With "Kung Fu Panda 2" about to hit theaters (May 26), the timing couldn't have been better to bring attention to Conservation International's efforts to protect endangered giant pandas in China's Sichuan province, and the organization's annual dinner did just that when it honored DreamWorks Animation and its CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg with the Global Conservation Hero award in appreciation for their financial support of CI's work.
Harrison Ford presented the plaque — embedded in the frame of a photo of a giant panda — to Katzenberg. "I have been a fan of Conservation International, and the work they do around the world, for many years, and when you think about it, all of our work at DreamWorks Animation is inspired by nature, and their work makes that possible," Katzenberg said earlier on the bamboo carpet, mentioning the company's other hit franchise, "Madagascar." In line with its green policies to reduce, reuse and recycle, the studio "is not quite paperless yet, but we're close to it," said Katzenberg, who drives an electric Nissan Leaf.
Peter Seligman, Conservation International's founder, chairman and CEO, brought us up to date on the organization's efforts. "One of the most important initiatives that we have is called The Pacific Oceanscape. We've formed an alliance between 18 island nations in the western Pacific to come together to protect marine wildlife and the people who live in those areas and make sure all the life in the oceans has a chance for survival. We have a really important initiative to protect forests globally. Forests are one of the most important mechanisms for capturing CO2 and the only way to stop climate change is to keep CO2 out of the atmosphere. Stopping deforestation is one of the least expensive and easiest solutions. 20 percent of all CO2 emissions come from burning forests. Brazil, Indonesia and the Congo are the biggest places for this. We work with them so that a person who leaves a tree standing gets paid.
"We're seeing very positive results," he continued. "Brazil has committed to stop deforestation. The lemur population in Madagascar, while reduced, is stable. But there are still huge challenges. The extinction rate of some species is 100 times normal. We have to change big institutions, change education, get businesses on board. And there's a lot of progress there. But we have to get the message out that we need nature. Humanity needs nature."
Jason Ritter got involved with Conservation International through his mother Nancy, an active, longtime member of the organization, and accompanied her on a CI trip to Brazil in January 2010. "We went to the rain forest and we learned all about the wildlife and plants there. I'm amazed by what they've accomplished. It's a wonderful group of passionate people who care about the environment and the planet we live on," said the star of "The Event," which didn't get renewed by NBC but may find a home elsewhere, as producers are trying to drum up interest from another channel. "There's still hope," he said, but in any case he won’t be out of work for long. Next week, he begins filming "I Am I," playing a nurse in the movie about a young woman who reconnects with her estranged father at her mother's funeral.
Photo courtesy Conservancy International