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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Planet in Peril - The Vanishing Lake; The Battle for the World's Greatest Rainforest; Air Pollution and Health

Aired April 25, 2008 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It's one of the fundamental laws of physics, of nature.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum in the natural world. There are ripple effects, and that is putting our planet in peril.

This journey around the globe is an investigation into the reasons our planet is changing. It's about the frontlines, the places where threats aren't just forecast for the future, but are happening now.

Where forests are lost.

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: We're destroying nature's natural regulators.

COOPER: Where islands are discovered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This island exists because of global warming.

COOPER: Where water is poison.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people are dependent on this water.

COOPER: Where endangered animals are bought, sold and killed.

CORWIN: There's a lot of animals right here that range the gamut of critical status.

COOPER: Where people are dying.

GUPTA: We're hearing that people are getting cancer from drinking the water.

COOPER: This is a planet under assault. This is a "PLANET IN PERIL."

Previously on "PLANET IN PERIL," our investigation into our changing climate took us over the ice, inside glaciers and on the hunt for polar bears.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta's look at why one of Africa's largest lakes is disappearing left him stuck in the sand in the searing heat. And that's where our journey picks up. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's 114 degrees, and we're stuck in Central Africa. We're trying to get to the source of Lake Chad to investigate why it's disappearing. So far, getting there is proving anything but easy.

There are no winches out here to free our trucks, just the bodies of our entire crew. We finally break free, as we close in on the Chari River, Lake Chad's source.

We stop at a fishing village called Duram Baga (ph) in Nigeria. It used to sit on the banks of Lake Chad. Over the past 30 years, the water has steadily receded.

We're in a fishing community here. What is the impact on the people that live here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, the impact is really obvious. And here, as you can see, we don't have healthy fish. This species of fish can grow up to 60 kilograms, and, today, you see, they just a few grams.

GUPTA: So, this used to be up to 60 kilograms?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

GUPTA: And it's just a few grams now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. This means there is no healthy wetlands, so no healthy fish, so no healthy people. No food for people.

GUPTA: So, are they getting sick or...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they are getting sick just because of food shortage.

GUPTA: Some of the children here are clearly malnourished. And the poor diet makes all of them vulnerable to disease.

We continue our journey, a bumpy ride for another few hours. Finally we arrive at the Chari River.

Here's one of the best examples of what's happening to the water over here. You're looking at the River Chari here. This is one of the largest rivers that actually supplies water to Lake Chad.

And that is Lake Chad. This used to be a mega-lake, one of the biggest lakes in the world. So, really, that's all that is remaining of it now. And, right here, between that land over there and this land over here, this is the river mouth.

That's all -- the water that supplies the lake is all coming through here. There's not very much left anymore. And that's what's happening to the lake. All this land is appearing and the water is disappearing.

Even the Chari River, the source for this once great lake, is evaporating.

As Lake Chad disappears, many have nowhere else to go. The Lake Chad Basin Commission has a plan to divert water from the Congo River, but it remains controversial and unfunded. There are no easy solutions.

Heading back towards shore from Lake Chad, our journey here is coming to a close. What we found is that Lake Chad's disappearance isn't just climate change or simply overuse, but, instead a combination of both, with tens of millions of people competing for a resource that is literally evaporating.

What is left is a daily struggle. But, somehow, Anata (ph) holds out hope.

But you still are optimistic, despite everything that we talked about today, that water is going to cover all this once again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it will. And, as we heard from the fisherman himself, he said, water will come. So, everybody here keep hope.

GUPTA: From what we have seen in Greenland, Alaska and Africa, the Earth's climate is clearly changing. It's not a theory. It's a fact. But what's causing those changes? The majority of the scientific community says it's mankind. But there are powerful voices who say otherwise.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: And, with all the hysteria, all the fear, all the phony science, could it be that manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? I believe it is.

COOPER: If you thought the debate over what's causing the Earth to warm was settled, think again.

INHOFE: I don't want to be rude, but, from now on, I'm going to ask...

COOPER: James Inhofe, Republican senator from Oklahoma, is the loudest voice with probably the biggest platform who questions whether man is responsible for climate change. His position has led to some intense political theater.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I could complete my answer.

INHOFE: Well, if you do, then my time has expired. Are you aware of that?

GORE: Well, I can't help that, because you went on for a long time. But I would like to...

INHOFE: No, I have 15 minutes.

You, sir, had 30 minutes. I have 15. You have got to let me...

COOPER: This year, 2,000 scientists on the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded, with 90 percent certainty, that man is responsible for global warming.

They were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work. But Inhofe questions the motives of those who say man is responsible for global warming.

INHOFE: This whole idea of global warming is something that has been brought up by certain groups who have a lot to benefit from it, and has nothing to do with real science.

COOPER: Nothing to do with science and everything to do with money. Support human-caused climate change, Inhofe's thinking goes, and you get more funding.

But Inhofe's critics question his funding. The second biggest contributors to Inhofe's Senate office are energy and natural resource companies.

We wanted to talk to Senator Inhofe about those contributions and his position on climate change. But, after agreeing to an interview with us, he canceled.

But the debate is not just political. Some scientists question the data and the models that predict climate change.

Pat Michaels is one of them. He agreed to sit down with us.

Do you think climate change is a hoax?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The Earth is warming. The ice sheets are melting. Lakes are evaporating. The question is, why? Are human beings responsible? And, even if we are, is it a crisis or just hype?

Pat Michaels was Virginia's state climatologist for more than a decade and a professor at the University of Virginia. He's also a so-called climate change skeptic.

Do you think climate change is a hoax?

PAT MICHAELS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Oh, heck no. Human beings are changing the climate. I think the warming that we are seeing is at -- definitely at the low end of the projection range.

COOPER: A projection range based on computer models. That, he and other skeptics like him say, is a fundamental problem.

MICHAELS: The problem is we have these things called computer models. And that's all we have for the future. And when we look at these computer models, one of the things we see is that they tend to predict more warming than is occurring.

COOPER: That's true. Some estimates do have the Earth warming more than it currently is. And it's an illustration on the difficulty of deciphering the debate. Both sides accuse each other of cherry-picking data. Models, you see, also underestimated our changing climate.

Remember the sea ice you just saw in Alaska? Computer models had one million square miles of it melting by the year 2050. It reached that level this year.

Even so, not to fear, says Michaels. Animals like the polar bear and humans will simply adapt.

The scientists who are warning of huge changes within our lifetime, are those just scare tactics?

MICHAELS: I think a lot of people have not looked at the adaptational responses that human beings have. Look on the United States, probably the most violent weather on Earth of any large civilized nature -- the number of tornadoes...

COOPER: Right.

MICHAELS: ... stunning. And big cities are in the way of these tornadoes. Death rates from tornadoes are going down, down, down, and down. Why? Adaptation.

COOPER: Adaptations, he says, like stronger buildings, better warning systems.

While a scientific consensus says man is responsible for global warming, Michaels, like Senator Inhofe, says money is the prime motivator.

MICHAELS: You write a proposal and you tie it to climate change, you got a good chance.

JAMES HANSEN, DIRECTOR, NASA GODDARD INSTITUTE FOR SPACE STUDIES: You know nothing could be further from the truth. And, in fact, I'm a good example of that, because when I first spoke out about this in 1981, I ended up losing my funding.

COOPER: Dr. James Hansen does not believe scientists are simply chasing funding.

Hansen, with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was one of the first scientists to bring global warming into the public's consciousness in the 1980s.

HANSEN: We conclude that there is evidence that the greenhouse effect increases the likelihood of heat wave drought situations.

COOPER: Hansen was nearly alone back then. But, today, he's brought the vast majority of the scientific community to his side. We are changing our climate, he says, and are risking a different planet. He rejects nearly all of the skeptics' points, from moderate estimates...

HANSEN: We're talking about several meters of sea level rise if West Antarctica begins to go unstable. COOPER: ... to computer modeling.

HANSEN: That's another big misconception. The computer models are helpful, but they are not the primary source of information. It's the Earth's history that tells us, with the most accuracy and the most reliability, what the climate sensitivity is.

We have measurements of the atmospheric composition, very precise, from the bubbles of air trapped in the ice sheets as a function of time over the last 700,000 years.

COOPER: Climate science is clearly complicated and often controversial. Both sides of the debate know that.

For Jim Hansen, that makes the situation all the more pressing.

HANSEN: The nature of science is, you say, on the one hand, this and, on the other hand, that. And, even as the story becomes quite clear, we may not be making clear that we are really talking about a different planet.

So, I think we are running out of time. We have really got to get started in the next few years, so that we are really on a different path.

COOPER: A different path, because we are destroying much of what remains of the natural world. And these are vast resources we are losing. They feed us, provide us medicine, and control our climate.

Jeff and I are now heading to Brazil's Amazon to see firsthand the battle for the world's greatest rainforest.

You're looking at one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, the Amazon rainforest. How is that possible? How is it that a forest covering nine countries, home to 200 indigenous tribes...

CORWIN: This is one of my most favorite creatures right here.

COOPER: ... holding one-quarter of the world's species, can be a major contributor to climate change? Because it is, quite simply, under assault.

The carbon naturally stored in trees is released when they're cut down. And they're being cut down at a breathtaking rate.

These are the men bent on stopping that. They're agents with IBAMA, the Brazilian government's environmental protection agency. This mission in a remote corner of Brazil has been in the works for over a year. The agents are heavily armed, but heavily outnumbered. Their job is daunting, something you can only appreciate from the air.

CORWIN: Just in the Amazon basin alone, it's 2.7-million square miles of habitat, and roughly 70 percent of that is right here in this extraordinary country, in the country of Brazil.

COOPER: Two-point-seven-million square miles, that's a little bit smaller than the continental United States.

CORWIN: Exactly.

COOPER: Huge.

But all of that is in jeopardy.

It's so disturbing to see this.

CORWIN: It's just absolute, utter devastation and destruction.

COOPER: Twenty percent of the jungle has been lost in the past 40 years.

It seems, though, the problem is, once you get out to these remote areas, you can do just about anything. There are very few people watching over you.

CORWIN: These regions, when you're away from any bit of infrastructure, can be pretty lawless. And, basically, anything goes.

COOPER: Anything goes. And the IBAMA agents know that.

It doesn't take long for them to pick up one of the illegal roads made by poachers. There's no telling what's around each corner. In the distance, the agents spot something suspicious. The truck slows, and guns are drawn.

They have just found a truck with some people. Let's check it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: In a wooden shack in a remote corner of the Amazon forest, armed men pore over maps and make last-minute plans. They are all here, more than 200 of them, to try and put a stop to the animal poachers and loggers who are tearing this forest apart. It's an effort led by IBAMA, Brazil's environmental protection agency.

These officers from the federal police are teaming up with IBAMA agents, and they are about to go out on patrol. For IBAMA, secrecy is key. If word leaks out in this area that IBAMA is here, that they are going to be on patrol and launching a series of raids, then the illegal loggers will simply disappear into the rainforest.

Officials say more than 1,000 people have died in the past 20 years in battles over the Amazon's resources.

Agents get word over the radio there might be an encampment of illegal loggers nearby. So, they quickly pile into their trucks. Finding the roads made by the loggers is easy. What's not so easy is traveling them during the rainy season.

These roads, as bumpy and terrible as they are, what's even worse about them is that the roads are the conduit for the habitat loss.

CORWIN: Absolutely. This is basically the pathway for which the timber comes out.

COOPER: Illegally logged, for the most part?

CORWIN: Not all of it illegally logged, but a significant amount. Some statistics say that perhaps as much as 80 percent, to as little as 60 percent, is logged illegally.

COOPER: And that adds up. In 2006, 5,500 square miles of Amazon forest was cut down, roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

And that was a 25 percent decrease from the year before.

It is politically correct to say you care about the rainforest, but why should someone actually care? I mean if you're in New York or Iowa, what impact does the rainforest really have on your life?

CORWIN: Simply put, the survival of our species of human beings is directly dependent upon the survival of rainforest habitat. For example, 20 percent of the world's water is locked up in rainforest habitat, specifically the Amazon Basin.

COOPER: Despite its value, the destruction of this habitat continues.

Brazil is the number one soy producer in the world. And it takes land to grow soy, land without trees. It's also the world's top beef exporter. Those two industries continue to expand, and they need land to do it.

But not all of the trees are cut down for big profits. Some are harvested by small farmers eking out a meager living.

Wherever you go in Brazil, in the Amazon, you will find that, fire. This is a small fire set by a man who is cutting down a couple of acres of land. This is classic slash and burn.

Cutting down and burning trees not only clears the land; it releases nutrients into the soil, making the ground more fertile. It's an easy, but destructive way small-time farmers do business here.

Like so many areas we have seen around the world, poverty plays a big role in habitat destruction.

This is really the front line of deforestation. Even though this land hasn't been cleared, it's going to be affected, and the animals living on it are going to be affected by the fact that there are people living just a few feet away.

CORWIN: Very much so. At first glance, it looks like a relatively healthy forest. But just listen. What do you hear?

COOPER: Not much.

CORWIN: Not much. No birds, no buzzing insects.

COOPER: The World Conservation Union says the Amazon is home to nearly 1,000 threatened species of plants and animals. IBAMA doesn't have nearly enough personnel to protect them all.

Back on the muddy and rutted roads with IBAMA, agents continue to comb the forest for anything that looks out of place. They may have just found it.

Every day IBAMA agents go out on patrol and stop anyone they come across and question them about what they're doing in this biological preserve. They have just found a truck with some people. Let's check it out.

Their truck is broken down, and they say they need help. When agents find a hunting rifle, this man says they're only there to hunt one small animal. But his story doesn't add up. A quick search turns up a small arsenal.

The guy has, like, what: one, two, three, four, five rifles.

CORWIN: He's got five rifles. He's got three machetes. He's even got a slingshot.

COOPER: And a pack of hunting dogs.

CORWIN: These guys have all the classic tools of the trade when it comes to poaching wildlife.

COOPER: The men take us to their camp site, where they've already clear-cut the forest. The cooler is stocked with deer meat poached from the rainforest.

CORWIN: These gentlemen have been very, very busy.

COOPER: They said they were just out looking for small animals just to eat. Clearly, it's a larger operation than that.

CORWIN: Clearly, their motivation was a bit more insidious. These animals are hunted not just for themselves. They're probably selling the meat, as well.

COOPER: The men are arrested and charged with possessing arms and hunting in the preserve, charges that could get them ten years in jail.

For IBAMA, these arrests are a sign of hope - one small victory in the ongoing battle to save the forest. These four men have been taken into custody. That means they won't be out hunting today, killing untold numbers of wild animals.

IBAMA has been fighting this fight for several years now, but it wasn't until 2005 when a 73-year-old American nun changed the way Brazil protects its forests. In the small town of Anapu, deep in the Amazon state of Para, Sister Dorothy Stang is everywhere. Sister Dorothy came to Anapu from her native Ohio in 1983. She said she was drawn to the Amazon to work with the poor.

SISTER DOROTHY STANG, NUN/CONSERVATIONIST: The only thing they know is survival farming. That's slash and burn.

COOPER: She started a sustainable development program, teaching locals how to live off the forest and at the same time preserve it. Her mantra - the death of the forest is the end of our lives.

STANG: Bringing back new life to a land that was lost. And it is possible. We can renew the forest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's do it.

JANE DWIRE, SISTER DOROTHY'S FRIEND: She may have looked like a little old lady to people from outside. But who lived with her, she wasn't a little old lady. She was a powerhouse of decision. And when she decided, she decided. And she would, you know, work to make it happen, her way.

COOPER: But her friend and colleague, Jane Dwire (ph), says those tactics earned Sister Dorothy some powerful and dangerous enemies.

Big ranching and logging companies were often in her sights. If they encroached on a peasant's land, Stang would report them to the government.

As Sister Dorothy became more visible and successful, she started getting death threats. She refused, however, to be intimidated.

On February 12, 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang was walking down a path in the Amazon jungle. Suddenly, she was confronted by two men. Words were exchanged, and one of the men took out a gun.

Sister Stang didn't try to run away. Instead, she opened the Bible she was carrying in her hand and read a passage from the gospel of Matthew: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied." As she closed the Bible and turned to go, the gunmen opened fire.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STANG: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

COOPER: Early February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun from Ohio, leaves a meeting of peasant farmers, whose land she's helping to protect, and walks into the jungle towards her home. She never makes it there. Two men meet her on a muddy path. Words are exchanged. The men draw weapons, but instead of running, Sister Dorothy opens the Bible she's carrying and reads them a passage. When she turns to go, they shoot her at point-blank range, leaving her in the mud to die.

Just days later, these two men confess to the murder. Police take them back to the scene, and they re-enact the brutal crime. They tell police they were paid $25,000 by ranchers, who wanted Sister Dorothy out of their way so they could continue illegally logging the rainforest.

Four of the five men involved have been convicted in her murder, but the rancher who's believed to be the mastermind behind the plot remains free on bail.

But killing Sister Dorothy did not have the result some ranchers may have hoped for.

DWIRE: They thought that killing her would end it. Well, on the contrary. It did exactly the opposite. And the people are stronger than ever, and we do not intend to leave here.

COOPER: The Brazilian government responded by setting aside more than 30,000 square miles for protection. Sister Dorothy's death became a symbol, not only for the rainforest, but also for the protection of the people who call it home.

There are some 100,000 indigenous people living in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. We've arranged to visit one small tribe, the Kraho Indians in the Tocantin state of Brazil.

We're told by the chief it's the first time a helicopter has ever landed in the village.

These are the Kraho. They're an indigenous people here in the Amazon rainforest. There are about 200 or so who live in this village. It's a protected reserve. We've just arrived here to find out how they're struggling to protect their habitat.

The Kraho always celebrate the arrival of visitors with a ceremony.

They're saying that very few people come to this village, very few outsiders. So to welcome us, they want to baptize us. That's the term they're using. They want us to -- they want to give us local names, names in their language, and also give us tribal markings.

They name Jeff Running Deer.

CORWIN: Thank you. I'm honored by that. Thank you.

COOPER: And me, I'm Regal Bird.

Thank you very much. I'm very honored. Thank you.

After the festivities, we joined the tribe for a meeting, where they share grim news of what's happening to their home. A tribal elder tells us they fight hard to protect their land and keep their traditions alive. He says they're angry and scared by what's happening.

There are about 3,000 Kraho Indians left in the Amazon basin, spread out in villages across 750,000 acres of protected land given to them by the government.

But part of the Krahos' land has already been illegally clear-cut, and there's little to no law enforcement to stop it. Kraho are trying to take matters into their own hands.

The Kraho are very concerned about illegal logging on their territory. Every day they go out on patrol armed with bows and arrows just making sure no one is cutting down trees.

They say they've run off poachers on these patrols before, but their territory is huge and their numbers small, so the poachers keep coming back.

As hunters, gatherers, and farmers, the Kraho rely on the rainforest for food, water, shelter, everything. The Amazon is a vital resource for the world, as well. As Jeff mentioned earlier, the Amazon basin holds 20 percent of the world's water.

At least 80 percent of the developed world's diet comes from the Amazon, mostly from the soy and beef industries, not to mention the tropical oils that are key ingredients in cosmetics like perfumes and shampoos.

It's a sort of natural medicine chest, as well. The National Cancer Institute says that, of the 3,000 plants that fight cancer cells, 70 percent of them are found in the Amazon rainforest.

But despite all of that, the rainforest is being pillaged at a rapid rate. Roughly 5,500 square miles are lost every year.

Back on patrol with the Kraho, we hike for hours through their territory but never find any illegal activity, at least not today. They will go out again tomorrow, however, trying to do whatever they can to stop their home and their way of life from disappearing.

There's a pattern here. We see it, not just with the Kraho but also with others we've met in Cambodia and China and Africa. The disenfranchised usually bear the brunt of environmental degradation.

And that just doesn't happen in remote corners of the globe. It's happening right here in America.

For Valentin Marroquin, Manchester, Texas, seemed a fine place to grow up. It was a tough neighborhood, but he had friends and plenty of places to play.

His mother, Rosario, was just happy she'd found somewhere free from the violence and drugs that plagued other low-income neighborhoods. Her children were safe; at least, that's what she thought. ROSARIO MARROQUIN, MOTHER OF VALENTIN: My worst fear as a parent was losing my child somewhere; a park, crowded place. That's what parents always fear. You always think of something like that. You don't think your child coming down with cancer.

COOPER: At just 6 years old, her oldest child and only son, Valentin, was diagnosed with leukemia.

R. MARROQUIN: It's a numbing feeling

VALENTIN MARROQUIN, CANCER PATIENT: Cook (ph).

R. MARROQUIN: That's all I remember, just time stops.

COOPER: The very next day, Valentin began chemotherapy.

Unable to protect her little boy, Rosario Marroquin felt helpless. So she started looking for answers. She never could have guessed where she'd find them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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COOPER: Six-year-old Valentin Marroquin went from healthy one moment to a leukemia patient battling for his life the next.

R. MARROQUIN: All right.

I would always hear him say, "When I grow up, I want to do this." He'd always say that. Or "I'm going to be chief of police" since he was little. Or "Mom, when I'm this age, I want --."

And I would always say, is he going to get there?

COOPER: His mother, Rosario Marroquin, started searching for answers, and she kept coming back to their neighborhood and the stench that often envelopes it.

R. MARROQUIN: It was a stinky neighborhood, but we'd gotten so used to it that we don't know. That's just how we smell.

COOPER: This stinky neighborhood because it sits next to the Houston Ship Channel, the largest petrochemical complex in America. Here, oil refineries and petrochemical companies pump hazardous pollutants into the air.

A study released in 2006 showed the concentration of known carcinogens benzene and 1-3-butadiene was significantly higher. At least 20 times greater for 1-3 butadiene than any other city in the U.S.

R. MARROQUIN: And our kids could get sick in the country, even fresh air. But this has something to do with it. COOPER: And that may be true. Earlier this year the University of Texas released a study showing kids living within two miles of the Ship Channel had a 56 percent greater chance of getting leukemia; a 56 percent greater chance.

While there's no clear-cut link it's the first study showing the association between the ship channel's air quality and childhood leukemia.

The risk is not just cancer. Benzene and butadiene are also known to cause other serious health effects like respiratory diseases and birth defects.

So if we know all of this, why is it happening? For one thing weak laws. And we'll go into that in a second.

But the other reason, says environmental law professor Tom McGarity (ph), is because of race. Ninety percent of the people who live in the Marroquins' neighborhood are Hispanic.

TOM MCGARITY, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW PROFESSOR: If these plants were emitting these kinds of levels in River Oaks, it wouldn't be happening, I promise. I can tell you that right now.

River Oaks is the area where all the millionaires live.

COOPER: Activists call it environmental racism and say it's not just happening in Texas. Thailand, Cambodia, Madagascar, Chad, Brazil. In each place the poor and disenfranchised are usually the ones bearing environmental burdens.

It happens there, and it happens here. In 2005, the Associated Press found African-Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger.

MAJORA CARTER, SUSTAINABLE SOUTH BRONX: How do we improve the quality of life for everybody?

COOPER: Majora Carter (ph) is the founder of the Sustainable South Bronx, an organization that fights environmental racism in New York and around the country.

CARTER: Right now race and class really determine where you find the good things, like parks and trees, or where you'll find the bad stuff, like waste facilities and power plants.

COOPER: The argument against your position is an economic argument. Most often, it's: "Well, look, it's cheaper to have plants in this neighborhood than it is anywhere else in this very expensive city." So...

CARTER: You think you're making the argument that, you know, it's better to have it up here because real estate values are so low. But think about the other kind of costs associated with it, that add up.

COOPER: Health costs?

CARTER: Yes.

COOPER: Crime?

CARTER: Yes. Somebody is paying for it. We all are.

COOPER: But Carter points out the people whose health is in danger, whose quality of life is degraded, more often than not remain silent.

CARTER: I don't care if anybody in this neighborhood, like, never understands what global warming is. The point is there are people out there that are making decisions on our behalf that do and are deciding not to do anything about it.

COOPER: The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, chief toxicologist Michael Honeycutt, disputes the idea.

MICHAEL HONEYCUTT, CHIEF TOXICOLOGIST, TEXAS COMMISSION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: One-third less pollution in the Houston Ship Channel this year compared to last year because of our approach of bringing companies in, telling them what we want and we're seeing those reductions. There are issues of timing.

Scientists are generating data all the time. Something today -- you know, we find out today that something is not as safe as we thought it was or, well, something is safer than we thought it was.

BILL WHITE, MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: Nobody has the right to chemically alter the air that somebody else breathes without that person's consent. It is not right.

COOPER: Houston Mayor Bill White has pledged to reduce the level of air toxins for those communities, even if it means playing hardball.

WHITE: We will have both a political and a legal battle with the industry until we get widespread agreement for them to do stuff.

COOPER: Tough talk, but here's something that might surprise you. When we talked to the companies in the ship channel, they pointed out that they've started voluntarily limiting their emissions, and they haven't broken any laws.

And that's true. There's actually no law, no ambient air standards, either state or federal, requiring companies to limit the amount of hazardous air pollutants they pump out.

There is an effort under way to get a law passed in Texas, but Professor McGarity says it's going to be an uphill battle, because when it comes to the oil industry here, old habits die hard.

MCGARITY: That's going to be reflected at the top among the political appointees, who are more a part of this -- shall we say -- "wild west" culture where anything goes.

COOPER: A "wild west" culture where kids like Valentin Marroquin pay the price.

Now 10 years old, Valentin is in remission and doing well. The Marroquins say they can't leave here because they can't afford it. But they can't lock their children inside either.

R. MARROQUIN: When you're sitting out there, when you're watching them play, you think, "Is it going to happen? Are they breathing it in now?"

COOPER: Valentin still loves his neighborhood and playing outside. He just has one request.

V. MARROQUIN: To change the pollution to somewhere else. Somewhere where there's no animals or no people who live there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Investigating our planet in peril has taken us to 13 countries on 4 continents. We've met literally hundreds of people along the way, some of whom you've been introduced to over the past two nights.

Everywhere we've gone, we've been told the same thing. None of what's happening is occurring in a vacuum. In all these places, all these problems are interconnected.

When we come back, the lessons learned.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: If you'd like to find out more information about the topics discussed tonight, or find out what you can do to get involved, check out our Impact Your World Website at cnn.com/impact.

Investigating our planet in peril has taken us to 13 countries on 4 continents. We've met literally hundreds of people along the way, some of whom you've been introduced to over the past two nights.

Everywhere we've gone, we've been told the same thing. None of what's happening is occurring in a vacuum. In all these places, all these problems are interconnected.

In the Amazon along poacher's trails, in hidden villages, you can smell the smoke from the burning forest.

From the air you really get a sense of just how much of this rainforest has already been destroyed.

You can see the scars made by man. Plants and animals lost forever. Gases released warm the world. The icy expanse of Greenland, land and sky seem frozen forever. The danger is hard to see with the naked eye. The ice melts, the seas will rise. How much, how fast, a matter of debate; but tens of millions will be affected in this century. CORWIN: As the Arctic changes under the effects of climate change and global warming, these very well could be one of the creatures most greatly affected.

COOPER: Already polar bears' behavior is changing.

Already small islands slip beneath the sea.

GUPTA: They say that the water is actually going to cover this entire island. What's going to happen to you?

ROSE: I will have to stay. The life here is too valuable to lose.

COOPER: More people are born, economies boom. We consume and grow more each passing year. By 2050, there will be 50 percent more people on the planet than there are right now.

In America, the discussion seems mired in politics. Skeptics, believers, liberals, conservatives; it all seems so theoretical. Environmentalism: the pet project of the rich, the cause for celebs.

We traveled the world and the issues are real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact is that a minimum of 20 percent of all global emissions are coming from destruction of tropical forests.

COOPER: Struggles for land, fights over resources, people drink from polluted rivers in China and die in broken villages invisible from the gleaming towers of Beijing.

In Asia and Africa, animals and plants are ripped from the forest, species disappearing at a thousand times the natural rate of extinction.

What should be done? What can be done? That's where the real debate is now. We set out to report, not be advocates, no agenda.

You've seen the front lines, the facts on the ground. Overpopulation, deforestation, species lost, climate change. Nothing happens in a vacuum. What happens in one place now affects us all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)