Harrison Ford's Extraordinary Measures
In his latest movie, the actor and producer brings to life the story of a father's quest to cure his children of Pompe disease.
Ford takes action in other ways, too. His commitment to environmental issues
is long-standing, from humorous public service announcements where he waxes his
chest hair (ouch) to illustrate deforestation to another PR push to help save
And he puts his money where his mouth is. A board member of the
environmental group Conservation International for nearly 20 years, this former
Boy Scout "always loved nature. But once I made some money" -- in 2009,
Forbes magazine ranked him as the wealthiest actor in Hollywood -- "I
was looking to use it to have an effect. Money can buy science in support of
conservation. It can teach indigenous people politics or a fisherman some other
task when the fisheries he uses are overburdened."
Does this activist see progress being made in the protection of rainforests
and coral reefs as the environmental movement's top priority? "There are a
million little fights all coming together in one big battle," Ford answers
passionately. "And there have been small victories. But not the big battle, not
"We need a ground swell, to the point where the moral authority of it
becomes so obvious that this is what we need to do."
Ford is particularly impassioned about the link between endangered
ecosystems and our own health. Many of the medications we rely on were
originally derived from plants and animals, some of them already threatened in
the wild. Because of that, Conservation International works with indigenous
communities around the world to help preserve natural habitats, including rain
forests and coral reefs teeming with life.
The organization's health security adviser, Judy Mills, says, "Some of the
most innovative leads for Alzheimer's and HIV/AIDS, and new antibiotics for
infectious diseases -- to name just a few -- are all coming from threatened
ecosystems. And we don't know what's coming down the pike. We could be
destroying potential cures for diseases we don't even know about yet." In
addition, Mills notes:
More than 50% of modern, or Western, medicines were initially
derived from plants or animals. A few examples: Aspirin came from the bark of
the willow tree. The cancer drug Taxol, used to treat breast, lung, and ovarian
cancer, was created from the endangered Pacific yew plant. The active
ingredient warfarin, derived from sweet clover, is a treatment for blood clots.
The powerful painkiller Prialt, given to patients who cannot tolerate morphine,
comes from the sea's cone snail. And drugs to treat childhood leukemia are
found in the rosy periwinkle.
More than 90% of traditional medicines -- ancient cures from China,
Japan, Korea, plus Tibetan Unani and Ayurvedic treatments -- come from plants
and animals. These include ginseng for combating fatigue and stress as well as
symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes. Bear bile has long been used to treat
gallstones, hepatitis, and liver disease. Chinese Artemisia, a plant
traditionally administered to fight fever and parasitic infections, is the main
source for the new drug Coartem for cerebral malaria; it is expected to save
more than 600,000 lives this year.