Rosario Dawson on Water, Fracking, Voting and Her Heroes

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MTV recently interviewed Voto Latino Co-Founder Rosario Dawson on a subject she’s really passionate about — the environment. On this Earth Day we share the extended version. Enjoy!
 

We know that you’ve recently become involved with Water Defense – what are the main issues that you’re working on with them?

The main issue we’re tackling with Water Defense is “fracking,” short for hydraulic fracturing – which is a dangerous form of drilling for natural gas.  We’re trying to keep fracking out of our watersheds and our communities as well as debunk the  ”clean” natural gas myth. In its full life-cycle, the start to finish of its extraction process, gas is as little as 20% cleaner than coal in terms of its greenhouse gas emissions. That doesn’t even factor in or address the more immediate (& long term) health costs (asthma, allergies, cancer) to the families or water that is so terribly disturbed during this process.

We had federal environmental laws in place that used to prevent the problems of fracking but the 2005 Energy Policy enacted by President Bush and Vice President Cheney during the last administration, commonly known as the “Halliburton loophole” exempts oil and gas companies from all of these environmental regulations (the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Superfund Law and others). Without proper regulation in place, there’s little that people can do to stop the industry from poisoning our water.

Right now there is a battle going on to save the Delaware River from fracking. 17 million people get their drinking water from the Delaware River – in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey  - and this year it will be decided if we are going to allow 80 thousand gas wells to be fracked along the river.

Why is this issue (water) so important to you?

Water is life. Though we live on a planet that is 75% water, less than 1% of it is readily available for human consumption. That would and could more than suffice for every man, woman and child but over-consumption of aquifers and streams, clear-cutting of forests, urban and agricultural runoff and pesticide and toxic pollution has alarmingly stressed our freshwater systems. Today, 1 in 8 people lack safe drinking water and 2 out of 5 people lack adequate sanitation.  That means over 1.2 billion people don’t have access to clean water to live, so every year over 5 million people (many of them children) die of water-related diseases (the leading cause of illness in the world) and 2.4 billion people lack basic sanitation and services, which exacerbate these diseases.

Recent federal proposals to modify and lessen clean water standards (increasing mercury pollution from power plants, reducing funding for water conservation here and abroad, etc.) are growing the problem around the world. Though we have access to taps and toilets here in the United States, we are not exempt from this problem. Our water is becoming increasingly polluted and we are getting sicker for it. I and many others are compelled by these facts to do something about it – because we can!

“Humanity is poisoning, squandering and overburdening water resources. The result is that billions of people lack access to clean water. Millions of children die every year from preventable water-borne diseases… We are at a crisis point, but we still have time to turn this around.”

-Leonardo Dicaprio

Can you explain fracking? It seems like a complicated issue. Who does this issue affect most? What can we do about it?

Fracking is a process of natural gas-drilling.  It requires blasting water, toxic chemicals and sand underground into rock formations to crack them apart and release the gas.  For every well that gets drilled, 5 to 15 million gallons of fresh water is used (which is otherwise very much needed water and could be put to better use). Though a pipe system is used to bring the water “safely” back up and out (there’s a long history of breaks and spills, including a major one this week ), a lot of the toxic water remains underground. It gets into the groundwater and into people’s homes coming back up to the surface with whatever unknown elements naturally occurring underground now mixed in as well.

These are the two horrifying problems with fracking: it contaminates the water-wells of homes and communities, such that people can light their tap water on fire (see the documentary Gasland), and it also produces billions of gallons of waste-water that is not treatable and ends up getting dumped right into rivers and streams. In Pennsylvania and New York, the water that returns to the surface is radioactive, because the layer of rock underground that is being “fracked” has extremely high levels of radon. There are currently no treatment facilities that can handle radioactivity, especially the sheer volume of this waste-water, so in Pennsylvania, there have been mounting catastrophes as the state struggles to dispose of the waste-water.

On top of all this, the process of fracking actually causes earthquakes! The pressure of all that water, and drilling horizontally has caused unnatural, man made earthquakes in Arkansas (and a few other states).

These have been ongoing problems, found consistently, in every state that has accepted fracking.  People lease their land to a gas company, expecting to make money: they find instead that the water in their home has become flammable from migrations of methane, that their children are getting sick, that the money from leasing is not what they expected and that they can not afford to keep buying bottled water for all of their needs, nor can they recoup the value of their home – with gas wells, pipelines and waste pits on it.

Fracking is affecting families across the country, who have lost their health and the value of their home. It is affecting farms across the country and the food that is produced on them. Fracking is poisoning our most precious resource, our water, the water we drink and bathe and cook and live with, on such a huge scale that it is incomprehensible. We think we are gaining, a “bridge fuel” – which is yet another fossil fuel – but what we’re really doing is sacrificing our very lifeblood. Until the laws to protect our water are reinstated, we have to ban the process of fracking – ban it now, before it destroys more homes and families.

You’ve taken action on so many different issues – can you tell us a bit about what is most important to you right now?

I just want people to know their rights and their power. Many places in the world are in the midst of intense revolutions to achieve rights we here in America already have because many before us have fought and died for them for us.

My voting organization, Voto Latino is gearing up to register as many people as possible for the next election. For many it is their first political action outside of paying taxes. Often, I get people registered just by pointing out that if taxes have been taken from their paychecks or when they were buying those new sneakers they’re wearing, that they’re already engaged in the political system. Why not take it to the next step and participate in the process that allows you to vote where that tax money goes?!

Voting is a collective and historic action that often compels people to really look at and take a stand on the issues that they and their families, friends and communities face everyday. We do not have to just watch (or ignore) the news and bemoan our plights as if we’re powerless to do anything about it. Imagine how bleak things must have seemed during slavery or during the civil rights movement when people were still getting lynched?

I’m so grateful for the women’s suffragette movement that gave us women the right to vote! People came together collaboratively and ushered in a new era. They knew then what sometimes it seems we now forget, which is that is that our government and representatives work for us! We’re their boss. And the will of the people should be heard and made clear so that we can actually pursue healthy lives, just liberty and communal happiness for everyone. It takes a village, as they say. And when that village comes together we are one mighty force.

What advice or message would you send to young people that are interested in taking action or getting involved?

Follow your passion and get informed, get mad/inspired, then get involved! We have a chance right now to save the Delaware River: if we do, it will be a monumental victory, and from there we can reach for a national ban on this inherently toxic, wasteful, dangerous process.  This is our water supply, this is it – you can’t clean dirty, radioactive water, and you most definitely can’t drink gas.

Go to www.waterdefense.org to get involved.  We can ban fracking and save our water if we come together right now. It’s really time to tell our government to stop subsidizing oil and gas (fossil fuels get roughly 10 billion dollars a year). That’s the reason green energy is perceived as difficult to reach because wind, solar & wave energy get none of the breaks that gas, oil and coal get.  Imagine if we put that money towards green technology, research and energy!? These direct actions that we can take now will keep our water pure and bring us to true energy independence.

Please, too, register at www.VotoLatino.org and VOTE!

Who are some of your personal heroes? What inspires you?

I grew up with a lot of community activists in NY, like trans advocate and East Village legend Chloe Dzubilo (RIP), that taught me much then and continue to inspire me now. My family and friends have always been a source of wisdom and support that I’ve depended on. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to meet, work and befriend other people who’ve inspired me through the years like Dolores Huerta (advocate for working poor, women and children), Dr. Andrew Young (U.S. Ambassador, Atlanta Mayor, Civil Rights leader alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and the incredible Eve Ensler (writer of Vagina Monologues, I Am An Emotional Creature) whose board I’m on
(anti-violence organization: VDAY).

People’s stories have always inspired me. I guess that’s why I love being an actor and an activist; I get to learn, tell, share and experience so many lives…!

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Blog originally publlished on April 22, 201

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Voto Latino is dedicated to bringing new and diverse voices into the political process by engaging youth, media, technology and celebrities to promote positive change.