Outside magazine, October 1997
The anti-Woody. Proof that an enviro-celeb needn't be a nut.
By Jim Fergus
Robert Redford may be one of the more durable leading men of our times, but off screen he's been equally effective at playing another role, one that can be subject to egregious pratfalls: the celebrity environmentalist. Over the past quarter-century, Redford has been a green eminence, using his fame toward consistently good ends ù and doing so with an intelligence rarely seen among marquee activists. In 1975, he successfully fought a planned coal-fired power plant on Utah's Kaiparowits Plateau, prompting the townspeople of Kanab to burn him in effigy. He's been a forceful advocate for the Clean Air Act, the Energy Conservation and Protection Act, and anti-strip-mining bills ù lending his name to these efforts by testifying on Capitol Hill, writing frequent op-ed pieces, and lobbying key members of Congress. More recently, Redford helped thwart the development of a coal mine on land that's now part of the newly established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Unlike those Hollywood crusaders whose noisy, single-issue environmentalism has merely provided sound-bite fodder for Entertainment Tonight, Redford's has been a steadfast, well-informed voice, never shrill. In 1983, he founded the Institute for Resource Management, a nonprofit that worked, with mixed results, to find common ground between environmentalists and industrialists on such matters as the future of electric power and offshore drilling. Through well-publicized events such as the 1989 Sundance Global Warming Conference, Redford has been able to focus attention on critical environmental issues without making a Woody Harrelson spectacle of himself.
Redford's commitment to western landscapes and the environment has been reflected in his directorial efforts as well. In such films as The Milagro Beanfield War and A River Runs Through It, Redford managed to make mainstream art out of quiet, arcane subject matter. (No small feat that he was able to cajole the curmudgeonly Norman Maclean into giving up his small classic to the big screen.) Redford's true gift may be his ability to bridge popular culture and art, politics and movie stardom, environmentalism and entertainment. He segues from one realm to the next so gracefully that he hardly seems to be trying. But like everything else in Hollywood, that's only an illusion.