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Erin Brockovich to students: Never give up

11/9/12

In 1993, Erin Brock­ovich found her­self steeped in an envi­ron­mental and public health crisis affecting the town of Hinckley, Calif. Hun­dreds of people of all ages were being diag­nosed with cancer, an out­come ulti­mately traced to ground­water con­t­a­m­i­na­tion stem­ming from a local energy plant. Without the aid of any legal training, Brock­ovich became the community’s pri­mary advo­cate and forced the com­pany to be held respon­sible for its neg­li­gent actions—an effort that gar­nered her national fame.

Brock­ovich addressed the North­eastern com­mu­nity in Blackman Audi­to­rium on Wednesday evening. Her talk marked the end of the sev­enth annual Do it in the Dark com­pe­ti­tion, a three-​​week-​​long event hosted by the student-​​run Husky Envi­ron­mental Action Team that raises aware­ness about the envi­ron­ment by tracking energy use among the university’s 10 res­i­dence halls on campus.

“We have a lot in common,” Brock­ovich told an audi­ence com­prised largely of stu­dents. “And that is a com­mit­ment to improving our envi­ron­ment and a com­mit­ment to your edu­ca­tion. We help create aware­ness for others in communities…so that everyone can live in a peaceful, clean and safe environment.”

The event’s orga­nizer, stu­dent Kayla Mot­tola, ’14, called Brock­ovich a true inspi­ra­tion and “a fear­less woman who has ded­i­cated her life to chal­lenging” the status quo.

In her talk, Brock­ovich urged the stu­dent com­mu­nity to do the same. “You have to develop the habit of per­se­vering even when you don’t want to and it would be easier to give up,” she said. “That’s one thing they never did in Hinckley, Cal­i­fornia: They never gave up.”

Brock­ovich also fielded ques­tions posed by mem­bers of the audi­ence, addressing topics ranging from intern­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties to the pol­i­tics of pri­va­tizing water. One stu­dent, who iden­ti­fied him­self as a vet­eran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, asked Brock­ovich what she thinks about hydraulic fracking, a con­tro­ver­sial process to remove nat­ural gas from deep in the earth.

“It has become a real con­cern in com­mu­ni­ties,” she responded. “There is a right way for us to do this and there is a wrong way to do it.” Brock­ovich repeat­edly noted that none of the indi­vid­uals she rep­re­sents wants to do away with com­pa­nies or com­merce. “They just don’t want to be poi­soned,” she said.

Brockovich’s newest project is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Google to create some­thing called the Peo­ples’ Reporting Reg­istry, a map­ping tool that allows con­sumers to track dis­ease data that might be con­nected to poor envi­ron­mental prac­tices. By iden­ti­fying clus­ters of dis­ease, Brock­ovich said, we may be able to iden­tify other public health crises and address them.

Finally, in the moment everyone was waiting for, Brock­ovich announced the win­ners of the Do It In The Dark com­pe­ti­tion. Kerr Hall reduced its energy con­sump­tion the most, with a total sav­ings of 214kWh, fol­lowed by Melvin and Kennedy Halls.

Jess Feldish, the exec­u­tive director of HEAT, thanked all the mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity who took on the Do it in the Dark chal­lenge. “I hope that as a col­lec­tive we will keep con­serving and learn to live more sus­tain­ably,” she said.

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