By Rachel Stengel
Actress, activist and National Campus Sustainability Day keynote speaker Rosario Dawson used her celebrity power to draw an audience of more than 250 Rider students, faculty and community members to the Cavalla Room on Oct. 24. In light of the approaching election, Dawson discussed issues she holds dear such as environmental threats, the importance of voting and the power of the current generation to make change.
Dawson acknowledged that her fame might be the reason why some audience members attended the event, but she used her platform to educate them about the danger of the energy crisis the world is facing.
“I know it’s kind of boring to have the chick from Rent talking about [the energy crisis],” she said. “Why is Mimi talking about this? I’m talking about this because it’s real and if you think this is the last time you’re going to be hearing about energy, you’re sorely mistaken.”
According to Dawson, the U.S. comprises approximately 4 percent of the globe’s population, yet it consumes 25 percent of the world’s resources with the potential to double that need by 2040.
Dawson also highlighted hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which has been a hot button environmental issue as it may be linked to illness and water pollution. According to earthworksaction.org, fracking is the process of extracting natural gas from the ground by drilling and pumping a mixture of sand and chemicals with millions of gallons of waters; the water is contaminated during the process and therefore undrinkable.
“Water is about to be more expensive than gold, but way more valuable than oil, so fracking is really dangerous,” Dawson said. “We don’t know the devastating effects of all of it.”
Fracking is permitted because of an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005; it exempts natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act and spares companies from disclosing the types of chemicals used in the process.
“In all the areas where fracturing is actually happening, there is 17 times more methane gas than in any other area so it’s clearly related, but we don’t know because we don’t have these standards put in place,” Dawson said.
Her gratitude for water stems from her childhood growing up in a squat on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She lived in a building with no heat or electricity, so her mother became a plumber and installed sewage lines in order to have clean water directly.
“We no longer had to take water up four flights of stairs from a water pump, but actually be able to have it in our homes,” Dawson said. “I think how I was raised made me have such a strong appreciation for water when it wasn’t directly available to us.”
Dawson is best know for her appearances in films such as Rent, Seven Pounds, Sin City and Josie and the Pussycats. As an actress, Dawson said that she chooses movies that allow her to bring her activism to the big screen.
“I love the opportunity that I get to work on a film that people can watch and expose them to different types of issues,” she said.
Voting is the key to change, according to Dawson. She stressed the responsibility all Americans have to make their opinions heard.
“Future generations pay attention to what we vote about,” she said. “We’re letting them know about what we care about now. So I’m asking you what you’re going to do about the issues of fracturing that’s going on.”
Junior Eco-Rep and environmental science major Danielle Campanella said Dawson’s visit came at an opportune time.
“As an Eco-Rep, I think it’s really important that she came here speaking about the things that she did during the time that she did, considering voting season is coming quick,” Campanella said. “We need to voice our opinions.”
As the chairwoman of Voto Latino, a non-partisan organization that aims to increase voter registration and action among Latinos, Dawson values the privilege and responsibility of voting. Voto Latino, along with 1,200 other partners, registered more than 50,000 people across the country on National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25. The accomplishment was recognized and retweeted by President Obama.
“It made me cry that so many volunteers came together to make it happen,” Dawson said. “It wasn’t me that made it happen. It was people in all 50 states that made it happen and their work was recognized by the President and that’s what we’re capable of: making sure our voices are heard than companies that have a lot of money.”
The current generation has the potential to make big changes because it is so interconnected through technology and social media, according to Dawson.
“[Think of] how much easier it is to make moves and make campaigns and connect to people an give information and get people riled up and make a difference,” she said. “I think of your potential right now. You’re clearly visionaries. You’re hardworking, not twiddling your thumbs, but making an impact.”
Despite this new information and technology, there is a not an equal distribution of knowledge around the world, Dawson said.
“That’s why there are still today parts of the world where people [are] still throwing rocks at each other, while in Japan they’re making full-on shoulder-rotation, dancing, walking, talking, thinking, cognizant robots that look sexy,” she said. “How do we have robots that look sexy and people throwing rocks at each other over here?”
The disconnect occurs because organizations that aim to help underdeveloped countries and various philanthropic causes are not working together to make change, according to Dawson.
“There’s so many people working on these issues, but a lot of times we’re working on them in a vacuum,” she said “If we were able to combine our efforts we’d actually make a big impact.”
Melissa Greenberg, Rider’s sustainability manager, hopes Dawson’s appearance will motivate students to take the initiative to make world change.
“[Dawson] spoke with authority and I think that those people who came to see a movie star had to have been impressed by the knowledge she carries on these topics,” Greenberg said. “Hopefully, she’ll inspire them to move forward, become aware, become a voice and become involved.”
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