50 people who could save the planet

(Also, a Barack Obama discussion in the comments following this essay).

The Guardian has just published a list of 50 people who may save us all from “stranded polar bears, melting glaciers, dried-out rivers and flooding on a horrific scale.” Some of the names certainly belong on the list, and some left me shaking my head:

50 people who could save the planet

It is pretty clear to me that the author couldn’t really distinguish between what is complete hype, and what may actually work. Some will get a kick out of seeing Amory Lovins on the list. Especially in light of this article in Energy Tribune. Leonardo DiCaprio is also on the list, but I think he is a guy who tries hard to walk the talk. I put him in the same category as Ed Begley, Jr. Here is what they wrote about DiCaprio:

Combining the diametrically opposed worlds of the A-list Hollywood star and the impassioned environmentalist is a fraught, sometimes contradictory process, but DiCaprio has pulled it off, becoming one of the world’s most high-profile campaigners.

His primary aim, he says, is to raise awareness, not to preach: “It’s not about imposing a certain belief system or a way of life on people in any economic background. It’s about just being aware of this issue – that’s the most important thing – and really trying to say, ‘Next time I vote, next time I buy something, I’m just going to be aware of what’s really going on.’ “

The first campaigning steps were taken a decade ago after he found himself the target of angry environmentalists. During the filming of The Beach, the bestselling novel about backpackers seeking a shangri-la off the Thai coast, the production team was accused of damaging a pristine beach in a national marine park – in an attempt to make it look even more “perfect” for the cameras, some palm trees were temporarily planted and sand dunes moved. Despite the authorities giving the film-makers permission, their actions made headlines around the world.

Evidently stung by the criticism, in 1998 DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which has since collaborated with the likes of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Dian Fossey Foundation to raise awareness, particularly among children, of environmental issues.

In 2000, he was the US chair of Earth Day, the annual celebration of the environment. “Enough is enough,” he told the crowd in Washington DC. “We must set an example now and move environmentalism from being the philosophy of a passionate minority… to a way of life that automatically integrates ecology into governmental policy and normal living standards. We are entering an environmental age whether we like it or not.” But it was his Earth Day interview with President Clinton on ABC News that caused the biggest ripples: ABC journalists were said to be furious that a young, heart-throb actor had been allowed to do such an important interview. The final edit of the interview itself was fairly soft in tone, but it did include questions that now seem ahead of their time – namely, about the science of climate change, the lobbying power of Big Oil, ways to decrease the use of SUVs and how vulnerable New Orleans was to sea-level rises. There was even a lengthy exchange about hybrid cars, long before they became the car du jour of Hollywood stars.

As DiCaprio’s acting career matured, he continued his parallel life as an environmental activist, speaking at colleges and campaigning on behalf of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. And for his new documentary, he has mustered the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki, Mikhail Gorbachev and Wangari Maathai (below) to take part. He limits his own appearance in the film – essentially a series of talking heads set against library footage – to that of host and narrator. Since its release in the US last year, it has been dubbed the unofficial sequel to Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth.

“It was a learning process,” says DiCaprio, “and I wanted to play the role of investigator – from watching documentaries at a young age, from seeing films on rainforests in Brazil and really appreciating the beauty of our planet, and then learning more and more about human impact and wanting to do something about it.”

His next eco-project is already in production – he’s a producer for a Discovery Channel show called Eco-Town, which records how a Kansas town devastated by a tornado in 2006 attempts to rebuild itself as a “model of green living”.

Some other notable names on the list were Al Gore, Angela Merkel, Craig Venter, and Cormac McCarthy. You may not recognize McCarthy’s name, and I wouldn’t have two weeks ago. He is the author of The Road, which was recommended to me over Christmas. It was very disturbing.

Vinod Khosla did not show up on the list, which was surprising to me given some of the people who were on the list. In a couple of years, I intend to be on it. 🙂

21 thoughts on “50 people who could save the planet”

  1. In a couple of years, I intend to be on it.
    In what role, I wonder? Would it be as inventor, who would be part of the development team for a new technology? Would it be as a commentator, who would point our clueless leaders… ah, make that our clueless politicians to viable solutions? Would it be as an investor, who would use his substantial financial muscle (with oil at $500/bbl and climbing) to finance viable technologies? Would it be as a technical advisor to President Obama, who would help him direct our tax dollars to viable solutions, in sharp contrast to current events…?

  2. Funny you mention Obama. I had quite some conversations about him over Christmas. Now, I am not an Obama supporter, and some of the things he has said about energy seem pretty uninformed. But I can’t stand to see people getting smeared. So, I spent a lot of time defending him over the holidays. It seems that many in the heartland believe he is a terrorist trying to take the U.S. down from the inside (no kidding).

    Over the holidays, I was forwarded that “Who is Barack Obama?” e-mail. What annoyed me the most was this bit:

    If you do not ever forward anything else, please forward this to all your contacts…this is very scary to think of what lies ahead of us here in our own United States…better heed this and pray about it and share it.

    We checked this out on ‘snopes.com’. It is factual. Check for yourself.

    Well, of course I don’t take anyone’s word for anything, so I did check Snopes. Status? False. And isn’t it always the case that “if you never forward anything else, this is too important not to forward.”

    I usually just toss the forwards, but I responded to this one in part (as it described Muslims as “terrorists out to destroy our Christian nation”):

    I know a lot of Muslims, and their beliefs are not in direct contrast to Christianity. Also, few of them are radicals. Judging Muslims by their radicals would be like judging Christians based on David Koresh.

    I got into a debate with one of my in-laws about Obama. This was before the Iowa caucus. He insisted Obama has no chance against Hillary. I kept telling him that he has Oprah behind him, and he is very well-spoken. I predicted that he would beat Hillary for the nomination. Response? No chance, Hillary is too far ahead.

    Ultimately, I think Obama is the next president. People like him. He says the right things. People hate Hillary. I don’t think any of the Republicans stand out. The only one of the whole bunch who has energy views that I can live with is Bill Richardson, and he is far back in the pack.

    Cheers, Robert

  3. RR, I agree that Obama is very much looking like the next President at the moment, and IMO that is a good thing. I dread a Clinton nomination not because I dislike her or her policies, but because she is unelectable. None of the Republicans do anything for me, and Huckabee terrifies me. He looks like a GWB re-run.

    Apart from his ideas on ethanol and “clean coal” I can’t see much wrong with Obama’s energy policies either:
    Obama’s Energy Policies

    He’s certainly making all the right noises, and he’s a million miles ahead of the current administration.

    It would be nice to see the U.S. ratify Kyoto early in 2009 as one of the first acts of the new administration, even if its just a symbolic gesture.

  4. Muslims as “terrorists out to destroy our Christian nation”
    The best part is that Obama is a Christian.

    Note to Republican Kool-Aid drinkers: that link refers to your own source of “Fair and Balanced” news…

  5. Huckabee terrifies me. He looks like a GWB re-run.
    Well, at least Huckabee is a self-made man. That is GWB’s biggest shortcoming: he has never had to work for anything in his life – and it shows!

  6. It would be nice to see the U.S. ratify Kyoto early in 2009 as one of the first acts of the new administration, even if its just a symbolic gesture.

    1. Treaties are not symbolic gestures, they are law.

    2. Bil Clinton already signed the treaty on Nov 12, 1998.

    3. Tell it to your Senator, the Senate voted 95-0:
    The Byrd-Hagel Resolution (SRes 98) passed on July 25 by a margin of 95-0 (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 28, 1997). The resolution states that the U.S. Senate will not ratify any treaty signed at Kyoto that:

    * Would impose binding limits on the industrialized nations but not on developing nations within the same compliance period.

    * “Would result in serious economic harm to the economy of the United States.”


    Huckabee … looks like a GWB re-run

    Funny, he looks like a Jimmy Carter re-run to me.

    We are still in a period of very serious foreign policy issues, and Obama has made some very frighting statements. Obama doesn’t seem to realize that ill-considered words can start wars, especially in the Middle East. He needs to study Roosevelt (Theodore, not FDR) “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

  7. It would be nice to see the U.S. ratify Kyoto early in 2009 as one of the first acts of the new administration, even if its just a symbolic gesture.

    Larryd is right — let’s stop the nonsense of “symbolic gestures”.

    If something is worth doing, get the support from all those Democrats in the Senate who blocked Kyoto and do it.

    And if something is a wrong-headed waste of resources (as Kyoto really is), let’s have a President who has the balls to stand up and tell the usual suspects to get their act together and quit whining for expensive unproductive “symbolic gestures”.

    Now, if Obama announced that his first act as president would be to send a bill to Congress to fast-track construction of nuclear power stations (and thereby make a real contribution to energy supplies and reduced CO2 production), he might be worth taking seriously.

    And if he said his second act would be to send Congress a bill to eliminate all direct & indirect energy subsidies and instead set up an X-Prize for the first 3 competitive alternate energy schemes, he would get my vote.

  8. Obama has made some very frighting statements.
    Oh, I don’t know.
    1. Why are we bending over backward to keep the corrupt Musharraf in power? I suspect that five years from now a lot of politicians will be saying that they always supported unilateral action in Pakistan. Especially if it works.

    Calling Musharraf an important American ally is a very frighting statement, IMHO.

    2. Did anyone notice that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Iraq, even as our bravest are sacrificing their lives? The question is: Can it get much worse after we leave?

    3. I much prefer a president who use ill-considered words, as opposed to ill-considered wars.

  9. I saw that Paul Watson was on the list of 50 people. Pathetic.

    Mr. Watson is an eco-terrorist who once said that earthworms are more valuable than humans. He has rammed and sank numerous fishing vessels, advocated spiking trees to injure loggers. He authored his own blasphemous version of the 10 commandments, the first being: “Don’t bring any more humans into being.”

    Enough said about this miserable human being. I will pray for him.

  10. robert–

    i never know what path i will travel when reading your blog. it keeps my interest; whether i agree or not, i have confidence you have a basis for your position. keep it up.

    i also enjoy the commentary generated by other readers. it spans a range from educational to controversial to often hilarious[in conclusion or basis].

    have fun but manage the priorities/time.


  11. Robert-
    I am as good an environmentalist as the guy. I live in an Airstream trailer, plant my own veggies (within a mile of downtown LA), recycle, and buy used etc. Plan to run a veggie-oil mobile soon.
    But global warming! It was warmer when Lief Ericson came to the U.S. That is one reason he came, and established colonies in Greenland, later wiped out by advancing cold.
    Ironically, it looks like we are on the cusp of another Ice Age, based on past cycles. Believe you me, an Ice Age and you will see The Road.
    That all being said, we should still limit pollution in all forms whenever we can, and reduce oil consumption.
    We can do it, and I think we will do it. I think life for most people will be better in 50 years, not worse (save possibly for those trapped in theocracies).
    By the way, check out Limits to Growth and a lot of fictional literature from the 1970s. We were grim back then too.
    Obama: I like the guy, but how about an energy plan to promote US supplies and employment?

  12. this list isn’t 50 people who could save the world, it is all about what is wrong with modern environmentalism. There are numerous left wing politicians and celebrities (nice man-crush on Leo DiCaprio, Robert). There were a couple of anti-GM food activists, in other words, people who oppose increased food production. There was an anti-McDonalds guy, which is anti-freedom.

    Then there are many eco-terrorists and eco-extortionists. These people are dangerous lunatics. KoK pointed out Watson as one example, but there are others.

    And last and certianly least, is Laurie David. What has this vacant ditz accomplished? Well other than being the main consumer of Al Gore’s Kool-aid (Optimist: there is plenty of Kool-aid to go around on both sides of the isle)She married a very funny guy with lots of money. Oh yeah, she did write a children’s book about global warming, but in order to show that CO2 has historically caused previous warmings, she had to swap the labels on the temp and CO2 graphs. (this mistake has since been corrected). It is possible to explain temp leading the CO2 increase, but Laurie David can’t do it.

    So who should be on the list? I am not sure about the venture capitalist who support potential energy solutions, of course, the money is very important, I tend to lean toward the people with the ideas. But most of these people are not names people would know (I don’t know their names) and in reality, there are thousands of people who are working on the front lines of energy research. And we need about 50 of these people to hit gold in their quest to create a sustainable energy infrastructure.

    The inventors and engineers behind Robert’s top ten energy stories of 2007 would be a good place to start. Maybe Robert Bussard RIP, and off the top of my head, Lanny Schmidt, Harry Schoel, maybe the brains behind EEStore, Firefly, Range fuels, there are simply too many to list.

    In short, the guardian’s list of 50 people who could save the plant reminds me of that Leo DiCaprio movie Titanic, It sucks

  13. larryd: I don’t have a (U.S.) Senator to tell, I live in Australia.

    We Australians elected a new government in November and our new Prime Minister ratified Kyoto within days of assuming office. I don’t expect real change to Australia’s carbon emissions, but as a symbolic gesture it packed a punch because it has left the U.S. completely isolated.

    Are Americans aware that they are now the only industrialised nation not to have ratified?

  14. Dennis Moore – We haven’t got any lupens!

    You are correct sir. This a list of shameless lunatics, hucksters, and Al Gore sycophants.

    Why is it that the same people that tell us there is scientific consensus on global warming and the debate is over, are somehow against GM food?

    You can at least directly test the safety of bovine growth hormone or GM corn. You don’t need lousy computer models using dodgy data to figure out the results.

  15. Carbonsink – I’m really proud of the Aussies.
    Maybe you would have been happy if the U.S had signed the treaty even though it wouldn’t have made a real change in their carbon emmissions?
    Empty “symbolic gestures” like these are a complete waste of time but if signing them makes you feel good like you’ve accomplished soemthing meaningful then by all means crawl up on the barn roof and crow to your hearts content!

  16. Then there’s the woman who decided to vote for Hillary over Obama because Hillary cried:

    Clinton Gets Emotional on Campaign Trail

    “She allowed herself to feel,” Pernold Young said. ” I was surprised and I said, ‘wow there’s someone there.'”

    Another woman in the group, Alison Hamilton of Portsmouth, New Hampshire said she, like most of the people in the group, had been considering Obama.

    But after seeing Clinton become emotional, she said she was going to vote for Clinton.

    “Her whole thing today really convinced me but that really did clinch it for me,” Hamilton said. “She’s very impressive.”

    Now that’s what I call having your priorities in order!

  17. 2. Did anyone notice that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Iraq, even as our bravest are sacrificing their lives? The question is: Can it get much worse after we leave?

    No, I’m sure the Sunnis and Shia will put aside their millenium-old blood fued, link arms and sing Kum-ba-ya the instant we leave.

    Leaving Iraq would be a disaster. Staying in Iraq is also a disaster. It’s an unfortunate soul who finds himself in a no-win scenario. It’s a damned fool who intentionally creates one out of thin air.


    which is the real hillary? the one who cried for her campaign dilemma or the one who “stood by bill” and took it in the ear[r…?] with the MONICA fiasco–among many alleged other picadillos.

    theatrics by a politician to seek office? ambition beyond any values?



  19. Optimist: there is plenty of Kool-aid to go around on both sides of the isle.
    Oh, I’m fully aware of that. I actually tend to break Republican on most issues. But I pass the Kool Aid, as best I can.

    Leaving Iraq would be a disaster. Staying in Iraq is also a disaster. It’s an unfortunate soul who finds himself in a no-win scenario. It’s a damned fool who intentionally creates one out of thin air.
    All true. LarryD considered it a frightening statement that Obama wanted to leave Iraq. But as you point out, “Stay & Die” might be worse than “Cut & Run”.

    I think Australia has a lot of potential. Hopefully the new prime minister’s dedication to Kyoto will lead to real results. Hard to believe it won’t have at least some effect.

    Now just explain to me why Ricky Ponting found it necessary to cheat like that. Surely he can’t be that insecure?

  20. “Her whole thing today really convinced me but that really did clinch it for me,” Hamilton said. “She’s very impressive.”

    Now that’s what I call having your priorities in order!

    Having voters that gullible almost makes one wonder whether democracy is such a good system of government afterall! Then you realize that it is a bit of a stretch to call the US system of government a democracy. Phew! That was close!

  21. Cormac McCarthy… never thought I’d find him on a list of people who could save the world. If he’s on there where’s Gary Snyder? Anyway, just wanted to recommend McCarthy’s other writings as well. Usually just as stark, but set in pre-apocalyptic times, roaming the wide open west and pondering life in a sort of round about fashion. If you haven’t gotten a chance to see “No Country for Old Men” I highly recommend it too.

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