Return to Transcripts main page
Climate Change, Existential Threat of our Time; One-Year Anniversary of Parkland, Florida Massacre; Gov. Jay inslee (D-WA), Presidential Candidate, is Interviewed About Climate Change; Interview with Washington Governor, Jay Inslee; Activism on Climate Change; Young People Around the World on Climate Change; Anna Taylor, Environmental Youth Activist, is Interviewed About Youths and Climate Change; "The Human Element," a Film on Rapid Climate Disruption; James Balog, Photographer, "The Human Element," is Interviewed About Climate Affecting American Lives; "The Human Element," a Film on Rapid Climate Disruption; Interview With Photographer, James Balog; In The "Thick" Of It, Author Tressie McMillan Cottom Revealed Her Take On Black Women In Today's Society. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired July 5, 2019 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Today, we're looking back at some of
our favorite interviews from this year. And here's what's coming up.
The future is now on climate change. One potential presidential candidate says we are at the 11th hour and says he wants to be the climate guy in
2020. I speak to Washington Governor, Jay Inslee.
Then, students around the world on strike from school to demand progress on the issues. I speak to Anna Taylor, a leader of the youth movement here in
And what does climate change look like in real time? Photographer James Balog documents the people and the places impacted by cataclysmic change.
And in the thick of it, the author Tressie Mcmillan Cottom reveals her take on Black women in society today.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in the Washington.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee is laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign, raising money, beefing up his staff and visiting
early voting states. But unlike the other does it also candidates already in the 2020 race, Inslee promises a laser like focus on climate change,
which he calls the existential threat of our time, and he's speaking from experience because in the past year alone he's declared a wildfire a state
of emergency in July and a snow fall state of emergency just days ago.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are lining up behind a Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to simultaneously tackle climate change, create new jobs and
fight economic inequality.
Republicans think the plan is a political loser. President Trump sarcastically calls it a brilliant idea, tweeting, "It would be great for
the so-called carbon footprint to permanently eliminate all planes, cars, cows, oil, gas and the military." Governor Jay Inslee joins me now from
Welcome to the program, Governor.
GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for talking about this. I appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you because we just set up the fact that you're exploring the possibility of a candidacy for 2020, obviously using this as
the major issue. Are you going to jump in? I mean, this is really, really important. Why not?
INSLEE: Well, here's what we know. We know we have to have a candidate who will make climate change and building a clean energy economy a central
focus, an organizing principle for the American people and we need a president who will do the same. And the reason is, is we understand that
the basic nature of the American people of what we invent, we create, we build, this is our moment.
You mention it's the 11th hour, it is the 11th hour but it is our time to shine, it is our moment because this is really just made for my state, in
my nation to lead and join the world in developing a clean energy economy. We know we can create jobs by the thousands and millions, building the
electric cars and solar panels and wind turbines and efficiency in our buildings.
This is the greatest, not only peril of our time, but I believe promise of our time for economic growth and we're experiencing that now in Washington
So, yes, I am exploring this. I will have a decision here in weeks, not months. And I'm excited about this because as I've traveled the country, I
hear people waiting for that bugle call from the White House. We heard it from Kennedy when he said we're going to go to the moon, we need a similar
bugle call of the American people on this and when they receive that, I believe they will rally to this cause.
AMANPOUR: Well, you talk about the White House, you obviously had what -- how we describe what the president said, you know, "Good luck with that
carbon footprint. Let's eliminate everything. even the military." I guess the question is, how do you speak to people like President Trump and people
in the United States who do feel that they still need convincing, if they're ever going to be convinced, that this will be a drain on the
economy, that this fall and the way of life as they know it? You know, how do you convince them?
INSLEE: Well, I am much more interested in the beliefs and value systems of the American people than the narcissistic person who wants to remain
willfully ignorant in the White House. I'm interested in the American people. And what they are telling me, and I've been in New Hampshire,
Nevada and I were recently, is that they are ready to grow their economy around a clean energy future.
Look, I've got people, the largest manufacturer of carbon fiber that goes in electric cars in the Western Hemisphere, it's in my state in Moses Lake,
we're building batteries like crazy [13:05:00] for electric cars in Nevada. In Iowa, they've built a multimillion-dollar wind turban industry amongst
the soybeans and corn fields. I am hearing from Americans that they are ready to jump start this clean energy economy and it's very heartening to
Look, this is a moment of great excitement when you can create a new or a new horizon. Donald Trump, fundamentally, is just fearful and pessimistic.
He doesn't think we're smart enough to do this. Well, he's just wrong about the American people. We are capable of building these new solar
powered projects, we are capable.
I met a guy, a young man, he's in high school., the other day, he said, "What am I doing with my life? and he said, "Well, obviously, climate
change is the greatest threat to humans. I'm going to go out build a new battery," and by gum, he's come up with a new lithium ion membrane that has
really great commercial potential.
So, if you are optimistic about our nation and our planet, if you believe you can build a new generation of technology, then you realize this is a
great opportunity, and I believe Americans are that basic character. And that's why I think, and how I talk about this is, is I talk about this from
an issue of character and values of who we are as a people rather than just talking about parts per million, and people are seeing this with their
I was in Paradise California, it looked like Dresden after World War II. A town of 25,000. In Miami Beach, where they've had to raise their roads a
foot and a half. Now, when you walk in Miami Beach, you look down on the shops, a rather than the eye level. In Iowa, where farmers could not get
out and harvests their crops because of the massive precipitation events.
So, the hour is late but it is our hour and I believe we can move. We just need that spark of inspiration from the White House and I've got an idea
who might be able to do that.
AMANPOUR: Well, you keep you keep hinting, you keep increasing the hint. So, that's pretty good. Let me just pick up on a couple of things because
later in the program we're going to be seeing actual photographic evidence of what you're talking, you know, raised houses, raised vantage points to
cope with the rising waters and various other issues.
You talked about young people, and we're going to be talking to a young schoolgirl here who's inspired, like many schoolchildren, around the world
to have schools strike Fridays. They're going to stand in front of their Parliaments and demand that governments change.
So, I guess my question also is, I mean, if you are looking to the future, the kids are sort of -- they're demanding change, there's a new movement,
really, by the young and you've got to keep up with it, including the young in Congress with this Green New Deal.
INSLEE: Yes. Very inspiring and we ought to be heartened by the next generation, which is the smartest and understands, they will be living with
this the longest. And this has been a profound thing in young people's lives. I was asked to speak on climate change at Dartmouth in New
Hampshire a few weeks ago and a young woman told me that she had two friends who are honestly discussing whether they felt comfortable bringing
a child into a world that could become so degraded if we don't tame this beast.
Now, when people understand the consequence like this in their personal lives that means it's time to act. And the information, just in the last
week, we've received with polar bears invading a town in Russia who are starving, looking for food, the potential collapse, the catastrophic
collapse of the insect populations of a report that was just stunning in what it creates of concern of our ability to remain, you know, having a
harvest in the next century.
So, they understand the consequences of this. But there's another thing about young people they understand, they understand their own potential and
the ability to build a whole new universe.
Look, you know, I've seen a transition from rotary farms to cell phones, they get that big time. So, they're the ultimate ought to miss and that's
why we love. And I'm glad, in Congress, we've got this Green New Deal idea that is raising people's ambitions, it is making the -- what might seem
impossible within the realm of the possible and that's how we need to think right now. We need to think big and bold just as we did in the Apollo
But we also have to understand and respond to the threats. I think the --
AMANPOUR: Well, the -- given that, Governor -- sorry. The threats you're talking about came from the from the administration itself, the director of
National Intelligence in the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment says, "Global, environmental and ecological degradation as well as climate change
are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress and social discontent through 2019 and beyond."
So, I mean, he's laying it out very, very clearly and the American military has a very similar [13:10:00] outlook as well on a national security
platform there. But I want to ask you just to be devil's advocate, how do you respond to others who are getting into the race like Howard Schultz,
for instance, who answered a question about this Green New Deal and didn't seem as optimistic about being able to achieve it? Let's just play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD SCHULTZ, POSSIBLE U.S. INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This would be a top priority but we have to be sensible about it. When I read
the proposed bill in terms of the Green New Deal and I read that in by 2030 they're suggesting that every building in America becomes clean energy,
conforms to clean energy. Just to put it in perspective because it's not realistic.
That would mean that between two and 3,000 buildings a day would have to be reconstructed to conform to what they're saying. And so, let's be sensible
about what we're suggesting. Let's not just throw stuff against a wall because it's a good slogan or we're going to press release, let's be
truthful. It's immoral to suggest that we can tally up $20, $30, $40, $50 trillion of debt to solve a problem that could be solved in a different way
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, is he right? Can this be solved in a different way?
INSLEE: Well, Howard needs to pay attention to what's going on in his own state. And look what we're doing in Washington State, we now have
developed a multibillion-dollar wind turbine industry because we passed a renewable portfolio standard, we have the first or second highest usage of
electric cars and we're the capital for electric drive buses in the Western Hemisphere because we have adopted policies.
We're doing great research at our facilities, developing whole new technologies. We developed charging stations for electric cars. We're
moving the needle right here in Washington State. And soon, I believe, we will have a commitment to 100 percent clean electricity in our state and
acute clean fuel standard.
Howard frankly doesn't pay attention to these things, he hasn't even voted less than half the time. He needs to pay attention to what's going on.
And if he was so pessimistic when he bought his first coffee stand, you know, 25 years ago or so, he'd still only have one coffee stand.
This is a moment to raise our sights and ambitions. It is not a moment for passivity and timidity. And that's why we need a president who understands
the character of the American people that when we set ambitions, we meet them and we're willing to rise up and unify this mission statement. And
when we do that, we are capable of amazing things.
So, look, these are ambitious goals. The goal setting is what works.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, you know, you've already said that being part of the founding members of the Governess Alliance, the U.S. Climate Alliance,
you have 21 states on board that represents about a quarter of the U.S. economy, so that's a big deal.
AMANPOUR: Can I move to one other very, very important issue, because there's also a grassroots young people's issue and that is gun control. As
you know, tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the terrible massacre in Portland, Florida. And you have had, you know, some high-profile
interactions, including with the president, when he wanted to decide to sort of potentially arm teachers.
You know, again, kids, adolescents are moving this all along and leaving politicians in the dust. Well, what do you say about where we stand on
that issue now?
INSLEE: Where I see is that we have to be grateful for the tremendous inspiration of these young people, they have moved the national
conversation and you have a thousand, you know, tons of inspiration from them and zero out of the White House.
You know, when I went to the White House, the president still wanted to give Glock pistols to first grade teachers and I told him he needed to stop
tweeting and start listening to educators, listening to the young people. And we have done so much on gun safety in our state of closing the gun show
loophole and adopting an Extreme Risk Protection Act and raising the age of getting assault weapons and now having a liability for gun owners if
they're not responsible for their guns. We have been so successful in Washington State.
We need to replicate that success nationally. To do that, we need leaders who will walk in and take on the NRA, and I'm happy to do that. I've done
it successfully and we will continue to do that. But thank goodness for these young people, they're are heroes right now and I've got to know him.
They're my heroes.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And, Governor, thank you so very much for being with us and tomorrow we will dig down even --
INSLEE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: -- deeper and we will talk to some of the survivors of that terrible massacre and the activists who are moving this ball along. So,
thank you so much. Tomorrow, Valentine's Day marks the first anniversary.
INSLEE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, let's get back again to this grassroots activism on climate change. The worst consequences of climate devastation will be felt by our
children and by their children. That's why young people are taking matters into their own hands and they're mobilizing around the world, forcing their
leaders to take action now.
Recently, I spoke with Greta Thunberg, she's the 15-year-old Swedish activist who's [13:15:00] inspiring this global movement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I think that we children we understand this in a way that adults don't. I mean, my experience is that most people
are not fully aware of this crisis but I think that many children sort of understand this and they understand.
If they would get all the information needed, that they will -- they would do what was required from them and they would stand up and make their
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It's a very, very logical train of thought. And in Britain, Anna Taylor, answered call. She's the leader of youth strike for climate
and she's here with me now.
Welcome to the program.
So, you have decided to take on what Greta has inspired. You've seen it happen in Australia and, you know, in Europe and all the rest of it. What
was the point when you decided to jump in?
ANNA TAYLOR, ENVIRONMENTAL YOUTH ACTIVIST: It was the point in December 2018 when I was talking about the Australian students actually and talking
about those tens of thousands of students across the world, it really made me think about the fact that wasn't happening in the U.K. and if they were
-- if this is global movement, it's something that U.K. should be involved in as well and that inspired me to start this up.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it's pretty ambitious what you're trying to do. Although, you know, you have so much support from people your age around
the world. But what of your particular teachers, your head teacher at your school, what have they said to you? Because I think you plan to walk out
TAYLOR: Yes, this Friday, we do plan to walk out. I spoke to my teacher's last week and they weren't that supportive, they said they would have to
think about punishments. But then --
AMANPOUR: Punishments? Seriously?
TAYLOR: Yes. In terms of detention, unauthorized absences. When I spoke to my head teacher yesterday and she changed her mind, she was very
supportive and she said that actually, after thinking about it, she does think this cause is really relevant to my generation and she said she
supports what I'm doing.
AMANPOUR: OK. That's brilliant. That is a victory.
TAYLOR: Yes. Definitely.
AMANPOUR: So, what do you say, I don't know whether you heard the governor of Washington State but he may run for president of the United States, on a
climate change platform, on understanding that this is the existential threat of our time? As a 17-year-old, what have you been feeling, thinking
as you look at what the politicians are doing or not doing, your parents' or grandparents' generation?
TAYLOR: So, far, I felt let down, I felt betrayed by the government, past governments and the present government. I feel like they haven't
recognized the severity of the crisis enough. And I think a lot of young people my age are starting to get angry about that.
We don't want to cause disruption, we don't want to just walk out of school because we're paying too and we feel like this is the only way to make our
voices heard and I would really like to see a future where the government do you listen to us.
AMANPOUR: What are your immediate demands? Are there any? Do you have a platform? Are you going to Parliament to ask for a list of things or is it
just to show presence?
TAYLOR: Yes. We've created four demands. So, the first one is for the government to declare a state of climate emergency and take active steps
towards achieving climate justice. The second one is to reform the national curriculum, so that's to accurately portray the severity of the
crisis. The third one is to honestly communicate to the general public the severity of the crisis. And the fourth one is to incorporate youth views
into policy making and bring the voting age down to 16.
AMANPOUR: And 16 because?
TAYLOR: 16 because we feel like by the age of 16, we are able to make an informed decision. And at the moment, I think 18 is too old considering
that this is our future. And the reason we're having to strike is because we have no other way of expressing our opinions.
AMANPOUR: So, you talked about how it needs to be taught truthfully in school and in the public domain. Where does that come from? In other
words, how have you sort of noticed the debate so far?
TAYLOR: I'm an A-level (INAUDIBLE) student. So, I've noticed in my textbook that the limited amount of text on climate change is completely
minimized compared to the severity of the crisis as expressed in the IPCC reports and other reports.
AMANPOUR: Those are the U.N. reports?
TAYLOR: Yes, the U.N. reports. And also talking to students in Germany and Scandinavia, I've noticed that their education systems are very
different to us and they're much more aware in those countries. Where as in the U.K. there seems to be a lack of awareness and a lack of
communication on behalf of the government.
AMANPOUR: And we and when you see the United States of America, President Trump wants to pull out or the U.S. out of the climate deal, you know that
there are deniers around there and around the world, in fact. As a kid, an adolescent, how does that make you feel?
TAYLOR: It makes me feel frustrated, [13:20:00] and I would say hopeless. But I think the point about the Fridays for future movement and school
strikes is that it counteracts those feelings of hopelessness. What's going on right now is giving me hope. And seeing the way the leaders deny
climate change at the moment definitely makes me feel very disappointed. But I do agree that the school strikes are counteracting that.
AMANPOUR: And very quickly, you know, people look around and they say, "Oh, Gen Z, you know, they'll take up this issue today and that issue
tomorrow." Do you think -- from all your friends and from what you're noticing, do you think this will be sustainable, this movement, this
TAYLOR: I think this feels different. The motivation here feels different, the amount of people who care about this feels different. And
as I heard a quote someone else said today, "A million snowflakes create an avalanche," and I completely agree with that.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's brilliant. Anna Taylor, well done. Congratulations. Good luck.
TAYLOR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Making your voice heard, making all of our voices heard through you. Thank you.
One thing that we're learning about climate change, of course, is often has to be seen to be believed. That's why the American environmental
photographer, James Balog, is traveling the world, especially the United States, documenting evidence of rapid climate disruption for his new film,
"The Human Element." Here's a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BALOG, PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE HUMAN ELEMENT": When I became a photographer, I wanted to celebrate the elegance and beauty of nature. But
I soon realized there was a more complex story going on in the world about the collision between people and its nature. And I felt a great sense of
urgency to bear witness to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: A sense of urgency, just as you heard from Anna Taylor. And I spoke to Balog this week to discuss how climate change is already affecting
American lives right here, right now.
James Balog, welcome to the program.
BALOG: Thank you. Nice to be here.
AMANPOUR: The trailer we saw had this rather profound statement from you, in that something like, "I wanted to photograph the beauty of nature. And
now, I realize I have to bear witness to, you know, this sort of calamity." Expand on how your photography and what you see through the lens how that
BALOG: Well, I've been doing this sort of work for about 40 years as an environmental photographer. And as time has gone on, I keep witnessing
more and more situations where nature clearly isn't natural, where the power of homo sapiens, the human race is altering what we see out there on
the world, we're altering the earth, we're altering the air, the water, the plants and the animals.
And the more of that that I saw, the more I realized I needed to bear witness to that and not just hide behind beautiful nature pictures and
AMANPOUR: So, your film talks about -- well, it's called "The Human Element." And I gather that that is the 5th element of the earth's four
elements, which are earth, wind, fire, ice, I think, and air. Tell me about how quickly these changes are happening and how you notice that
through your work?
BALOG: Well, you know, this idea of earth, air, fire and water goes back thousands of years, many cultures have had that notion. And the
understanding in modern science, this idea of the Anthropocene, namely that we're leaving our imprint in the fabric of the rocks and the soil beneath
our feet is what really has helped to bring this story alive.
We have seen the way things are changing, we have seen that it's urgent, we have seen that it's happening right now. And, of course, climate change is
one of the more visible and obvious manifestations of that profound impact. And I've come to realize that climate protection equals people protection,
and I'm sure we can come back to that later.
AMANPOUR: Well, no, I think that's really important because I think some people, those who don't believe in climate change or don't believe in the
human element to climate change need to understand that it's about protecting people as much as protecting, you know, the civilization.
So, you start the film in Iceland, I believe, with this whole time-lapse photography and the ice time-lapse you did. What were you achieving there
and what surprised you about that?
BALOG: Well, I have been to Iceland many times and seen the way these big glaciers were breaking down and the water was converting from its solid
state on the glaciers to a liquid state in the ocean. And we went to Iceland for the film in order to simply bring that alive through some new
pictures that I hadn't done yet.
But, [13:25:00] you know, I think the essential point of the Iceland story, the Greenland story, the mountain glaciers, story in North America and
Europe and in Asia is simply that the ice is converting from its solid state in the form of these blue and white glaciers to its liquid state.
And, of course, the liquid -- or when the ice turns into liquid, that winds up, sooner or later, in the ocean. And when the water winds up in the
ocean, that means, sooner or later, the ocean level will have to rise.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, we're going to take the example that took or one of the examples, Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. There are people who live
there and have done for generations intimately and intricately linked to water and yet, the scientists say that it could possibly be all underwater
by 25 to 50 years from now. Here's a clip of Tangier Island and what you found there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I remember this used to all be sand when I first came up here. We could just take a boat across and we could walk all the
way up the West Shoreline.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Where we are now, there's three stones on the bottom here and that was high ground at one time and high enough to support
the homes that were up here and a schoolhouse, a small general store and kids up here playing just like on Tangier Island. And then I'm sure, at
the time, they kept imagining that their town will be underwater someday.
When you're walking up here at the site of where their community was, it could be depressing. To this day, you can still find bone fragments from
the graveyards that eroded and went into the bay. And here's one of the headstones from the graveyard.
I actually know -- I know a guy down on the island, this was his grandmother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, James, it is almost too perfect to measure for, you know, you're seeing those gravestones, the debris from graveyards and
you're talking about the potential extinction of this whole island. What did you find people saying? What do they want? Do they believe that they
have impacted and humans have impacted the climate?
BALOG: Well, the -- you know, the situation on Tangier is a combination of erosion lapping away at the island and rising sea level. And depending on
one's philosophical or ideological bent, you focus on one of those issues or another. I think both of those issues, erosion and sea level rise are
part of the story. But many of the people on the island don't like the sea level rise idea because it comes to them from what they deem as pointy
headed intellectuals in the big cities. And so, they prefer to focus on the erosion.
AMANPOUR: Also, in that area, you visited the Norfolk Naval Base and that is the biggest such base in the world and you heard from military officials
there that it could possibly be a national security problem if seas rise around there. What did you hear there?
BALOG: Well, what we've heard over and over again through the years, in fact, is that the navy is quite concerned about sea level rise, and it has
been a group of different admirals that have led the charge within the Pentagon to say, "Hey, climate change is something we need to pay attention
to because we have all these facilities that are built right at sea level," the navy is obviously intimately connected to notions of where the seas are
and where the levels of those seas are and they know that this is real and they've been studying it and that makes them even more concerned about it
because of the reality of it, they're not hiding from the story.
And I think that's a powerful saying for all of us to remember, the part of the National Defense Community or the International Defense Community that
is most intimately connected with one of these major changes is waving the flag saying, "We have a problem here. We have to pay attention to it."
AMANPOUR: What I'd like to ask you about is the tragedy of a family you met in Denver, Colorado. Colorado which we all connect with mountains and
fresh air and this and that. And yet, this family have all become asthmatics. I'm going to play the clip and we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After we moved to this part of town, my older son, Ruben, started developing asthma. My daughter, Olivia, we had to start her
on medications at the age of one. And Leonardo was just kind of born into it.
OK, good job. Now, go rinse your mouth fairly good, please. All four of us have asthma. So, we're indoor people. We're not outdoor people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, how did it impact you just as a human being to see these children, to see our future so compromised?
BALOG: Yes. It's really wrenching to see those children, that some of the children who are in the school, within National Jewish Hospital where these
kids go because they need asthma medication all day long and the school provides opportunities for nurses to give them the medication. It really
tears at your heart.
You know, they're, otherwise, ordinary, normal looking kids but their systems are stressed by the pollutants, the toxins that are in the air and
their bodies react. We're all getting that same dose of chemistry but the smaller organisms, the littler people with less body mass react faster than
the rest of us do or more acutely than the rest of us do. But we're all being attacked by those same toxins all the time.
I think they're the distant early warning signals for what's going on -- or not -- actually, distant is the wrong word. They're the immediate warning
signals for what's going on.
AMANPOUR: Let's move over to the fire because if anything, we have seen fire really, really wreak havoc this past year in California. We have the
amazing pictures from your documentary, from your film whereby even you are having a hard time hanging on to your camera, getting the pictures.
We see you having to sort of turn away and shake your hand from the heat. Tell me what it was like just to do that work.
BALOG: It's unbelievably intense. I almost had my house burned down in the foothills of the Rockies a few years back and that's what really
triggered this work.
And then I went out and I got trained as a wildland firefighter so I had some comprehension of how to handle myself within this dangerous situation.
And most of my crew also went to fire school.
And so we knew roughly what the right behavior was and -- but still, we relied on the local fire commanders to help keep us safe. Yet for me, when
I wanted to get a good picture, I had to get up close and personal with those flames.
And what you really can't understand until you've been out there and experienced it is how incredibly intense that radiative heat is coming off
a flame. A flame that goes from two feet to four feet isn't just twice as hot and powerful when the radiation hits your skin.
It's like 6 or 8 or 10 times and then the flame goes up to 10 feet, 20 feet, 100 feet. It's mind-boggling how hot those things are.
And I, as you comment, that scene in the film where I'm shaking my hands, I thought I had maybe melted the glue in the glass of my lens. And then I
realized oh my God, I think I'm burning my hands because I was in too close to the flames.
The firefighters were way back behind me but I, the guy who had to get the picture, was obsessed with this picture and hiding behind this camera. You
know that syndrome.
AMANPOUR: I know that syndrome.
BALOG: Take your shot and --
AMANPOUR: I know that syndrome. Well, you've lived and survived to tell the story. I thought it was really interesting because parts of your
documentary where you talk about the coal -- and, of course, we know that this is administration is trying for its base or for whatever reason to
talk about reviving the coal industry. It's very committed to continuing to extract fossil fuels, et cetera.
But you went to another town where the coal industry was dying or is and you found that unemployed coworkers and former execs are turning to a new
solar energy. We're going to play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN JOHNS, VICE PRESIDENT, BERKELEY ENERGY GROUP: The company that I work for, we're a coal company. We have a lot of coal assets. And I was asked
to look at a reclaim of sites and to say OK, what are some ideas?
Man, you know, I was told no matter how far out they may seem or whatever, bring it to us. I said let me make, you know, a few phone calls. And so
then our friend Adam had decided.
ADAM EDELEN, FOUNDER, EDELEN VENTURES: And I said why don't we do a renewable energy project. And Ryan said, "Well, what does that mean?" I
said well, hell, it's solar panels or those big windmills or something.
JOHNS: And I think I kind of surprised him a little bit because I said well, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean I'm kind of smiling James because I think it's charming because it goes to the heart of people are so suspicious and so afraid of
what's happened to their industries. And yet if enough were prepared to do what Ryan and his friend were prepared to do, it might make a difference to
know that there are other industries that you can transfer your expertise to.
BALOG: Yes, I agree with that completely. I want to emphasize that I deeply respect the dignity of hard manual labor. I've done a lot of it
myself at different parts in my life long ago. And I know what that's like and I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who do that.
My own grandfathers mined coal and my father's father was killed in the collapse of a coal mine in Western Pennsylvania years ago. So this is
embedded in my DNA as well.
So I found it really heartening to see that in Eastern Kentucky where the coal mining industry has been in a downturn for some years, here you have
these entrepreneurs that are saying, "Let's look for a different path. Let's [13:35:00] put some solar panels, a lot of them, up on a mountaintop
and we can generate power more cheaply than our local coal-fired power plants can do. It will send that electricity down to the communities in
the valleys and will show a different way."
And I think that's a key point here. We have to understand that technologies change and new opportunities come with those changes. That's
always been the way of civilization for a long, long time. And we have to allow those windows of opportunity for new cheaper forms of energy to come
AMANPOUR: And that is truly the American way, of course. So let me ask you, look, you have said in the film that there is such a thing as truth
and that you are trying to reveal it one picture at a time. Why do you say that?
I mean I think I know because the truth about climate is constantly under assault by a handful of deniers. And actually at, the moment by a whole
administration. What do you hope your picture by picture revelation of this truth might achieve?
BALOG: Well, for me, it's about the evidence. I started out doing this as a visual artist trying to just look and create an aesthetic response to the
world around me. Even if the world around me was upsetting, I'm still trying to make a good picture.
But over the years, of course, I've realized that my job is to bring back the evidence of what's going on. I'm almost correct -- collecting forensic
I feel like I'm a detective sometime, sometimes capturing the story within that rectangle and bringing it back to my society saying, "Look, here, this
is real. This is -- climate change is not something that's going to happen in some distant imaginary future. Here is the evidence of what's happening
right now. Wake up and pay attention."
AMANPOUR: Really interesting. James Balog of "The Human Element", thank you so much for joining us.
BALOG: My pleasure. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And we turn now to perhaps America's original sin, slavery, racism and the inequality that it brought and that persists. A
conversation that our next guest believes should no longer be swept under the carpet.
Tressie McMillan Cottom is a renowned African-American feminist and sociology professor. Her new book "Thick" and other essays pinpoints the
relationships African-American women form with beauty, health, politics, and money.
Dubbed Miss Personality in high school, the author told our Alicia Menendez that African-American women are shunned for taking up too much space in our
ALICIA MENENDEZ, AMERICAN TELEVISION COMMENTATOR, HOST, AND WRITER: Tressie, thank you for being here with us.
TRESSIE MCMILLAN COTTOM, AMERICAN AUTHOR: Thank you for having me.
MENENDEZ: Tell me, the title of the book is "Thick." What does it mean to be thick?
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's the quintessential question, right? "Thick" was trying to reach back to what I understood, black female political
philosophy to have been throughout the history of black women particularly in this country in the west, and it was about me trying to take this pop
culture reference and say, but no, that --
MENENDEZ: Which when we hear is being thick in the thighs like that is thick --
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That is right. Beyonce thick, we think physical shape. We think - and so pop culture reference that the kids are especially very
into, but yes, to say that that physical embodiment of popular culture understanding of what a real quote-unquote "real black woman" should look
like, actually has a deep historical tradition that is about as much as what we look like as how black women think and how we participate in the
larger body politics, the knowledge that we have created for ourselves and our contribution to the greater world.
We think in nuance and complications in large part I think because black women have to often live in these nuanced complicated places where they're
suspended between these sort of easy answers, black and white answers. That's what marginality and intersectionality is fundamentally about.
There is not an easy answer to some of our most complicated questions, and in our daily lives, black women make those tradeoffs almost routinely
through our daily lives.
MENENDEZ: And from childhood through adulthood.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's correct.
MENENDEZ: There's a lot of different passages I could ask you to read, but there's a passage on Page 7. This resonated with me.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: All right, thank you. "Being too much of one thing and not enough of another was a recurring theme in my life. I was like many
young women expected to be small so that boys could expand and white girls could shine.
When I would not or could not shrink, people made sure that I knew I had erred. I was, like many black children, too much for white teachers and
white classrooms and white study groups and white Girl Scout troops and so on. Thick where I should have been thin, more when I should have been
less, a high school teacher nicknamed me "Miss Personality," and it [13:40:00] did not feel like a superlative.
MENENDEZ: That last line. What happens to any person who takes up more space than is socially acceptable?
MCMILLAN COTTOM: We have an entire political-economic cultural system that is designed to make us fit. It is an act of violence on to people's agency
and themselves and their bodies. Violence in the big sense of the word, so we tend to think of violence and to reduce it to these interpersonal acts
But there is something violent about a world that requires you to conform to a standard that by definition you can never meet. That is a type of
structural violence that we enact on people when we want people to affect being heterosexual for example or to be heteronormative, or a certain type
of masculinity, a certain type of femininity.
We do it all of the time. We do it most often, it is most compulsory, for groups of people who have the least amount of resources to sort of resist
it, right, that's the story of being a marginalized minority in a majority culture. So it a structural violence that we enact on people, because the
structure does not change for you.
And fundamentally, the lie that I think we tell, particularly in sort of our western ideal of meritocracies that there is something that those
people could do to themselves to fit in better. The ultimate truth of - I think hopefully all of my work and especially that I was trying to sort of
complicate and unpack in this book was, there really isn't.
There is nothing you can do to fit, right? And much of our lives I think, particularly as black women is I think about figuring that out, trying to
separate the fact from fiction of our ability to fit into a social structure that by definition has made it so that we cannot fit.
MENENDEZ: You situate the book in your experience of black womanhood and really you take us through the entire range of experience beginning with
black rural hood, there is right now a documentary from Lifetime surviving R. Kelly which looks at allegations of various sexual crimes that he has
alleged to have committed against young women.
There has been such a response to this documentary and in watching it, certainly, part of it is about R. Kelly but it is really about the systems
and power structures around R. Kelly.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Right. I want to be clear that R. Kelly is a problem and he is also emblematic of a larger problem. He is a specific problem in
that it appears that he preys on young women, and particularly young women with color and especially black women and black women of questionable
economic security, right?
So he goes after the girls that we think of as being the most vulnerable. And that's a specific kind of problem that I hope we start to address and
it has taken a long time to address.
I have been listening to R. Kelly rumors and stories, quite literally almost my entire life. These have been the stories of my young girlhood,
my middle teenage years, my young adult years. It is both amazing and disheartening to find that I am almost starting to look at the beginning of
middle age and we're still dealing with the R. Kelly specific problem.
But he is part of this larger problem of who we allow to prey on whom. All girls are vulnerable in our system to powerful men. This is part of this
moment we're in right off reckoning with that. So all girls are vulnerable.
Black girls are vulnerable in a very specific way because we are not seen as being - we are not vulnerable. We're not allowed to be.
We now have empirical evidence and research that shows that people do not perceive black girls as being girls. We age them up mentally. So that
looks like assuming an eight-year-old has a decision-making capacity and agency of a 14-year-old, and a 14-year-old has that of a 21-year-old.
What this culturally does is, it erases the possibility of innocence that we extend to children. Legally, politically and culturally, we have said
children are a subset of the populace who have special rights because they are so vulnerable.
There's things that you can do to an adult that you can't do to a child. They can't enter a contract. They can't make certain decisions.
When it comes to black girls, however, when we say that they are always older than they appear. What we are saying is that they never get the
benefit of that extension of vulnerability and protection because that's what we extend to children, additional protection, and that makes black
girls, particularly vulnerable to the larger scale problems of sexism and predation that happen I think to all young women.
R. Kelly would not, I do not think, be a 35-year conversation had he been preying on young white girls, who are allowed to be girls. We just are
MENENDEZ: I saw a through line from the way that society [13:45:00] treats young black girls through your experience of childbirth and the way you
were treated within the medical establishment, which is not unique to you, it is emblematic of the way that medical institutions treat black women at
large, which is the same way that young black girls are given the sense of youth or vulnerability. Black women aren't seen as competent.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Correct. Yes. Young black girls are presumed to always be responsible for the desires that people project on to them. The man
wants you, you become responsible for his wanting.
Once you are a black woman and you have to negotiate for access to healthcare, education and work - that is what these big organizations
negotiate for us. What we then make black women responsible for is for never being competent enough to access all of the resources that they
should, that they deserve or need.
What that look like in the healthcare example, which I try to use as this example of, there is no such thing as us being educated enough,
economically secure enough, we can't be rich enough. We can't be successful enough. We can't be a celebrity enough and celebrity in our
culture is the great exception.
MENENDEZ: If it can happen to Serena Williams --
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's right.
MENENDEZ: It can happen to anybody.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: That's right. That's exactly right.
Well now, you have stories from - I mean, you know, Beyonce is the celebrity-celebrity, right, who talks about her own sort of difficult
birthing story which is about trying to get a medical establishment to treat you seriously as competent subject.
So that when you say you say you're in pain that they believe you, when they say that when you when you say you are in labor that they believe you,
right? The healthcare system is much like our education system and our other large bureaucracies, has to assume an ideal customer for it to work
properly. That assumes you speak English, so the forms will be in English.
We make assumptions about who this is system is for and healthcare is not a particularly egregious example of us assuming that these resources are
ultimately not for black women. Precisely because we are not set up to hear or to make black women's pain and experience of healthcare legible.
My experience of that looks like constantly asking for medical care that I could not get and then being held responsible for them not giving it to me.
MENENDEZ: Let's be even more specific, you were pregnant. You had symptoms that you were going into labor. You felt deeply uncomfortable.
You continued to identify them to your doctor and medical professionals and you were largely ignored.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Yes. And I mean, this is a three or four-day -- I mean, anybody who has ever been in labor can tell you, you know, you're in labor
for three and a half days.
It is uncomfortable. I was effectively in labor for a very long time before I could get a medical professional want to believe me and then to
give me care.
And then I was given sort of urgent short-term care, rather than the sort of long-term well-being care that one gives someone who may be having a
My pregnancy was not understood as difficult until I had almost died and my child did, and even then, the last thing the nurses said to me on the way
out was, "Well, you should have told us." And I had, I had been telling them for three and a half days.
As devastating and as traumatic as that is for me, it is so routine. And here is one of those things why I think slicing apart what I mean about
understanding black women reveals something important for all of us, the healthcare system is not hospital to almost - to many of us, right?
This is one of those places where people go, "No, I've had that experience and I am not a black woman. Doctors aren't nice to me either." And I
don't mean that they aren't nice to you, which is certainly part of it. I mean that at every point of the interaction, of calling the nurses'
station, of asking to be admitted to the hospital, of talking to the anesthesiologist, talking to the specialist, that at every routine
interaction, despite how I present it as someone with health insurance, the ability to pay.
I mean, I am married. I am highly educated - all of those things that we tell people to become, so that the world would be easier for you, none of
those status symbols mattered in that moment and they would have mattered for someone who was not a black woman.
A black woman could not have presented in my situation in any way that would have made that a different outcome. We don't get the protective
MENENDEZ: I think what is perhaps most surprising is that even once you have an advanced degree, even once you have a blue check mark next to your
Twitter name that this continues.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Right. It is this moment where you realize with everything I knew about how the system would work, I was most angry with
myself for holding out hope that I had somehow worked hard enough it to have earned a pass out of the typical black woman experience, right?
How dare I still have hope? How dare I, right? I was probably in the end, most angry with myself.
How could I have not expected for it to go [13:50:00] exactly this way? It is because when you are doing all of achieving --
MCMILLAN COTTOM: --. and you're doing all of this striving, part of your ability to strive is that you have to have some faith in the system, even
if you hold out some pragmatism about its reality and it's in these moments when you are most vulnerable, when you realize how foolish your faith
probably had been, that it had crept in when you weren't expecting it, and somehow, it had set you up for precisely this, to be surprised by something
that you should not have been surprised by.
MENENDEZ: If not faith in the system, where does that leave you? What do you do?
MCMILLAN COTTOM: I do have tremendous faith in people. Believe it or not, even understanding human nature to be as potentially horrible as I
understand it to be, I also know that anything good that has ever happened has happened because of the will of human beings.
Now, I think that those wonderful moments of social progress and human connection generally happen when human beings may not even intend for it to
happen. But there is something in the capacity of human nature that allows for a progress that is larger than any individual, and I do still believe
You know, my academic training we call this sort of collective effervescence, other people may call this - it may appeal to religion. I
think that's fundamentally, although Christianity means when they talk about the Holy Spirit, it is just something larger than individual will and
individual human failings and I actually do still have working faith and that is what I might call it.
So not an exuberant faith, but a pragmatic faith, which I think is the entire black woman political philosophy is very pragmatic.
MENENDEZ: Looking at the body of your work, your Shores book deals, Lower Ed deals with for profit colleges, and one of things that you often say
about that is, that you, even in the process of writing it had to grapple with the fact that so many people, particularly so many women and
particularly so many women of color thought they were doing the right thing.
And that manifests again in the book, this idea that we have a very clear sense as a society of the steps that need to be taken, education, a big one
of your steps, in order to - as you say, even become a moral person, right? That the morality is baked into that. Is that a big lie we've all been
MCMILLAN COTTOM: It is. I think I would call it a myth, because a lie sometimes suggest that it was at some point historically deliberate.
But for a lie to have its ultimate power, the power to shape our reality and to shape the trajectory of our lives, it has to actually become
something larger than a lie. It has to become an unassailable myth and that's where I think we are.
But even if you personally don't believe in it, you adhere to it. That's how compelling a myth is.
It is like going home when you yourself no longer believe in your family's religion. But you still go to the church, the special church services,
That's what the cultural myth of mobility and inclusion and doing the right thing is about. And so yes, we've got millions, even people of color,
women of color that I talk to who would go, I know something about this seems off, right?
I know something about requiring me to look a certain way for inclusion. It feels wrong, but I'm still going to do it.
I know there's something about taking out $100,000.00 for an online degree that seems a little wonky. I'm still going to do it. There's something
about - that yes, I should probably have a better healthcare choice in this one, but I'm still going to pay for this one. I'm still going to do it.
There's something about that that says that we don't have an option at the individual level to opt out of these things that are particularly harmful
for us, and that to me is about exposing the myth of not just of U.S. culture. I think this is just a myth of capitalism, that our rights are
imbedded in our ability to consume and to buy.
Well, depending on who you are, there's no such thing. There are no Civil Rights that black people can buy in this country.
That's what this rash of you know, you can't have a coffee at Starbucks. You can't sit in the lobby of the hotel without the police - this whole
rash of things is about exactly that.
That there is no level of consumption, there is no level of economic achievement, no level of status to which you can adhere that is going to
opt you out of what our structure ultimately needs us to be, which is marginalized and vulnerable.
MENENDEZ: Tressie, thank you so much.
MCMILLAN COTTOM: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: That's it from us for now. Thanks for watching this special edition of Amanpour.
And remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at amanpour.com. And you can follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
Goodbye from London.