By Katie Zeck
Few can say that an Academy Award-winning film was not only based on their life story but also named after them.
Legal clerk and environmental activist Erin Brockovich can.
Brockovich spoke to a large crowd of students, faculty and community members in the Cavalla Room of the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC) as a part of Rider’s Earth Month Film and Speaker Series on Thursday, April 19.
Brockovich feels that the celebrity status she achieved through the aptly named movie, Erin Brockovich, has substantially helped with the work she has been able to accomplish in the 12 years since the movie’s release.
“The movie gave me a great opportunity to reach larger audiences,” Brockovich said in an exclusive interview with The Rider News. “Even now, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of companies who want to change their business are reaching out for change. [The movie] has also opened a lot of opportunities for me to write books and raise awareness about these environmental issues.”
Some of the main topics of Brockovich’s address included current projects she is working on and the importance of sustainability.
“The environment is everything that sustains us,” she said. “The environment is your business. It’s our greatest investment and we are all shareholders.”
Brockovich also took the time to show a trailer for a new movie she is involved with titled Last Call at the Oasis. The film focuses on the impending global water crisis. It is made by the producers of Food, Inc. and An Inconvenient Truth and will be released to theatres nationwide on May 4.
Another one of Brockovich’s new ventures is a project she is working on with Google.
“[Google] is helping with the software for what we call the ‘People’s Reporting Registry,’” she said. “It’s a map where people come and report excess illness in their community so we can begin to reference that information. I want to know what the cause of the increase is in all this disease. If we can cross reference data and put a group back to a location, we can narrow down a source for this increase in disease. I’m hoping this information could also be used for science and for medicine.”
As portrayed in the movie Erin Brockovich, Brockovich got in touch with the law firm Masry & Vititoe after moving to California and seeking legal advice for a traffic accident she was involved with. She was able to get a job as a file clerk within the firm and while sorting papers, found medical records that piqued her interest and led to one of the largest direct action lawsuits in U.S. history.
According to Brockovich’s official website, the lawsuit revealed that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) had been poisoning the water of Hinkley, Calif. residents for more than 30 years. The exposure to the toxins the company was putting into the ground water led to serious health risks for much of the population of Hinkley. The case was settled in 1996 in which PG&E was ordered to pay $333 million dollars.
Brockovich is currently the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting and works as a consultant for the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.
Brockovich provided the audience with pieces of inspirational advice during her speech, including a letter her father sent her about the importance of honesty after she lied about skipping class during high school.
“Years later, his letter really hit home to me that deceit and secrets jeopardize us all,” she said. “Deceit is not just a word, it’s an action.”
She also focused on the value of being an individual that does something when help is needed.
“You have to get out there and get involved and live with your head and your heart and your gut and you’ll find that you can actually change things,” she said. “We can’t just stand on the sideline and think something’s going to get done.”
Eco-Rep Sophomore and psychology major Stephanie Eppolito was excited to hear the environmental activist speak.
“I loved the movie,” she said. It was really great. She has so many good ideas. I could listen to her for hours.”
Brockovich raised the significance of using new social media tools to advocate change.
“With all the new technology we have, like Facebook and Twitter, I believe it has come time for us to find new ways of doing business, new ways of interacting with each other and new ways to give back to the planet that we have taken so much from,” she said.