bullc r a p.

Let the largest polluter in the world -- China -- take the financial lead on this to see if such massive spending would make a noticeable difference over a hundred years or so.

Edward Brown

Climate change is a given and so are the purveyors of pseudo sciences. In the 70s it was Global Cooling Alarmism - Now it is Global Warming.

And the attacks against CO2 are anything but science. Carbon dioxide is important because it is used in photosynthesis, a process that is necessary for the survival of life on Earth. Higher levels of CO2 in the last few years have resulted in record crop growth. And another record year is predicted for 2015.

El Nino has been in place since the spring of 2014 - PERU Government. When we have El Nino we have warmer temperatures. And for NM wetter weather and more mountain snow. NOAA has forecasted that El Nino will be around through the summer of 2016.

NOAA has also forecasted a cooler and wet May; and this trend should be with NM and TX through the summer.

David Mulberry

1924: Top Scientists Say That Earth Is Doomed (April 16, 1924)

David Mulberry

Earth ‘Serially Doomed': UN Issues New 15 Year Climate Tipping Point – But UN Issued Tipping Points in 1982 & Another 10-Year Tipping Point in 1989!

David Mulberry

“We have 500 days – not a day more – to avoid a climate disaster. We must face up to climate disruption, climate chaos. The scientists, several of whom are present here, have said it: ‘you’d have to be blind not to see it’” M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, 14 May 2014

David Mulberry

“[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…[By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers.”
Michael Oppenheimer, published in “Dead Heat,” St. Martin’s Press, 1990

David Mulberry

“By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”
Paul Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971.

David Mulberry

Doom!!!! They predicted doom!!!!

San Jose Mercury News (CA) – June 30, 1989 – 3F General News

A senior environmental official at the United Nations, Noel Brown, says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if global warming is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of “eco-refugees,” threatening political chaos, said Brown, director of the New York office of the U.N. Environment Program. He said governments have a 10-year window of opportunity to solve the greenhouse effect before it goes beyond human…

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