Robert Redford on the Trip to Yosemite That Changed His Life: I Realized 'the World Was So Big'

Robert Redford, actor, director, and founder of the Sundance Institute, is a longtime environmental activist. In this week’s PEOPLE, he shares memories of his first visit to Yosemite National Park, which sparked his love of the natural world. Here are some of his quotes. The world celebrates Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22.

I distinctly remember the moment I stood in awe of the natural world. I was eleven years old. My mother had taken me on a road trip as a reward for being treated for a mild case of polio.

We drove from our home in LA to Yosemite and, as we came through a forest of trees and a mile long tunnel, we stopped by the side of the road to admire the view. I felt so small, while at the same time, realizing that the world was so big. I still recall distinctly what I thought — “I don’t want to look at this, I want to be in this.”

RELATED: Easy Things You Should Do to Help the Planet, from Filling Your Fridge to Raking Your Leaves

Later, as my career and family expanded, I came to see that my mother’s early gift was one of the sparks that inspired my love of the outdoors and showed me how connected we are to the natural world.

Since then, I have spent decades joining scientists and activists in trying to do whatever we could to raise the red flags about the catastrophic climate change we ourselves are responsible for. I’ve protested, I’ve spoken up and reached out, I’ve urged action, and often been criticized by political powers that be.

For PEOPLE’s 50 Things You Should Know and Do to Help the Planet, pick up the latest issue on newsstands now, or subscribe here.

This Earth Day 2020 will be something unlike any other before it. In just a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly tested the world. And its long-term repercussions require us to take this moment to consider how we shape the future we want to live in—one that invests in science, healthier communities, and in a just and equitable world. Not unlike the world we envisioned 50 years ago during the first Earth Day.

We’ve always been one world, one people– and now suddenly and urgently we’re realizing how fragile and yet how powerful that connectivity truly is and how we all face the same twists of fate and the same giant challenges. The crisis now is deeply frightening, but as we band together to fight for our families and our communities, we might emerge with important lessons learned that could help us win the next one — the global fight against climate change.

Together, we are our only hope. Together, we can be our own salvation.

In response to COVID-19, the Sundance Institute recently announced a one million dollar relief plan for independent artists and organizations.

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