CNN's Anderson Cooper Tells of 'Planet in Peril'

Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper of CNN speaks at a recent New York screening of Planet in Peril. Getty Images hide caption

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CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is co-host of the documentary, Planet in Peril. The film takes a close look at the world's changing eco-system, focusing heavily on four environmental issues — climate change, deforestation, species loss and overpopulation. Cooper talks about the project he feels everyone should watch.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead, Dylan's was the voice for much of a generation when he sang about war and civil rights. We hear about the issues that spark protest songs today and the impact of speaking or singing up.

But first, wildfires burning in the West, drought in the Southeast, a dull autumn leaf display. Some might say they are all evidence of global climate change here in the U.S. But in other countries, the human impact on the environment is even more devastating.

CNN takes a global perspective tonight and tomorrow with a four-hour report titled, "Planet in Peril." Reporter and anchor Anderson Cooper is with us to talk about what CNN found.

Welcome.

Mr. ANDERSON COOPER (Reporter; Anchor, "Anderson Cooper 360"): Oh, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What are you hoping to accomplish with this film? I mean, it seems to me that talking about the environment these days is almost like talking about theology. You know, people believe what they believe because they believe it. Are you hoping to persuade people who don't yet see the environment as a priority?

Mr. COOPER: You know, I think your point is excellent, and the discussion - at least in the United States, as we have it - is often theoretical, sort of the battle lines are drawn - liberal, conservatives, skeptic, believer. And it's very hard to cross those lines. And the discussion just often ends up into the either realm of hysteria or hype or just theoretical discussions. We wanted to go where change is visible, and kind of take it out of that theoretical realm and take people to the front lines of where there are things happening right now.

MARTIN: Speaking of other front lines, in this country, the face of the environmental movement is often white - you know, politically active, you know, a certain kind of people. And, you know, you raise this point, but I wanted to ask you to engage in it. You visited more than 10 countries, and in many of these countries, this is a matter of people's livelihoods. They see their survival being at stake. How do you think about that or talk about that in a way that does not come across as patronizing or, you know, coming from a wealthy country where you have access to everything good?

Mr. COOPER: Well, it's interesting, because you raise a point which was central to our thinking, which is often this discussion is the discussion had in the United States, had in college campuses. Or it's the, you know, it's a cause celebre among the rich and of the Hollywood elite. We wanted to get away and actually go to places, as I said, where change is happening. And what we found was there are actually local people and indigenous people in all of these places working on these issues and fighting over these issues and arguing over these issues. And it's not just a question of poor farmers who need access to land, encroaching on habitat, and that's killing off animals and plant species.

We went with Cambodian rangers, who, at great risk to their own safety - you know, they've had grenades thrown at them by poachers - are out there patrolling every day, trying to protect a last remaining part of the virgin forest in southern Cambodia. So it wasn't just us Americans going to these places and telling them, you know, you need to be concerned about this. we went to these places and - to learn from them how they are working and what their struggles are.

MARTIN: You also investigated the whole question of - about the way chemicals that humans manufacture are - what's the word I'm looking for - invading the human body. In fact, you were tested for 246 synthetic chemicals. As a result of testing, you were informed that you tested positive for more than 100, and some traced to the make up used for your job. And what - first of all, what made you think of this as a line of inquiry, and what should we make of that?

Mr. COOPER: Well, we wanted to kind of show, I mean, so much of this documentary is shot overseas, and we wanted to just remind people what kind of an impact these things have on our lives, on everyday life in the United States. And so there's this thing called body burden testing that you can have done. It's very expensive. There's not many places you can do it. It requires literally them taking a pint of your blood, which is not the most pleasant process in the world, and it takes several months to get the results back.

But it is fascinating to see what kind of - your chemical history as told by your blood. And, you know, I had DDT, which is a banned substance, and perhaps I had it just because I've been to Africa a lot and maybe they still use it somewhere over there. Or it could have been as an exposure as a child. You know, little kids who get tested find they have huge amounts of flame retardant chemicals in their body from, you know, their pajamas and carpets and all these chemicals which are used.

And I have a huge amount of phthalates which, I guess, it turns out are in make up that I use. California just outlawed phthalates in children's toys. But I had been completely unaware of this. You know, you talk to people from the Chemical Council, the lobbying group for the chemistry industry, and they say, well, you know, don't worry about it. Don't worry about having all of those phthalates in your blood. It doesn't really matter.

It doesn't mean you're going to get a disease. But no one really knows the impact of it, and it's a new area of study. The EPA really doesn't test for a lot of the chemicals that come on the market. There is no testing done. There's no testing requirements under law, so it's very tricky and kind of worrying that, frankly, we don't know what kind of an impact having these chemicals in your blood will have.

MARTIN: Anderson, you're a very well-traveled person. I asked you at the beginning of our conversation what you hoped other people would get from this report. But what did you get from doing this report and what did you learn?

Mr. COOPER: You know, for me, it was interesting to see how interconnected all these things are. You know, we looked at four sort of pillars - deforestation, climate change, overpopulation and species lost - and just how interconnected all those things are I found it really interesting and I think kind of eye-opening, and I think that's what people will notice as well.

MARTIN: CNN's Anderson Cooper begins a two-part special report tonight called "Planet in Peril." Cooper reported the documentary along with Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, also of CNN.

Anderson, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. COOPER: Oh, it was great being on the program.

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