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Transcript: Meet Andy Lipkis and TreePeople

JIMMY SMITS: Like Lewis & Clark or peanut butter & jelly, you can't picture L.A. without smog. In the 1970s, stage one smog alerts, in which residents were warned to avoid the outdoors, averaged over a hundred times a year, mostly in the summer when children were out of school. Thinking to preserve their son's health, every year Lee and Joy Lipkis, sent young Andy to a summer camp in the San Bernadino Mountains. Andy loved the forest and was quick to notice many pine trees were dead or dying. Andy was told that the smog, creeping up from the Los Angeles basin, was weakening the trees. The entire forest would be dead in 30 years. When Andy asked what he and his fellow campers could do to save these majestic pines he was told:

ANDY LIPKIS: There's nothing that you can do is gonna count. Wait till you grow up and go to college and get a job and maybe you'll make a difference in the world. It was pretty frustrating to look at what was obviously a polluted and hurting planet and to hear those messages that you don't count, there's nothing for you to do, just have fun.

JIMMY SMITS: Never tell a child he can't do something, cause he might just prove you wrong.

Andy Lipkis: When I started I was fifteen, and all I knew was that I wanted to get more kids to the mountains, planting trees.

ANDY LIPKIS: There was something so powerful in that my first summer of planting.

JIMMY SMITS: Andy and the campers ignored the adult cynics. They planted smog-resistant species of cedar and pine in a dead part of the forest. Life returned and flourished.

ANDY LIPKIS: To transform that piece of land like we did in a few weeks, gave me such strength. I went, "You know, I've got to get more kids to taste that."

JIMMY SMITS: So began Andy's lifelong crusade to not only save the local forest, but to use urban forestry to save the city of Los Angeles as well. Today, over 35 years later, no one wears the badge of "tree-hugger" more proudly than Andy Lipkis.

ANDY LIPKIS: Trees are amazing sustainability machines. They capture water right in their branches, and then slowly put it down into the ground and restore it into the water table. They prevent floods. They treat pollution and filter it out of the water. They save energy. They produce oxygen. Trees do all this incredible work that we need. They're like our partners for life and for sustainability.

JIMMY SMITS: By 1973, eighteen-year-old Andy founded the non-profit organization he called "TreePeople".

Andy Lipkis: I was a kid then and kids respond, they gave 50 cents or 35 cents for their milk. Instead of drinking milk at school that day they sent it to TreePeople, and that got us launched.

JIMMY SMITS: Andy learned at an early age to use the media to promote environmental causes.

JOHNNY CARSON: Is that a Coast Redwood Seedling?
YOUNG ANDY LIPKIS: The largest and oldest tree in the world.
JOHNNY CARSON: And this is gonna be a redwood?
YOUNG ANDY LIPKIS: It's already a redwood.
JOHNNY CARSON: Oh, excuse me.
JOHNNY CARSON: Oh, I can't drive my car through it, Andy.
YOUNG ANDY LIPKIS: Wait, wait, wait, the hole is down there.
JOHNNY CARSON: The little hole, you can, a little genie car can go through.

JIMMY SMITS: What began as a handful of teenage campers, now encompasses millions of young people and adults who volunteer their time and raise money to restore Los Angeles through urban and community forestry. The atmosphere at Tree People's 45-acre complex resembles that of a campground, a retreat in the middle of urban sprawl.

HEATHER GOLDBERG: It's really amazing to want to wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work and be proud of what you do when you go out and people ask you what you do. I'm changing the world with Andy, that's something that I'm really, really excited about.

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