Heroes of the environment: who are yours?

Passionate and creative scientists, activists and others are confronting the threats facing our planet, writes Maryann Bird. A US magazine says they light the way, and despair is not the only option.

“For those who care about the environment, the future can seem dark and doomed … Why not despair?” journalist Bryan Walsh wrote recently in the US magazine Time. In his introduction to the magazine’s annual list of “heroes” – which focused this year on the environment — Walsh answered his question this way: “Because solutions do exist — and there are those who are leading us to them … What they have in common is the passion and resourcefulness to confront the threats facing the earth.”

In offering its selection of 35 men and women from around the globe whom it deems “heroes of the environment” for 2008, the magazine chose activists, scientists, politicians, financiers, religious figures and others.

Some of them are widely known, like Arnold Schwarzenegger; the “green” governor of California; Marina Silva, Brazil’s former environment minister and fierce defender of the Amazon rainforest; Joachim Luther, Germany’s “godfather of solar power”; and John Doerr, the US venture capitalist who is putting millions of dollars into new green-technology companies. Others are less familiar figures who work locally on issues including climate change, environmental justice, water and sanitation, forests, biodiversity, alternative energy, transportation, aquaculture, pollution and waste.

Among the “heroes” working in China, Time chose Wang Yongchen, an environmental journalist and activist (and chinadialogue contributor) battling on several fronts to make the country’s nascent green movement more effective; Peter Head, the British engineer who heads the Dongtan eco-city project near Shanghai; and Peggy Liu, who set up the Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), an NGO.

Do not despair about the state of the planet, the magazine urged its readers, because “what these men and women are is as important as what they do. They cannot solve climate change alone or save endangered species single-handedly. But by their example, by their willingness to dedicate themselves to what too many still dismiss as a hopeless cause, these heroes of the environment provide light in the darkness.”

“They are living proof,” says Time, “that despair is not the only option, that hope remains a choice. They remind us that in the face of human creativity and will, no change is too great, and no battle is unwinnable — if only we’ll fight.”

Do you have environmental heroes? Or do you despair too much over the planet’s future? As climate change increases and the earth’s environmental problems gain a higher profile, who inspires you?

Let us know on the forum.

Maryann Bird is associate editor of chinadialogue.

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