Tuesday, October 23, 2007

CNN: Anderson Cooper's "Planet in Peril"

Planet in Peril. A film by Anderson Cooper (and Jeff Corwin). Today, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2006, CNN presented Part I (about 140 minutes) at 9 PM EDT. It’s interesting to see CNN 360 Star Reporter Cooper get into the global warming business, following Al Gore and Leonardo Di Caprio, with an “indie” film for cable, with the full corporate resources of Ted Turner and CNN behind the production. If it wound up in theaters, I suppose the distributor would be Miramax.

In fact, most of Part I was only directly about global warming. Most of it dealt with extinctions of animal species, which in the last few decades have accelerated ten fold to 1000% of normal. Much of the film was spent in showing illegal poaching in Cambodia (elephants and tigers and many other animals) and other areas, with depictions of the illegal markets in Thailand (no cameras allowed) and China itself. In that sense, the presentation recalled Di Caprio’s “Tempest” film in 2000 called The Beach, that starts in Thailand. The showed the traditional Chinese custom of eating endangered animal sweetbreads and even genitalia, and even the practice of extracting bear bile. But Cooper and his associates (including Dr. Sanjay Gupta) showed some positive things, like the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, which would have a beneficial “trophy cascade” effect on the rest of the ecosystem. Toward the end, they went back to China and showed the incredible pollution associated with iron open pit mining.

At the very end of the show, Anderson had multiple blood tests (with vacutainers drawing as much blood from his forearm as in a conventional blood donation) to show his own burden of up to 250 chemicals. Even children have major chemical burdens. Ironically, one of the side effects could be sperm motility (someday maybe a "Children of Men" problem?).

Politically, it appears that China’s pollution and CO-2 emissions, in an attempt to build a consumer society in a heavily regulated, pseudo-Communist society, could threat world security. Cooper theorizes that over-population, in time, will stretch the planet as the world consumes 30% more than it can replace (living off old energy, as Di Caprio had pointet out in The 11th Hour). Politically, though, some conservatives have worried about demographics and a replacement birth rate dearth in advanced countries (western Europe, Japan).

The show was punctuated with “Breaking News” reports from the thirteen live wildfires in Southern California, which are approaching a History Channel mega-disaster. The San Diego Charger’s Qualcomm football stadium is sheltering 12000 people now, much more acceptably than did the Superdome in New Orleans in 2005. In fact, there are reports of yoga and acupuncture being offered in the stadium ("this is California"). The NFL game (Houston at San Diego) next Sunday may have to be moved. But almost a million people have been evacuated, more than for Hurricane Katrina and more than at any time in American history.

Part II of the film deals with melting glaciers and global warming more directly. I note quickly that the PBS series “Rough Science” in 2000 had already mentioned the melting of New Zealand glaciers.

It starts with a field trip on the Greenland ice camp, with the spartan base camp, and the exploration of under-glacier rivers and moulons. The climate change is described as a forward feedback loop. A small island civilization near New Guinea, sinking into the ocean as its coral reef dies, is shown. They visit Lake Chad in Africa, which is drying up through evaporation of its river source. They visit the Amazon, where the cops chase illegal logging, and where an activist nun was murdered on a hit ordered by ranchers (the crime scene is shown). Anderson and other reports are shown getting tribal body markings from indigenous peoples. The occurrence of cancer near the Houston Ship Channel with all of the pollution is discussed, with the point that the poor bear most of the problems of environmental degredation.

At the end, Anderson discusses how all of the processes in his film are "interconnected" -- how one problem affects the next.

Update: Dec. 21, 2009

CNN re-aired this segment Dec 20, 2009. It seemed to have been updated slightly.

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