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Effects of Climate Change Are Felt Across the Globe; "Far From The Tree" Brings Light to Families Where Children Are Different Than Their Parents
Aired July 24, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Welcome to the program. Ahead, from Greece to California, from Japan to the Arctic Circle, and extreme
summer season is on the rampage.
What have we learned since the red flag was raised 30 years ago? The Pulitzer Prize winning science writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Rear Admiral,
David Titley, who founded the U.S. Navy's Task Force on Climate Change join the show.
Plus, the challenges and rewards of horizontal identities. Andrew Solomon and Rachel Dretzin, the author and film maker of "Far from the Tree," join
us to explain.
Welcome to the program everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. It's that time of year again, only this year it's worse. At least 70 people are
dead in the worst wild fires to hit Greece in more than a decade.
Intense winds powered massive flames forcing some residents to escape into the sea to seek shelter from the raging firestorm. The planet looks like
it's burning up. Here in the U.K. is experiencing its driest summer on record.
Japan has declared a natural disaster with dozens of people dead as temperatures break records across the country. In Laos, thousands of
people are displaced after heavy rain caused a dam to burst and a wildfire near California's Yosemite National Park has now spread to more than 30,000
Thirty years ago, this summer, NASA scientist, James Hansen, first told Congress that what was then called the greenhouse effect, a build up of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by human activity threatened mark changes in climate, as this NASA animation of rising global temperatures
shows, the Cassandra's(ph) were right, they predicted it then and it is happening now.
So, joining me now is "The New Yorker's," Elizabeth Kolbert. She's the Pulitzer Prize winning science writer, whom Al Gore describes as reporting
from the front lines of the violent collision between civilization and our planets ecosystem. Elizabeth, welcome to the program.
That is some introduction that Al Gore gives you. I mean, it just shows how vital and how calamitous your brief is. What can you tell us about
what -- about James Hansen and the 30-year-old warning?
ELIZABETH KOLBERT, THE PULITZER PRIZE WINNING SCIENCE WRITER: Well, as you mentioned, exactly 30 years ago, last month, James Hansen went to Capitol
Hill and announced that he -- it was time -- I believe he put it as time just to stop waffling and say that we could detect climate change
going on around us at that time.
And the think that is important to really understand about climate change is that it's cumulative. The more CO2 you put up there, the warmer the
climate you're going to get out at the end. And what James Hansen was trying to do 30 years ago as say, look, don't dump all this stuff up in the
atmosphere because you're not going to like the result.
Now 30 years have passed and that warning has obviously not been heeded. In fact, emissions of CO2 have gone up very dramatically since the late
1980s, so we are going to be coping with the consequences of that. We are seeing that right now, as you mentioned.
AMANPOUR: So are you saying -- you say coping, but how well are we coping? That litany is just, really just a small handful of really what's
going on right now, as we speak, all over the world. I mean there's potentially an iceberg melting that could cause a tsunami around Greenland
KOLBERT: Well, we do tend -- because we have not dealt with this problem in any way systematically, by actually trying to either reduce our
emissions or think really clearly about what kind of broad systematic changes we need about where people are living and how they're living.
We're going to, unfortunately, it seems like for the foreseeable future, be dealing with things on ad hoc basis.
Now as you're suggesting, some of them may not -- you may not be able to deal with them and that's the real danger here and that was exactly why Jim
Hansen went to Capitol Hill 30 years ago to try to prevent us from having -- to getting to this point.
Now that we're here, there's a lot -- a lot that we need to be doing and I think that I -- I'm sitting here in the U.S. where we're actually going
in precisely the opposite direction, precisely the wrong direction here, scrubbing climate change from government websites, also not thinking fairly
about the problem at all.
AMANPOUR: You know we -- it is absolutely incredible that we still sit here and people can still debate whether humans are actually responsible
for this massive climate change, when the science is so utterly, utterly clear.
But the one thing that I want to ask you before moving on to some of the scientific specifics, you've just written a profile of James Hansen and he
has lamented that despite his warnings, despite his experience and his expertise, maybe he just wasn't a good enough communicator. Maybe, the
scientific community failed in their dire warnings no matter how early and prescient there were.
KOLBERT: Yes, he made that remark to an associated press reported a couple months ago and there were a bunch of stories that appeared around it's 30th
Anniversary and I -- I actually to issue of that, I don't really think that they blames falls on the scientists. I think the blame falls very
squarely on the political system and really on all of us for not listening to what the scientists were telling us.
Now, that doesn't meant that scientific communication couldn't be improved, everything could be improved. But we have -- we were warned to the very,
very highest level of the U.S. government, of the world government and, in fact, in 2015 the Heads of State of virtually of every country in the world
gathered in Paris and acknowledged that we had a huge problem and had to do something about it. No things are sort of unraveled since Paris because of
palatial development in the U.S. mainly.
So, there was a bright moment when people -- or a moment of hopefulness when people thought, OK, we were going to finally action. Maybe not action
commensurate with the problem, but some kind of action.
AMANPOUR: So Elizabeth, you say things have unraveled. Clearly, you're being a bit diplomatic, I mean basically if President Trump has withdrawn
the United States from the Paris Climate accord, but we do hear from interested parties like mayors, like Bloomberg and others that actually
states and cities are picking up the slack in the United States and meeting those targets. Is that what you hear as well? I mean if you -- it's still
fulfilling in meeting it's targets.
KOLBERT: Well no, the U.S. is not on track to meet it's targets, I think that's pretty clear. It was going to have a hard time meeting it's targets
even with the regulations of the Obama administration had put in place to try to curtail CO2 emissions, greenhouse gas emissions and those were a big
set of rules that affected power plants and also that affected tailpipe emissions from cars. So, auto fuel efficiency for cars.
Now, both of those sets of regulations, even as you and I speak right now, are being rolled back. So, there's -- unless there's some kind of -- I
don't want to say miracle, but close to miracle, there's now way, without those sets of regulations or without any political action on a federal
level, that the U.S. is going to meet the targets in offered in Paris.
Now, as you said, he U.S. has withdrawn Paris, it's just not officially withdrawn yet because it simply can't. There's s time period involved
there, but the Trump administration has announced it's intention to withdraw.
AMANPOUR: I want to play you something that Defense Secretary, James Mattis, has said about this crisis and about what actually it means in his
area of activity.
Actually it's a quote and he says, "Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. It is
appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their
So, you know, I'm surely even the Trump administration and their sort of hard not -- hard headed sort of pragmatists, as they like to call
themselves, can react to that kind of national security imperative.
KOLBERT: Well, I think if you talk to people at the very highest levels of the U.S. military, they will acknowledge or -- yes, they will acknowledge
that climate change is a huge threat. It's often called a threat multiplier in very unstable parts of -- already unstable parts of the
You're seeing water stress, all of the things that were predicted that are now happening and that are making unstable places that much more unstable
and that much more difficult to live in and producing humanitarian crisis.
And the fact that -- and I also have to blame the U.S. Congress. The fact that people at the highest levels of the administration and also at
the highest levels of the U.S. Congress just choose to take this really ostrich like stand like as I stick my fingers in my ears and pretend that
it will just go away, is tragic really and it will cost many, many lives.
And I think history will look back at this moment when Athens is burning, when we're seeing these terrible fires north of the Arctic Circle. When
Japanese people are experiencing an incredible heat wave, we're going to have an incredible heat wave in the southwestern U.S. next week
And - and where the political system simply refused to even acknowledge the problem. And they're going to look back as a moment of real insanity.
It's going to be what - what in God's name were these people thinking?
AMANPOUR: And you - you do take them to task. It's not even really ostrich like, its worse isn't it? I mean it's actually (inaudible) up to
some of the lobbies which are the worst polluters.
I mean we've heard this now from EPA, whistle blowers and others did all sorts of protective measures for our water, for our clean air, et cetera
are gradually being rolled back.
And all these oil, gas and other coal lobbyist are poring money in to the current administration. Tell us what's happening in the area of regulation
that was designed to keep us safer and cleaner.
KOLBERT: Well, as you mentioned, the climate change, the regulations that were designed to calm that climate change are just one of many many
environmental regulations, and a whole series of regulations that are under assault right now.
There's a - for example, this week there was this bit of news about rolling back endangered species protections for - for hundreds of listed species in
the U.S. and many many more that should be listed to be honest.
So, all around -- and you'd look at basically any area of environmental protection, and the administration, the one thing. And many people have
pointed this out, the one thing that they seem to be very effective at doing or very efficient and ruthlessly focused on is rolling back
And they have to - a lot of these are going to be fought in court, so we haven't seen the end result yet. But they are moving through that process
of rolling back a lot of environmental protections. And going back to before the Obama administration--
AMANPOUR: Elizabeth, obviously your (inaudible), the one (inaudible) surprise was for your work on endangered species. And your - your writings
that now species are endangered by humans, where 66 million years, the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid.
But now its humans doing the extinction so to speak, tell us - tell us what that will mean for just what species and how at risk they are.
KOLBERT: Well, the characteristic of our time is that many many many species across many many different groups, so it's not even just confined
to one group. It's across all groups are endangered.
And you can look down the list, we don't have data on a lot of species, we don't even know how many species we share the planet with.
But if you look at very very well studied groups like mammals or birds or amphibians, you find in the case of mammals for example, hoarder of all
mammals are currently considered endangered.
And some of the iconic specie son planet Earth, elephants are in big trouble. Giraffes are in troubles, rhinoceros are in big trouble.
And we can unfortunately go all the way down the list and even look at very small animals we can look at, and even groups of insects. Many insects are
endangered now. So it's not confined, and that is the defining - that's the defining feature--
KOLBERT: Of our time, and why we know we are in a - in some kind of a crisis.
AMANPOUR: Well, it certainly is a crisis. Elizabeth Kolbert, thank you so much. And you have actually written you don't need to guess about this,
climate change has become obvious. People can just look around and see it happening. Thanks for joining us tonight.
And there is disaster. And then in the world, we can also find triumph. My next guests explore how people manage to (inaudible) over some of life's
most difficult obstacles in its most personal space, which is the family.
In Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon's landmark coined the term horizontal identity, children who were just different from their parents, whether gay,
prodigiously talented, disabled or even criminal.
Now readapted for the screen by the award winning filmmaker Rachel Dretzin, it asked what do we cure and do we celebrate? Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW SOLOMON, AUTHOR: All parents deal with children who are not what they imagined. My parents really didn't want to have a gay son.
I wanted to see how other families managed that. But I don't want to know just about families of gay people, I wanted to look as widely as I could.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: By July I knew, he had autism. And I just assumed that he was impaired. You have to sit in your chair!
UNKNOWN FEMALE: It was overwhelming, I didn't want to -- he was shackled in a prison (inaudible).
UNKNOWN MALE: He (inaudible) to him, the worst has happened, and it is not going to be OK.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: We go back to when they were in the cradle, and you wonder if you let them cry too long. I don't have the answer. A mother can't
just stop loving her child.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: Personally, I'm very in to the idea that I'm going to research to find a cure for my (inaudible).
UNKNOWN FEMALE: It's the same message, our whole lives, there's something wrong with you and we need to fix it. But I don't think I need to be
AMANPOUR: Fighting words. Andrew Solomon and Rachel Dretzin joined me earlier this week to talk about their project. I spoke to them from New
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Andrew and Rachel, welcome to the program.
SOLOMON: What a pleasure to be here.
RACHEL DRETZIN, TELEVISION PRODUCER: Thanks for having us.
AMANPOUR: So this is really quite extraordinary. You do - it's a film of a book, and you have this theme of the other. Which Andrew, you have
termed horizontal identity. Explain to me why you use that term.
SOLOMON: So I am positive that there are really two kinds of identities. There are what I've called vertical identities that get passed down
generationally from parent to child, so your ethnicity, your nationality, often your religion, usually your language.
And those are characteristics that parents have in common with their children. And even though some of those identities can be difficult in
front, by in large, parents tend to enforce a sense of pride in them in their children.
And then there are all o these other identities that parents don't share with their children. So most deaf children are born to hearing parents.
Most dwarves are born to people of average height. As gay people have straight parents.
And what's interesting to me is the idea that those people then have to learn a sense of identity from a peer group. They have to have a
recognition they discover this identity usually in adolescence r there after when it comes as a great liberation for them.
AMANPOUR: I mean it is fascinating to - to term it in that way. And just before we get in to some of the specifics in the identities that you
highlight, let's just not forget that your book was sum 700 pages long.
You interviewed people for years. I think there was 300 or so subjects that you took in to consideration.
And Rachel, your film has had to really pair back, haven't you? You've had to just take a different look at it. Explain how your film is different
from the book.
DRETZIN: Well the film is - is 90 minutes long, it's a feature documentary. And it - it includes six stories, six families including
Andrew's as compared to the many hundreds that are in the book.
I really tried rather than sort of trying to literally translate the book to screen; I really tried to kind of capture this - the essence and the
spirit of the book which is incredibly unique and quite transformative, and to fill it in to a visual medium in a cinematic form.
AMANPOUR: So Andrew, because you are the author and you are the subject of Rachel's film, tell us - walk us through your own exploration of your own
horizontal identity, how you grew up? What was your relationship with your parents? And how did it resolve?
SOLOMON: Well I grew up in New York, and I had a very good relationship with my parents in a million different ways. They were very generous and
But I recognized fairly early on that I was gay, and I thought that if I told them they were going to be shattered and devastated. And I told them,
and they were.
And so, it took a while to win them around. My mother unfortunately died very shortly after that. She said all the right things before she died,
but I don't know that she meant them. My father threw us a beautiful wedding - my husband and me-
AMANPOUR: Andrew, is it unusual that a mother is less accepting than a father--
SOLOMON: Well, my father was more neutral about the whole thing. He was - he was accepting, but he also was distant from it. For my mother was a
very intimate, very immediate experience. It was right up there.
But it all started very early on, I mean I can remember - and I have told this story before. When I was I think six years old and I was at a shoe
store, and we were given a balloon to take home at the end of getting our shoes fitted.
And my brother wanted a red balloon, and I wanted a pink balloon. And my mother immediately went in to a while thing about how my favorite color was
really blue, and how she thought I really would like a blue balloon.
So, I took the blue balloon. My favorite color now is blue, and I'm still gay.
AMANPOUR: Well, at least you could laugh. Rachel, you also followed Jason. Now he has Down syndrome, and he was sort of kind of a poster child
at one point for the - the potential of children with Down syndrome.
And he know you figured out how the difficulty trying to distinguish fantasy from reality. And he loved Elsa in the film Frozen. And we're
going to play a little clip, and then we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN MALE: When I was a kid, the world, it evolved around me. And I was closed minded, until Elsa came. Let it go. She opens my heart. I
want to go on a trip to Norway, because I know that she's there.
DRETZIN: Well, one of the interesting things about Jason is that while he is - he does have an intellectual disability; he's very very smart, and
sort of poet. And I think his fascination with Elsa is part of his very poetic way of seeing the world.
I mean he's a - he's a man who lost his father at an age that was very painful for him. And I think he without even knowing it, I think he feels
vulnerable to loving people who could die or disappear.
And there's something as his mother points out in the film, there's something him very reassuring about being in love with something that isn't
going to leave him. And he finds in this fictional character of Elsa in Frozen, he finds a whole world of emotion. He's a very emotional guy.
And I think he does on some level know she's fictional, but he gets so much pleasure out of his relationship with Elsa that he doesn't really care.
And there's something kind of beautiful about that.
AMANPOUR: I just want to go to another clip from the film of - of two dwarves who you profile. You got Laya and Joe whoa re married. And they
have dwarfism, and they try to get pregnant, have a kid.
And interestingly enough, they hope that their kid would be a dwarf as well like them. Before I play the clip, I just want to ask you were you
surprised by that?
DRETZIN: Not once I've gotten to know them. I mean when you get to know them, it is apparent very quickly that they are very not only proud but
very delighted to be in the bodies they're in.
And they have found a community and a kind of identity that most of us in our lives don't necessarily get an opportunity to find.
AMANPOUR: I just want to play this clip because it's about the reveal to - to the parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN MALE: What's this - is that what I think it is?
UNKNOWN FEMALE:: Is that an -
UNKNOWN MALE: Wow!
AMANPOUR: So, it was the ultrasound picture, and their family was absolutely overjoyed. What about when the families just don't now how to
deal? The child is so different, so horizontal.
But in the case that you profile, horizontal in a criminal way. This young boy who committed a murder when he was really, really small against another
really, really small young boy, and is now in prison. And tell me how that family struggles to accept their child.
SOLOMON: Well that family very powerfully in the film, the mother says you don't get to chose to love your children. You live your children. And any
mother would not that you can't just stop loving your children.
And they struggle - their son did this terrible, awful, cruel, atrocious thing. But he's still their son, and they still have emotional attachments
And so the film really look sat the idea that you can have someone who's done something that's so extreme and that's so appalling, and that the love
is not compromised by it.
And it also looks at the idea hat contrary to a lot of popular presumption; people who do those awful things don't necessarily do them because they
come from bad families and have traumatized backgrounds.
I mean from what can enable criminality in some people. But you also have people like the (inaudible) family, were wonderful, loyal, good parents.
And who did their best with their kid, and who seemed to have a strong sense of moral integrity, and just happened to them that their son did
this. And this kind if thing can just happen to people.
AMANPOUR: Well I must say the trailer which you've seen is very (inaudible) because the mom asks you, asks the camera, what did she do
wrong? What could she have done differently?
Did she leave him crying too long, her son Trevor that he could've turned out like that?
It is really, very heart breaking. I know that you have been able to film a lot in this - for this film.
And you have chosen not to put it all out there. Even some scenes that you think are fantastic to be able to explain really what's happening. What
sort of scenes, and why did you make that decision?
DRETZIN: Well, there are people in the film who have intellectual disabilities; there are people in the film who are minors. There are
definitely some material that we filmed that's very private.
Someone maybe going to the bathroom or - or changing to go to the bathroom, and sort of intimate access to their bodies really.
They were at the time comfortable sharing with us, but I didn't fell as a filmmaker necessarily that we needed it. And I worry that at some point,
they might have mixed feelings about having that material air.
And so I made some calls in the edit room about material that I - I didn't want to put in the film.
And maybe I would've made a different decision 25 years ago before I had children, but I'm now - I'm now coming at it from a different place.
AMANPOUR: Yes, it's really interesting. And Andrew, I just want to ask you because you have written that in the U.S., there's been this sort of
A value that seemed inseparable from the American ideal just five years ago, which has grown circumstantially disposable. Does this film try to
address that, or correct that?
SOLOMON: This film is about how much value there is in diversity, and how much value there is in human difference. It's a celebration at the idea
that people and differences that we think have these disadvantages can often find meaning in those circumstances, and rise to be remarkable and
crucial in resource society.
At time when the American government is putting children in cages after separating them from their families, at a time when people have dehumanized
immigrants in particular, but other groups as well.
This is a film about the shimmering humanity that persists in the people we would push to the margin. And it's a - it's a real call to action to
always include people like that in the national discourse. And not think of anyone as less human than anyone else.
AMANPOUR: Well that's lovely, thank you both so much. Andrew Solomon and Rachel Dretzin, thank you so much for joining me.
SOLOMON: Thank you-
DRETZIN: So much for having us.
SOLOMON: What a pleasure.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program. Remember you can always listen to our podcasts and see us online at Amanpour.com. And you can follow me
on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.