Today, Conservation International will present Anderson Cooper with our most prestigious award – the Global Conservation Hero Award – in honor of the entire team responsible for CNN’s Planet in Peril Series.
It’s the first time that we’ve ever given the award for journalism. Previously it has gone to some very powerful people – the former head of the World Bank and to the CEO of Wal-Mart – for the huge strides that they have taken in protecting the environment.
This year’s award reflects the major achievement of Planet in Peril which has fearlessly engaged the American public in issues that the mainstream media had previously been reluctant to cover.
The key to the show’s success – and to the award that we are presenting to the team that made them – is their incredible determination to tackle huge and complex subjects head-on and to make them accessible to ordinary people. Whether it is the spread of diseases from wildlife to humans or the conflicts developing over natural resources that sustain us all, the shows made connections between what is happening in some of the world’s poorest nations and what is happening right here in the US.
And now, more than ever, it is critical that people in this country understand how completely connected the US is to the rest of the world. At the end of this year the governments of the world will meet in Copenhagen to agree a plan for what needs to be done to address climate change, and the US will be one of the most important players in that debate.
The very places highlighted in Planet in Peril – like the forests of central Africa and South America – are among the most vital components in the efforts to address climate change because forests remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store vast quantities of it. In fact, the destruction of the world’s forests puts more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year than all of the worlds transportation put together – around a fifth of all CO2 emissions.
The more forests we lose, the harder it will be for the earth’s natural systems to cope with humanity’s CO2 emissions – and that means we will have to spend more on reducing CO2 emissions or deal with even worse climate change. But the more connected we all feel to these far-away places, and the more we realize how vital it is to conserve them, the better our chances of protecting the world from the worst potential outcomes of climate change.
Planet in Peril has taken millions of people in the US a few steps closer to understanding the connections that exist between the average American, the rest of humanity and the world that sustains us. If the world’s politicians can really grasp this too, then perhaps the UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen at the end of the year will achieve what Conservation International is calling for to avoid dangerous climate change, and will put protection of the ecosystems that help prevent climate change at the heart of the world’s new plan to confront this challenge.
Fred Boltz, Ph.D.
Global Strategies and Climate Change Lead