There aren’t many people who know more about how one person can change the lives of millions than famed environmental advocate Erin Brockovich.

As she took the stage at Commonwealth Bank’s sustainability conference Momentum to a packed hall, it was clear that change starts with everyone.

“This is not about us,” she began. “This is about you and your perception of who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Nothing changes until you do.”

Ms Brockovich came to fame in the early 2000s, when Julia Roberts played her in the Academy Award-winning film that documented how a single mother and legal assistant exposed a massive corporate cover-up of groundwater contamination which affected thousands of people. The real Ms Brockovich has barely paused for breath since the film’s release, advocating for communities around the world in a fight for environmental and social justice.

“You can call climate change whatever you want,” she said at Momentum. “Something’s changed, something’s different. And we’re going to need to respond accordingly.”

To encourage her audience to tackle the challenge of climate change, Ms Brockovich kept returning to the analogy of buffalo: strong, wild animals that face into storms. “Because [a buffalo] knows if it faces the storm, it gets through it faster, and if it turns its back to the storm, the worst side catches them — the winds,” she said.

“And that is a little of what we’ve done – we've turned away from the storm, and I’m going to ask everyone now, it’s time for us to turn into the storm.”

Ms Brockovich shared her love of Australia, a place she has visited 39 times, and reminded the audience about the important role we all play in looking after our country.

“You have some of the greatest gifts and beauty in this country. I love it here. It’s ancient, it’s real, it’s prosperous,” she said.

“It is our duty, our obligation to protect it, to defend it and to preserve it. To destroy it is to do nothing other than destroy ourselves.”

Ms Brockovich’s keynote was followed by a fireside chat with Group Executive Business Bank Mike Vacy-Lyle, who joined her on stage to discuss what we can all do to be at the front of this change.

“Start small,” she said. “Don’t overwhelm yourself. It can be the smallest task – conserve water, walk more, ride a bike, grow your garden.

“It takes one action, but then multiply that action by the 8 billion people on the planet.”

Erin Brockovich and Mike Vacy-Lyle Erin Brockovich and Mike Vacy-Lyle

Mr Vacy-Lyle concluded the Q&A by asking Ms Brockovich about what motivates her now that she’s in the “legacy phase of her life”.

There’s no point blaming each other for actions of the past, Ms Brockovich noted. “Who cares? Here we are, but how are we going to move forward?

“How are we going to do it together, make a change and do it realistically for a better planet for all of us and for the future? I believe that we can.

“I absolutely believe the shift is here. It’s time for us to refocus, rethink and change, and the future is ours.”

Throughout her talk, Ms Brockovich spoke of her childhood, particularly the learning difficulties she experienced due to her dyslexia. Her mum told her she needed to find her “stick-to-it-iveness" — a trait that has come to define her legacy. “Stubborn is my middle name,” she joked.

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