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Brokaw brings home global warming fight

Tom Brokaw is giving Al Gore some company in the effort to raise awareness of global warming.

The former NBC anchorman is host of "Global Warming: What You Need to Know," which doubles as an explainer and call to action for average Americans. It premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

Brokaw said he has seen and was impressed by "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore's documentary on the subject.

"It's the same science that we are drawing upon and it's irrefutable," he said. "I thought there was too much of Gore, but that's not my call. I thought it was very effectively done. To give credit to him, he's been on this issue for a long period of time."

Discovery, which has a partnership with NBC News, asked Brokaw last year if there were any projects he would like to work on. He said he was interested in the environment, and Discovery mentioned its global-warming project, which it was making in partnership with the BBC.

Brokaw's wife, Meredith, is vice president of the environmental organization Conservation International. They've traveled to some of the places featured in the Discovery documentary, like Patagonia and Mongolia, and have seen firsthand the effects of global warming.

He's tried to alter some habits to save fossil fuels: changing light fixtures in his homes, for example. He owns a hybrid car, and so do both of his daughters.

"It's not affecting our lifestyle at all, not one whit," he said.

On the Discovery documentary, producers travel great distances to make the case that man has contributed to a rapid warming of the planet's atmosphere that has already had noticeable effects and will potentially have much more.

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A scientist in the Arctic explains how the increased melting of summertime sea ice is slowly starving the polar bear population. Rising sea water seeping through the ground threatens to eventually swallow entirely the South Pacific island of Tuvalu. Drought threatens the giant Amazon rain forest. Explorers bring cameras beneath ice sheets in Patagonia to show the melting.

More frightening are the scenarios that scientists can see for the future: increased sea levels swallowing cities like New York, more vicious hurricanes like Katrina, more land turning to desert. One expert even envisions half of the planet's species disappearing by the end of this century.

"By the year 2100, in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren, our world will be a drastically different place," Brokaw says in the documentary.

Speed of change is a surpriseIn helping put together the film, Brokaw said he was surprised at the speed with which everything is happening and the growing agreement among scientists about what was once a controversial notion.

Producers speak to no one, at least on film, who believes the current warmth is part of the Earth's natural cycle and who minimizes the importance of what is happening.

"You go around the world and it is the overwhelming number of people in the science of climatology who say this is happening," Brokaw said.

Discovery does intend to alter one part of the film that, in a preview tape, talks about the United States' refusal to participate in the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, he said. During the discussion, a picture is flashed of a demonstrator holding a picture of President Bush emblazoned with "toxic Texan." Brokaw said that political blame should be distributed more broadly.

The same scientists who warn of dire consequences also say that there are things that can be done to greatly slow the rate of global warming.

In the film, Brokaw presents examples big and small — from New York City promoting more energy-efficient mass transportation and environmentally friendly building construction to families that can save a remarkable amount of energy by simply unplugging television sets when they aren't being used.

Brokaw, 66, spoke by telephone from Colorado, where he's working on a documentary about illegal immigration. Another NBC documentary, about the black underclass, is set to run later this month.

How's this retirement thing working out anyway?

"Good question," he said. "I flunked."

He said he's trying to find a better balance between work, relaxation and travel. Even when he's working on projects, he said it feels freeing not to have to be in the studio at 6:30 every night for NBC's "Nightly News."

With all the changes at the top ranks of network anchors — former NBC star Katie Couric about to take over at the "CBS Evening News," Charles Gibson in charge at ABC News — Brokaw is loyal to successor Brian Williams.

"I'm sure a year from now (Couric) will have a secure lock on second place," he said.

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