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People Count: Hot on the TrailAired April 23, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JANE FONDA, HOST: Looking back to get ahead: Scientists on Easter Island are digging up clues that may solve a mystery behind a tumultuous past and a future threat, a threat that may already be creeping up in a city thousands of miles away.
Hi, I'm Jane Fonda. Welcome to "People Count."
Climate change: It's been called an invisible threat, but some say it's having a very visible impact on all our lives, affecting heating bills, damaging beachfront properties and even disrupting vacations. In more extreme cases, climate change can put farmers out of business and destroy homes and lives.
While some scientists are skeptical and others dismiss it completely, thousands of scientists say climate change is real and will likely get worse. They point to a growing body of evidence, including record-breaking temperatures in the 1990s, the hottest decade in 600 years. They warn of colder colds and hotter hots, more severe blizzards, hurricanes and droughts later this century.
Photojournalist and filmmaker Barbara Pyle visits two parts of the world where climate change may already have left it's mark: New Orleans, a famous party town which is singing the blues over bugs and rising sea levels, and Easter Island, where a dramatic change in weather may be responsible for a tragic chapter in the island's history, one that is shrouded in mystery.
BARBARA PYLE, PHOTOJOURNALIST: It is the most isolated in the world, 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile and surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see. But looks can be deceiving. Despite the isolation, on Easter Island you're never alone. There's always something looming in the darkness, watching in silence.
Giant statues called Moais are everywhere on Easter Island. There are at least 1,000 of them. The creators: an ancient Polynesian people who landed on the island around 400 A.D.. Why did they build these gigantic monoliths? That's one of the island's oldest unsolved mysteries. Many islanders believe they were made in the image of family members.
SERGIO RAPU, ARCHAEOLOGIST: The statues are a representation of ancestors. PYLE: Sergio is a descendant of the original Easter Islanders, known as the Rapa Nui. It's his Rapa Nui ancestors he sees in the faces of the Moai.
RAPU: You can imagine that when you're coming out of a village, of a house, and you walk out in front of this ancestor figure, it's like looking to your grandfathers. All what you feel is respect to them, whether you like it or not.
PYLE: It's this respect for his ancestors that fuels Sergio's desire to find out their history, a history he has been wondering about since childhood. That's when he met a scientist who was asking the same question he was.
DR. JOHN LAURET, SCIENTIST: Sergio was a little boy when I was on the island. He was about 6 years old.
PYLE: Dr. John Lauret is a New York scientist and leader of a 4- year expedition to Easter Island. He met Sergio on his first expedition to the island in 1955. Forty-five years later, Sergio and Dr. Lauret reunite as old friends and peers. Sergio is now a trained archaeologist and will lend his expert advice to Dr. Lauret and his research team.
LAURET: Sergio is dedicated to the island's future. That's why I'm working very closely with him. He's one of the best people on the island to work with.
RAPU: We have many things in common, and Easter Island is a great laboratory where we both can invite numerous specialists to answer the human history and the natural history of this island.
PYLE: Which includes this island's second mystery, a question that is much more sinister with more frightening implications. The Rapa Nui population, once booming at 20,000 plummeted to a fraction of that in the 16th century. What happened?
LAURET: The geology was here first, then the plants and the vegetation and then finally, the people. So, we have to study it from all aspects, and that will tell us the full story.
PYLE: Dr. Lauret and his team of scientific experts suspect a change in weather may have tipped the scales against the Rapa Nui with deadly consequences. To understand how nearly an entire population could be killed off by a climatic event, it's necessary to understand the precarious position the Rapa Nui were already in. A rapidly growing population with limited natural resources, it was a disaster in the making.
LAURET: I think the population was an important factor in bringing this culture to a collapse. The resource available on the one hand was every time more limited, simply because population grows and grows and no check. And as population grow, forests were cut, land were cultivated. There's more intense use of that land for feeding the people. PYLE: The caring capacity of an ecosystem is the number of people it can support without damaging natural resources. By the year 1400, the ecosystem's carrying capacity was on overload, with 20,000 people relying on its limited resources. What happened next is what team geologist Dan Mann (ph) is hoping to find out.
He suspects clues to the island's past are stuck in the mud, and that's exactly where we found him.
(on camera): Hey, how's it going?
DAN MANN, GEOLOGIST: Hi, Barbara. How are you?
The island went through a period of tremendous ecological change. So, it really was an eco-disaster. The early Rapa Nuns cleared the trees that are thought to have been a hundred feet tall. These magnificent trees and they're totally extinct now.
What you're looking at is intensive soil erosion. So, we've lost a lot of top soil, and it's basically because the Rapa Nuns cleared the forest and everything washed away in the rains.
PYLE: Trees were an important food source, producing nuts and syrups. And without wood, the Rapa Nuis could no longer build boats to fish or even to escape the island.
MANN: The question is, did the timing of forest clearance coincide with the timing of the population crash of the people. And the idea being that they basically mined all the trees and ate themselves out of house and home.
PYLE: The Rapa Nui also made mistakes when it came to their farmland. Their slash-and-burn farming techniques depleted the soil of nutrients and made crops more difficult to grow to feed a growing population.
As the Rapa Nui were burning out their land, archaeologists believe they became obsessed with building Moais. Rival clans made as many as they could as big as they could.
LAURET: Maybe they built large statues thinking that would please the gods, bigger statues, they'd be more pleased with it. But they found out it didn't work. They reached a point where they couldn't support them any longer. To cut these statues, you can see -- I mean, it would have required thousands of people, and to move them thousands of people again. So you had to feed all these people. So eventually the work had to stop.
MANN: Probably, the Moai themselves were the focus of kind of a last-ditch attempt of these people to control what was happening to them. So, perhaps -- you know, there's some other analogies where people who are at the end of their rope seize on the last possible straw, and it's usually some spiritual kind of savior.
PYLE: The Moais weren't able to save them, and as food became increasingly scarce, fighting broke out between clans, with the losers often becoming victims of cannibalism.
So what was the final crushing blow to the Rapa Nui? Could it have been a sudden change in weather?
The scientists dig a little deeper, when we return.
FONDA: Welcome back to "People Count."
As we've seen, life on Easter Island in the 16th century could take it's toll even on the strongest. After the people destroyed nearly all their natural resources they began destroying each other, even turning to cannibalism. While horrifying, these acts of violence were not responsible for nearly wiping out almost all the islanders. What was?
Dr. Lauret and his team of scientists continue their investigation into the mystery, and Barbara Pyle is hot on the trail.
PYLE: The Rapa Nui's strength and ingenuity is evident in the 100-ton stone statues they built all over the island. But neither their minds nor their bodies could save them from what researchers suspect was a sudden change in weather. What climatic event could be so deadly? It's a household word these days: the infamous El Nino.
El Ninos are warm ocean currents that form periodically in the Pacific Ocean. The warm water can contribute to erratic weather patterns around the world, making some areas too dry and others too wet.
MANN: It might have been a scenario something like the human population went up toward the carrying capacity that the island could support, and then we had a slight fluctuation in climate, maybe a drought for a few years, and it produced chaos because suddenly we had people starving.
LAURET: We were able to obtain a six-foot core, which would represent about 500 years in time, and we look at -- by doing x-rays and even using black light -- we can tell El Nino phenomenon as it occurred back in time.
PYLE: The core samples record a timeline of weather events very much like looking like the rings of a tree.
LAURET: These re-occurring El Nino episodes have impacted tremendously on world population.
PYLE: One of the biggest impacts came in 1982 and '83, when a powerful El Nino triggered typhoons over Hawaii and Tahiti, monsoon rains over the central Pacific and widespread flooding over southern United States. The cost to the world economy: $8 billion, and the human suffering was unmeasurable.
A new study indicates human-induced climate change could make future El Ninos even more intense and more dangerous.
MANN: We're all very concerned about climate change. Human- caused global warming is the result of the release of large amounts of CO2 and trace gases like methane into the atmosphere by especially industrial activities, by humans especially in the industrialized countries, like America, like the United States. And that's creating the greenhouse effect, which is trapping heat near the surface of the planet and raising temperatures. That sounds all very simple, but in fact as soon as you raise the temperature, it has very unpredictable effects within the climate system.
PYLE: Effects that could include more powerful storms and higher storms. Smaller, low-lying islands like the Muldives (ph) would suffer the most, with some being inundated over the next century. Easter Island's high elevation would help protect it from sea level rise, but many of the Moais would be threatened.
MANN: As their sea level comes up a meter or so, we're just going to have more salt spray, and we'll have more weather, and the statues will disappear even faster.
PYLE: Sergio is leading an effort to restore Moais that have been destroyed from weathering, age or tribal warfare. Each restoration is a painstaking operation. This Moai's head fell off. Before they can reattach it, they have to measure how much rock has eroded away between the two pieces. Manipulating the original head to find that out is dangerous because of its tremendous weight.
So a new technique is used, creating a mold, a fake head so to speak, which is much lighter and easier to move than the real head. Sergio brought in an artist from Chile to handle the job, Harold Crisell.
RAPU: To handle the casting of the Moai, we need somebody who's expert sensitive in not only making the mold but thinking like sculptors, because the ancient people were great sculptors. Harold Crisell is a good great man. He is a good craftsman, artist sculptor.
HAROLD CRISELL, ARTIST: This is the mold. We took the mold from the original head in order to have a cast of it. And with the cast, we are going to fit the head to the body.
RAPU: In the case of this Moai that we're working, the head lost about eight inches. When we restore them, we try to restore not only the piece of stone, but we restore it with filling.
PYLE: For Sergio, restoring the Moais is not just putting pieces of stone together but a way to reclaim a culture that has fallen into disrepair.
RAPU: We need to train the young to Rapa Nui to be involved in the restoration of their own monoliths. In that way, they learn to preserve the language, the traditions, the dancing and the music. PYLE: One tradition that's very much alive is Rapa Nui dancing. And while Dr. Lauret makes his admirable attempt to learn the moves, he's much more successful at gathering clues about the fate of the ancient Rapa Nui. He let's Dan do the honors, extracting a sizable soil sample of the bottom of an ancient volcanic crater.
MANN: We're trying to reconstruct vegetation history because vegetation is a proxy for climate.
PYLE: By looking at the soil layers, the scientists can see what climate and plant life existed at various points in history. One ancient layer they've uncovered has been extremely unexpected.
LAURET: We found a layer, for example, that's completely upset us all. Just nothing but beetles, complete layer, inches of beetles in the core maybe about 8,000 years ago. So we don't know. Were beetles dominant and made everything else? We're not sure.
PYLE: While the geologists dig through the earth, another group of scientists takes to the sky for a bird's-eye looks at the island.
LAURET: We took with us a para-plane, which has the ability to fly at low speeds at low altitudes, which is good for photography. We were able to see features that we didn't know existed.
MANN: It's very sobering to see this place. When you start digging around, and you notice the statues and you look at the soils and you start realizing what was once here, it's probably the same thing as you went to the scene of a nuclear bomb.
This is incredible devastation, and it's somehow related to humans.
PYLE: When the Rapa Nui were stretched to the limit, did an El Nino make a bad situation even worse?
Dr. Lauret says his team needs to do more work with the coral bed and the soil samples before they have that answer, but early results suggest that an El Nino did devastate the island.
Dr. Lauret is hoping to return to Easter Island, a place he insists can give us invaluable information.
LAURET: Easter Island is a microcosm of what we're doing to planet Earth. We have to modify our lifestyles completely.
We already are running short on water in many places. We're looking to technology to really solve the problems with food production. We can't keep up with population. When you look at the world, not from just the United States' standpoint, but from -- I mean, many people are starving to death.
MANN: We know what the problem is, but we also have to figure out how we can effectively start to solve the problem in a way in which it will work. This has to be an effort which is supported, totally backed by power, which is the economy, which is industry and the consumer. People have to take responsibility for their personal lives and their energy use and their use of resources and on and on and on. So it has to be -- the whole system has to react to the threat. And we can imagine here on Easter Island for some reason they weren't able to do that.
Rapa Nui isn't some weirdo island in the South Pacific. There are lessons and they're very frightening when applied to the larger world.
PYLE: Sergio believes the Moais are crucial for keeping those lessons in the minds of future generations around the world.
RAPU: What we have gone through here, overpopulation, scarcity of resources and damaging our environment, is the best lesson we can pass.
PYLE (on camera): If the Moai could talk, what do you think they would say?
RAPU: Why we cut down all the tree of this island? Why we didn't think more before we even damaged our own environment?
PYLE (voice-over): Though this Moai can't talk, Sergio is bringing it back to life. After months of meticulous work, this Moai's original head is about to be fitted onto its body.
RAPU: So we are restoring only part of the past. We cannot really bring every information back. But the most important of this restoration work is to allow the living people to appreciate more of the ancestor work. And this heritage we have had is not any longer just our heritage. So we share with the entire world.
FONDA: While climate change may have radically altered Easter Island's past, it is the future many residences of New Orleans are worried about, what some are calling the early warning signs of climate change.
FONDA: Coming up on "People Count," nature is biting back in the Big Easy. It's a warm-weather feeding frenzy these birds are helping to battle.
And later, rising sea levels may be harming the wetlands of Louisiana. We'll see how one man's passion may help these trouble waters.
FONDA: Welcome back to "People Count."
Scientists say a hotter planet will be a bug-friendlier planet, with more insects, longer breeding seasons and more areas where insect-borne disease can be spread. Some bug experts in New Orleans suspect warm weather may have put out the welcome mat for some unwelcome and unexpected guests.
Barbara Pyle explores how the Big Easy is battling these bugs.
PYLE (voice-over): These are the unmistakable sights and sounds of New Orleans.
And these are the unmistakable sights and sounds of New Orleans.
Every year, millions of people come here to listen to music and feast on the city's world-famous food. But people aren't the only ones having a great time eating their way through the city, a much smaller creature with a huge appetite is also dining out.
ED BORDES, NEW ORLEANS MOSQUITO CONTROL BOARD: Formosan termites: They could be your most unwelcome guest, but as far as they're concerned, this is paradise.
PYLE: While most of New Orleans' economy depends on tourism, the Formosan is an unwanted visitor that arrived from Asia and much to the locals' dismay took up permanent residences.
BORDES: Everything is conducive to termites. We have high water tables. Rainfall every other day. Warm temperatures. Since 1990, we've only had one year with a killing frost. So that helps the termites. It allows the termites to propagate all year.
PYLE: Some experts attribute the mild winters to climate change. Others are skeptical, saying that weather is cyclical and the mild winters don't necessarily point to climate change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB RECHT, WVUE METEOROLOGIST: Late tomorrow afternoon, tomorrow night, into Friday morning, cold air up over the northeast. Cleveland, 39 degrees this afternoon. If you go up north...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PYLE: Bob Recht is a meteorologist at the local station WVUE. He questions whether greenhouse gases are responsible for warmer temperatures. He suspects the theories of human-induced global warming are just the latest in a string of climate change predictions.
RECHT: When I was going to college back in the '60s, it was global cooling. An ice age was coming and that we're all going to have problems. And now, once we got into the late '70s and '80s and '90s, somewhere people changed their hats. And now it's global warming.
PYLE: Ed Bordes is not a global change expert, but he is an expert in one consequence of warmer weather, increased bug populations.
Ed is the head of New Orleans' Mosquito and Termite Control Board. And the Formosan tops his hit list.
(on camera): What is the difference between a Formosan termite and a regular termite?
BORDES: They're just overall a more aggressive creature and certainly more prolific.
They eat live vegetation. You can find them in telephone cables, and also they'll penetrate some of the soft medals like lead and copper.
PYLE: Is the problem getting worse?
BORDES: Sure it's getting worse. There are only two kinds of buildings in New Orleans -- those that have termites and those that will.
PYLE: All these historical buildings around New Orleans' Jackson Square are in constant danger of attack by termites.
BORDES: And the damage here, you can see.
PYLE: Oh, wow. They just eat it right through.
(voice-over): Ed and his team are staging a counter assault. They're planting baits containing a hormone that prevents the termites from shedding their outer skeletons,. Unable to grow, the insects are crushed to death by their own shells.
BORDES: This is a stealth system. The termites don't know they're consuming anything that will do them harm. Oh, look at the termites in there!
PYLE (on camera): Why are these traps better than poison?
BORDES: Well the traps work so much better because these workers will deliver the bait back to the colony and you'll start eliminating the colony. And once you start killing the multiple queens, then you have the colony under control.
PYLE (voice-over): He says the traps not only wipe out the termites more effectively then traditional poisons, they are also safer for the environment.
BORDES: They're absolutely the most environmentally friendly tool we have in termite control. We're actually using just a few grams of some product that I hate to even call a bait. It's just something that interferes with their life cycle.
It is the easiest and safest way to go, and one or two grams of that will kill a million termites compared to pounds and pounds of the termiticides.
PYLE: An important consideration, especially given the size of the termite population in New Orleans. BORDES: We have some colonies around here of the Formosans that run as high as 50 and 60 million. It would be the equivalent to a 500-pound animal.
PYLE: This powerful force is also sinking its teeth into another one of New Orleans' treasures, its trees.
(on camera): How many trees have you lost to insects?
BORDES: Now we estimate some areas of the city that 30 to 40 percent of the trees have termite infestation. Oh, I think New Orleans would be a barren city without the trees. Its part of the culture. It's our heritage.
PYLE (voice-over): And while they termites feed on the city's trees, another pest likes to make a meal out of the city's people. Mosquitoes can be a serious health risk, because they're capable of spreading deadly diseases.
BORDES: These are aedis egypti (ph).
PYLE (on camera): What diseases will this mosquito carry?
BORDES: Well, the diseases we're most concerned with are dengue and yellow fever, and both of those diseases are transmitted human to human by this mosquito.
PYLE: Do these type of mosquitoes still cause disease?
BORDES: Ah, in other areas of the world, sure, they're still very deadly. Dengue fever is called "break-bone fever" because it's very painful because it feels like your bones are breaking. It's very debilitating. And, you know, there's no magic bullet, no shot you can take to prevent these diseases. The only way we can prevent them is to control the mosquitoes, the factors that transmit them.
PYLE (voice-over): Again, climate change could complicate the equation. Warmer temperatures could enable disease-carrying insects to expand their range. Some scientists say climate-sensitive diseases like dengue, yellow fever and malaria would likely spread to higher latitudes and higher altitudes.
(on camera): What are your predictions of what will happen, in terms of insects, if temperatures do rise globally?
BORDES: Well, I think that the thing that would happen, especially in an area like ours that we would become more like the tropics, and insects breed all year in the tropics and they're capable of transmitting disease all year. So the closer we become to tropics in temperature, the more hazardous our situation is.
PYLE (voice-over): A group of doctors, known as Physicians For Social Responsibility, or PSR, has spoken out emphatically about the health consequences of climate change. A PSR document indicates that among the areas at risk for dengue epidemics are significant portions of the southern United States. An infectious disease specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes it is unlikely dengue or malaria would be a real problem in the United States.
DR. STEVEN OSTROFF: We have air conditioning, we have screened windows. We spend so much more of our time indoors that we ever used to. We have air conditioning in our cars. And so our opportunities to be exposed to some of the factors that produce these diseases is lower.
PYLE: But Physicians for Social Responsibility disagree and say we need to look no further than a deadly viral outbreak in New York to see how dangerous climate change can be. The disease, called the West Nile Virus, killed seven people and sickened 60 others last summer. West Nile is a virus that is believed to have originated in the Middle East, and its outbreak in New York is the first time it has ever been recorded in the western hemisphere.
PSR suspects steady increases in New York's evening temperatures created an environment where disease-carrying mosquitoes thrived. The CDC offers what they call a more likely scenario.
OSTROFF: It was either brought in in somebody who was incubating the disease and hadn't become ill yet -- it could have been brought in in some sort of a product. It could have also been a bird strayed off of its migratory patterns for whatever reason. But those are more likely explanations than it being something that would be directly attributed to global warming.
PYLE: Ed's team is working to protect New Orleans from diseases like the West Nile virus, and they've got some fine-feathered friends to help them in this endeavor. They take blood samples from chickens during the summer, when the mosquito problem is most abundant. If they find a bird that's positive for diseases like the West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis, then they know to be on the lookout for possible cases in the human population.
Ed and his team also protect the human population of New Orleans by attacking the mosquito population. They spray infested areas using airplanes and trucks. Even though Ed can't control the bug-friendly temperatures of New Orleans, he says he'll continue his efforts to control the city's pest population.
BORDES: I started fighting termites and mosquitoes back in the late '50s, so I've been at it 45 years. And how long do I want to do it? I guess until we can say we won something here and certainly say that we've defeated the enemy -- no, that's not true. But if we could control it, manage it and move forward, that's what I am hoping for.
FONDA: Welcome back to "People Count."
According to scientists, the wetlands surrounding near New Orleans are washing away at a startling rate. Some climatologists say riding sea levels brought on by climate change will likely make matters worse. If so, can one man help to turn back the tide? Barbara Pyle sees how Milton Canbre's life-long connection to the bayou is creating a powerful current for change.
MILTON CAMBRE, WATERMAN: When I come out on the bayou by myself I really feel at peace with myself. I love this river. I love these lakes. I love these more than life.
PYLE (voice-over): Milton Cambre doesn't have a degree in environmental science, but what he does have is a deep understanding and appreciation for the wetlands of southern Louisiana. And he's concerned about what he calls a disturbing loss.
CAMBRE: Essentially, all this land that we're on right now was built, because the river overflowed its banks. And now that we've levied it, all this sediment that's in the river now is dumped out off the deep continental shelf. So the land naturally just compacts and subsides, and that's the reason why we're losing this land. I see it literally falling apart.
PYLE: Scientists say the Louisiana coast is washing away at the startling rate of one football field every fifteen minutes. Making the land loss problem even worse is salt water. It intrudes into the marshes through canals dredged for shipping. Storms and high tides also drive salt water into the marshes. For much of the wetlands that's pure poison.
CAMBRE: If people have any doubt about saltwater, the next time you're at an ocean take a sample of it and bring it home and put in their in their flower pots. And that will tell them what will happen to their plants. Same thing will happen to this, it just kills it.
PYLE: In the next 50 years, 40 percent of the state's wetlands could be destroyed by saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico. Experts say the problem could get worse.
CAMBRE: We're going to complicate that with global warming, which will give us sea level rise.
PYLE: How does climate change affect sea level rise? High temperatures heat the ocean water and expand its volume in the same way that a balloon inflates when warmed. We placed this balloon in a freezer for four hours. When we took it out of the freezer into a warm room, the balloon expanded, just like the oceans would if the Earth continues to warm.
Some experts warn that in addition to this thermal expansion, oceans will swell even more as glacial and polar icecaps melt, causing more water to swallow up the coastline.
While sea levels have rose four to 10 inches this century, many scientists say global warming will dwarf those numbers. Based on current trends, they expect sea levels will increase by as much as three feet within the next 100 years. If that proves true, more than just land will be threatened, people's homes and heritage will be threatened.
CAMBRE: As the salt moves further inland, your marine life reacts to it. Our culture is based on seafood, if we lose all of this, we lose a lot of our culture.
PYLE: Not only have these wetlands been a source of food for Milton his whole life but also a source of pride. I wanted to see where it all began.
(on camera): So we're going to go see where you were born, Milton?
I didn't realize that just because I grew up on the river that it would stay with me the rest of my life. And here I am, you know, 50, 60 years later down the road and I'm still having to do things with the Mississippi River. So I guess it made a lasting impression on me.
PYLE (voice-over): His boyhood home stands behind the street sign that bears his family name.
(on camera): What was it like growing up across from the Mississippi River?
CAMBRE: Well, you know, like I said, that was our, you know, that was our playground. And so we went on out there. And it was so convenient, we didn't have any, you know, place to go and play, so basically that's what it was all about. You always had fresh fish. When you caught something that morning, more than likely you were eating it that night.
I guess it was something like Huckleberry Finn, you know, how the old story goes about him, you know, how he was, you know, so fixed with the river. And I guess that was me, too. I mean, it was a very important part of my life.
PYLE (on camera): So the river's right over that levee? Why don't you show me your old playground?
CAMBRE: All right, I'd be glad to do that.
CAMBRE: That would be my pleasure.
PYLE (voice-over): As Milton grew up, his love of the river filtered down into the surrounding wetlands.
CAMBRE: I got into the wetlands and doing a lot of shrimping and hunting and stuff away from the river. I began to realize that, hey, this is what the river furnished -- not only because I grew up on the river and it was my playground, but all the wetlands that later on in life that I enjoyed, it was a direct relation to the river. It made all these wetlands when it overflowed and all the sediment. And now the shrimping and the fishing, everything is going down. And I hate to see it.
We have a lot to learn with what nature provides us. And I think we have to recognize that in the future in all of our endeavors.
This might be something this morning that I think you'd be interested in.
PYLE: Other people share Milton's concerns. Mark Davis heads up the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. I met him at Audubon Park in the heart of New Orleans.
MARK DAVIS, COALITION TO RESTORE COASTAL LOUISIANA: New Orleans is a place unlike any other. It's got culture. It's got opportunity. It's got history, and it's worth fighting for. unlike
We're at the bottom of the Mississippi River. We live in the delta, which means that it's the most extensive system of coastal wetlands that we've got anywhere in the country. It's also the most fragile. In 1930, we had about three million acres of coastal wetlands. We've lost one million already.
PYLE (on camera): Why?
DAVIS: Largely because of the way we manage the river, and also because of rising sea levels.
PYLE: The sea level rise that you predict, where does that bring the sea in relationship to New Orleans?
DAVIS: Much closer and too close for comfort.
PYLE (voice-over): If the gulf swallows up too much of the marshland, hurricane season could have a whole new meaning for New Orleans.
DAVIS: Basically New Orleans runs the risk of being under water. Right now, we have about 60 miles of marsh between us and the Gulf. That's the most natural and the most effective storm protection we've got.
PYLE (on camera): If the marshlands were gone and New Orleans was hit by a hurricane, how bad would it be?
DAVIS: Probably about there.
PYLE: The water would be over my head?
DAVIS: About, yes. Any place from five feet up, some places more.
CAMBRE: I shudder to think what's going to happen. I wouldn't want to be living in New Orleans if we get a major storm.
PYLE (voice-over): Milton was a mechanic in the petro-chemical industry, a major producer of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that is believed to contribute to global warming.
Milton is retired from the oil industry. Now he works with these companies as an environmental adviser.
CAMBRE: I think if we can convey that message to them, that the changes that we now see are part of global warming. And if we need to make a whole lot of studies, instead of shipping things to Mars to find out what's going on in Mars, let's find out what we need on Mother Earth, and let's protect it first. Because if we lose it, you know, it can't be replenished. We can't duplicate none of this. I mean, absolutely not.
PYLE: And that's exactly why he supports a large-scale project to rejuvenate the wetlands.
CAMBRE: Barbara, this is the Davis pond project. I guess I've been working on this thing better than 10 years.
PYLE (on camera): What is it?
CAMBRE: It's a fresh-water diversion. All we're going to do is take water from the river, and it's going to go through a system of tubes into a canal and out into the marsh.
PYLE (voice-over): Milton is literally trying to turn back the tide.
DAVIS: And if you don't put fresh water back in to kind of maintain, if you will, a head against that salt water intrusion, you'll lose those fresh marsh areas. It will happen so quickly that they won't turn into salt marsh, they'll turn into open water.
PYLE: Both Milton and his supporters agree that diversion projects are not enough to counter climate change.
DAVIS: There is no one project that's going to save this place, just as there's no one solution for global climate change. It's a tool box that you have to pick the right tools from for the job. Davis Pond, with its fresh water and its nutrients is one of those tools -- and it's a vital tool.
PYLE: But these aren't Milton's only tools for reclaiming the wetlands.
(on camera): OK, show me how you do it, Milton.
(voice-over): His smaller-scale efforts are also taking root. For decades, he's been replanting lost marshlands.
CAMBRE: I'm encouraged by what I see. You know, our survival rate is not as much as I'd like, but, hey, the plants are cheap. You know, especially the ones that come out of my garden.
PYLE (on camera): Oh, do you grow them at home?
CAMBRE: Yes. In other words, I take them out of my flower bed and then I put them into a flower pot.
PYLE (voice-over): Milton's work has made a difference.
This is what the area looked like when we visited him in 1988. This is what it looks like today.
CAMBRE: Well it's unbelievable. In other words, you could see what we have is a jungle out here now. But that goes to show you what a lot of effort and, you know, just some dedication can do.
PYLE: Since we last visited Milton, he's been cultivating his dedication in school kids, kids who have grown up in the bayou area but that are just now getting their feet wet for the first time.
CAMBRE: There's still a few stumps now. There's still some things you have to be careful.
PYLE: Milton and the students work together to restore the marshlands in a program called the Wetland Watchers.
One student offered his newfound wisdom:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll be riding by on a bridge, and you'll never think any of this is out here. And it's just beautiful, real educational. You get a lot of hands-on experience.
CAMBRE: I think of this as an excellent opportunity, the experience that I've had over my 40, 50 years out in the wetlands to pass on this information that is critical to their future, you know? So anything that I can do to help them -- and their enthusiasm really spurs me on.
PYLE: It's Milton's enthusiasm that's inspiring many others.
DAVIS: People who refuse to take no for an answer, people who demand leadership, it's the Miltons in Louisiana and elsewhere that are going to point the way.
PYLE: He's instilling his love of the bayou in the next generation, hoping they will want to protect it.
CAMBRE: It's been a part of my life, so much a part of my life that I've spent over half of it trying to preserve it.
You all going in the swamp?
CAMBRE: You all want to see an alligator?
CAMBRE: All right.
FONDA: In 1970, a group of environmentalists declared April 22nd Earth Day to focus attention on threats to our natural resources.
Three decades later, Earth Day organizers are zeroing in on what they call a very urgent threat: climate change. They say a good first step in combating climate change is to switch to cleaner, renewable energy sources. Oil companies are also investing in renewable technologies and encouraging customers to conserve energy. Being energy efficient with the fossil fuels we do use will also help.
Environmentalists say there are many ways to save energy at home and offer the following tips: add insulation to walls, crawlspaces and attics, seal holes or leaks around pipes and chimneys with a foam insulation, cult the joints of heating and cooling ducts with a rubber sealant. Experts say most homes lose 30 percent of their energy through these leaks. The savings on your energy bills will pay back the cost of these home-improvement projects off over time.
While individuals can do their part to fight climate change, world leaders are also initiating efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. A United Nations treaty, the Kyoto protocol, sets emission targets. But many countries are still debating on whether they will agree to the targets. Their decisions may determine whether there will be a global consensus on how to slow down climate change.
For more information on climate change and energy efficiency, write to us at People Count, One CNN Center Six North, Atlanta, Georgia, 30303, U.S.A.
You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or visit us on-line at www.peoplecounttv.com.
I'm Jane Fonda. Thank you for joining us on our worldwide journey, showing once again that the actions of all people count.
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