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Weird Science
Edward Norton talks about running the Yangtze, frogs, and the Earth's vitality.
By Mary Anne Potts


Photo: Earth from space
MISSING LINKS: In NG's new TV series, scientists uncover the connections between unsettling environmental changes around the globe.

Unlike celebs who think activism means driving up to the red carpet in a Lexus hybrid, actor-writer-director Edward Norton (Fight Club, American History X) gets his hands dirty. An avid trekker and diver who's run the Great Bend of the Yangtze, he also started a program that brings solar power to low-income families and he's a major supporter of The Nature Conservancy's efforts in China. Norton will host National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth, premiering this month on PBS. The series investigates the connections between environmental changes across the planet—all linked to human actions.

What did you find most surprising while working on Strange Days on Planet Earth?
The fact that scientists can now show a connection between elevated levels of asthma in Caribbean children and airborne dust from Africa is just incredible to me. But actually each segment addresses amazing new insights into how the Earth's systems interact. Each episode surprised me.

Hermaphrodite frogs, possibly caused by pesticide runoff in Wyoming, are also alarming.
Those frogs show how human actions, in an incredibly short span of time, could be altering millions of years of evolutionary development. There are consequences in that for all of us.

Out of all the bizarre phenomena covered, which would you most like to see for yourself?
While diving in the Caribbean last fall, I saw some of the sea fan devastation partially caused by a fungus blown over from Africa. Now I'd like to see the large predators back in their historic role at the top of the food chain. I'd like to go see the wolves in Yellowstone.

Has working on the series had an impact on you personally?
There's a delusion in L.A. that it's natural to have tropical gardens out here in the desert. Since the series, I've paid more attention to how much water the non-native plants in my garden need. We're sucking the Colorado River dry to water all these lawns.

Speaking of rivers, you've filmed a few big descents with your production company, Class 5.
My brother, who's a world-class white-water guide, made a terrific film called The Great Rivers Expedition for Class 5 about an expedition he ran on three rivers in northwest Yunnan, China. I was a cameraman on the Yangtze leg of it. It's an astonishingly beautiful part of the world with some very intense environmental challenges looming in the future.

Tune in to PBS on April 20 and April 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT for National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth.

Photograph by Sea Studios Foundation


Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, April 2005

The Adventures of Your Life
Rediscovering Libya: Writer Kira Salak explores the country's wonders
The Tsunami Volunteers: Writer Matthew Power finds a sliver of redemption in the disaster's wake. Plus, how you can lend a hand
Weird Science: Edward Norton talks about hermaphrodite frogs and a new NG TV series on PBS
Pelton's World: Fresh from the Green Zone, Pelton takes a cruise
100th Birthday: Explorer Col. Norman Vaughan's big plans


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April 2005



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