Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009

Heroes of the Environment 2009

From saving wild mountain rivers in China to measuring the Arctic's icy expanse, from protecting the lush forests of Africa to conducting a feisty online debate, our green heroes are informed by this simple notion: We can all make a difference

As they searched for glimmers of hope in the wreckage of the world economy earlier this year, politicians, economists and commentators used one phrase so repeatedly it became something of a mantra for our times: In crisis, opportunity. Nowhere does that maxim apply more than to the problem of climate change. The financial crisis only crippled a global system; climate change is hurting the globe itself.

This December, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen to discuss new goals to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions that fuel global warming. With a new President in the White House, there is a chance the U.S. will finally inspire progress on climate change — and not just frustration. But nothing's certain, and the real leap forward won't happen until China and India both sign on to the idea that the economic growth they need and want will be worthless if their citizens are constantly fighting off natural disasters or don't have enough water to drink or to irrigate their crops.

It's easy to think that all the hard decisions are in the hands of our leaders alone. Not true. As the men and women in the following pages prove, we can all make a difference. Pen Hadow, leader of a daring survey across the Arctic to measure the thickness of sea ice, puts it this way: "Turning off a standby light once won't make a difference. Do it for the rest of your life and that amounts to something. And if everybody's doing something, then we're moving in the right direction." We hope our environmental heroes provide both inspiration and action. Like financial pundits, most of them embrace the idea that a crisis also presents opportunity. They are heroes because they set out to discover what that opportunity might be.