In January of 2006, Americans were horrified to learn ABC's World News Tonight anchorman Bob Woodruff suffered grave injuries from a roadside Iraqi bomb. His severe brain trauma forced doctors to put the award-winning journalist into a medically induced coma for a month; shrapnel was lodged in his face, neck and back, and his skull was shattered. No one could say whether the 44-year-old father of four would walk or talk again.
Three years earlier, another high-profile media personality (and Woodruff's close pal), 39-year-old NBC news correspondent David Bloom, died from a pulmonary embolism during the initial Iraq invasion. Of course Bloom's death was mourned, but by the time Woodruff was injured, Americans were decidedly mixed about being in Iraq and distressed over the thousands of wounded and dead soldiers. For many, Woodruff's plight became personal. "He put a face on the injured," Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the New York Times, calling Woodruff "the most visible wounded person in this war."
For months Woodruff defied expectations and fought his way back from extensive neuro-damage. A little over a year later, he was back on ABC News, reporting about his recovery and profiling soldiers with traumatic brain injuries. The only remnant of Woodruff's multiple injuries is mild aphasia, occasional difficulty finding the appropriate word. But that hasn't stopped the intrepid newsman from tackling the global climate change battle.
Besides continuing as an anchor for ABC News, last year Woodruff launched "Focus Earth," a weekly series on the 24/7 eco network Planet Green. "I tried for so many years to do more stories on climate change," Woodruff tells The Daily Green. "It hasn't been an easy topic to get on the news, but now you're seeing a huge outpouring of these stories." The eco-warrior continues: "I covered wars for so many years, but what happened to me means I'm still doing the international reporting, which I'm addicted to, but just not in war zones. Now it's environmental reporting."
And this new beat hasn't cramped Woodruff's travel itinerary. When we talked, he'd just returned from Indonesia, where he covered a story about garbage dumping in the oceans and deforestation. Just this past year, he trekked to Kenya, the Galapagos Islands, the Arctic and all across the United States, including West Virginia's coal country and his hometown Detroit. "Because of the Internet and media, we are now connected more closely than ever before," Woodruff says.
The Daily Green: What would you consider the big eco stories right now?
Bob Woodruff: The water issue, for sure. And deforestation. I just returned from Indonesia where we saw huge issues of this, and this leads to more endangered species. Also over-fishing. I went up to Alaska not long ago and we could see actual changes in the fish population between Alaska and Russia. Russia is passing very close to our border because they have a shortage of fish in their waters. And everyone from scientists to the Coast Guard is seeing how temperature change in the ocean impacts sea life.
Have you been surprised by certain discoveries in your travels?
Nothing in huge terms but in the small details, this is true. In terms of learning, it's more about the science of it. I mean I never knew about sequestration before, about storing liquid CO2 inside solid rock formations...or the details of nuclear energy even though I saw stories about Three Mile Island. And the other things that are new to me are political changes.
How would you rate President Obama's green team so far?
I think [Nobel prize-winning physicist] Steven Chu is the most knowledgeable Department of Energy head we've seen, and he's certainly pushing for more than anybody else. There continues to be political resistance, but at least it's a battle that is happening. It certainly wasn't in the last administration. Everyone knows, especially other governments around the world, that this administration is doing a lot more about the issue of climate change.
Do you see Obama's stimulus package supporting green businesses?
Certainly industries are benefiting from some of the bailout money, from solar and geothermal to wind turbines. I think you'll see some movement with electric grids and [with us] heading toward nuclear power. I think these things will develop over time.
At the recent G-20 summit, did world economy concerns outweigh environmental issues?
Oh, yeah. And certainly it has in our country. When Obama was running for president there was promise of so much money coming into the alternative fuel industry. With the collapse of the economy, we're not seeing the numbers even close to what was expected. And this is not just in the United States, it happened overseas. In the Middle East, they were pouring money into finding alternative fuel sources, investing money in building green in cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But the recession impacted this when oil prices fell. For them, oil profits fund alternative energy development.
Do you think America can take the lead in energy development?
I hope so. It was great that we were able to become leaders in the automobile industry for decades, but the next industries are clearly energy, not just developing wind turbines and solar and geothermal, but also the scientific breakthroughs and discussions we can lead the world in. I think this could translate into profit for us: people are seeing what can be sold overseas. I think this will happen as we get a slight recovery from the recession.
In "Troubled Waters," your Focus Earth special (currently airing on Planet Green), you talk to legendary surfer and eco activist Kelly Slater.
It's great to see people like Kelly getting involved with doing something about the environment, waking people up about it. How many people spend eight hours a day in the ocean like Kelly Slater? He can feel it, smell it, see it. He understands how polluted our waters are. He can be much more influential in getting people to take a different view, like about factories polluting the oceans, or the problem with mud flow off the roads. So many people in our country live within 10 miles of the ocean, but the percentage that actually spends time in the ocean is minor.
What kind of green changes have you made in your home life?
We've always been pretty good about recycling. I drive my hybrid. I'm putting solar panels on my roof. Most of it now is about passing the right messages. For my kids (teens Mack and Cathryn, and nine-year-old twins Nora and Claire), it's their reality. There is no one in their generation that does not believe climate change is man made.
"Focus Earth" airs on Planet Green every Saturday from 6-6:30 EST, and airs in encore times throughout the week.
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