Check out our nominees, and then vote in the poll below. And tell us who we missed in comments. (Also see our list of villains.)
OK, it’s obvious — but that don’t mean it ain’t so. The community organizer made it to the White House on a platform of re-powering America. He’s already committed to billions in green investment, assembled a team of veteran operators to coordinate environmental strategy, and promised “bold action.” At this rate he’s going to spike the giddy-meter before he even takes office.
Is there any cause this woman can’t turn to gold? The supreme talkmistress turned her gaze to green issues this year, from an episode on California’s landmark Prop. 2 animal-rights initiative to a three-week vegan stunt — oops, we mean stint — to her endorsement of swap parties as a way to lower the cost and impact of holiday gifts. Sure, she flew first-class on that 30 Rock episode — but if she can do for the planet what she did for books, we’ll get over it.
Hansen’s been ahead of his time ever since he first testified before Congress about climate change 20 years ago. This year he made a new clarion call: push atmospheric carbon dioxide back down below 350 parts per million or risk creating a climate like no human has ever seen. No one is more unsparingly honest about the task that lies ahead or more willing to champion radical solutions.
For Pollan, the year opened with the publication of the food book of the year — In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. It ended with the food essay of the year — “Farmer-in-Chief” . In between, the bald, bespectacled Berkeley prof tirelessly championed the cause of food-system reform in just about every forum imaginable. Even Obama’s reading his stuff.
The Kansas governor, who fairly radiates good sense and managerial competence , has quietly become one of the pioneers in the fight against coal. Late last year her administration blocked permits for two new coal plants because they hadn’t made plans to reduce carbon emissions. The Republican legislature tried to overturn the decision, sending three bills to Sebelius; she vetoed each one. The utility, Sunflower, came after her with nasty ads and lawsuits. Not only is Sebelius not backing down, she withdrew her name from consideration for a Cabinet post in the Obama administration in order to stay in Kansas and see the fight through.
The ubiquitous guru of green brings audiences to their feet with charisma and moral clarity. Everyone from middle-aged money guys to inner-city families to lefty bloggers finds something to love in Jones’ vision of a “green wave that lifts all boats,” a wave driven by a unified progressivism devoted to innovation, investment, and equity. The newly prominent “green jobs” movement has many authors, but it’s difficult to think of another advocate who has done more, more quickly, to reshape the environmental conversation.
One of the year’s most exciting and undercovered green stories was the wild success of the growing grassroots anti-coal movement, a spontaneous social uprising driven by outrage, empowerment, and a fierce sense of justice. Nobody has done more to lend coordination and savvy to that movement than Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, but as he would be the first to tell you, it’s the ordinary citizens in communities across the country who are the movement’s real heroes.
Many lefties will never forgive New York Times columnist Friedman for his Iraq War advocacy and blind devotion to globalization, but nobody has done more to make green mainstream. Friedman (The Mustache of Understanding to his friends) advocates for sustainability — volubly, unapologetically, and on the big questions, accurately — to an enormous, devoted audience. He’s embiggening the tent.
She’s no rocket scientist, but she’s been educating the public in her own special way. In 2008, Paris flaunted green-message Ts, bought a hybrid, and spelled out her “energy policy” in this summer’s infamous campaign-ad spoof.
The legendary venture capitalist has piloted his firm Kleiner Perkins into cleantech in a big way, lending credibility and momentum to a sector that received $1.75 billion in VC investment — in just the third quarter of the year. The Microsoft of clean power is lurking in Doerr’s portfolio somewhere.
Fifteen years ago, a retired pro baller named Will Allen made a most unlikely career move: he decided to launch an organic farm in a low-income neighborhood in Milwaukee. His farmhands would be un- or ill-employed neighborhood teens. At the time, “urban farm” was an oxymoron. Today, urban farms are the rage. Allen’s project, Growing Power, has expanded to Chicago, and this year his efforts were recognized with a MacArthur “genius” award.
The head of California’s Air Resources Board is busy doing something nobody in the U.S. has done before: implementing a comprehensive climate-change plan in a major economy (California is the world’s 10th largest). This ain’t inspirational speechmaking — it’s thankless, painstaking work requiring superhuman patience and diplomatic skill. Nichols has got them.
The one-time Schwarzenegger aide is the most important climate campaigner you’ve never heard of. Through sheer intelligence, hard work, and force of will, Tamminen has brought the majority of America’s governors together to plan for a climate future — and to strike deals with state and provincial leaders around the world. When national leaders finally get serious, they’ll find a policy superstructure already in place, and for that you can thank Tamminen.
Pelosi has imposed discipline on House Dems and passed piece after piece of green legislation (only to see them watered down or killed in the Senate). She outplayed one of the House’s wiliest operators, John Dingell, engineering a coup that put the more progressive Henry Waxman in at the head of the Energy Committee without leaving so much as a fingerprint. Now she’s ready to come out blazing with a huge green stimulus package in early 2009. Don’t be fooled by the pearls and smiles — Nancy Pelosi will cut you.
A brainy and committed green, Reicher is director of climate and energy initiatives at Google.org, the company’s quasi-philanthropic arm. His goal is to make Google the, um, Google of energy. (This year the big investment was advanced geothermal.) He’s also organized the clean-tech community to work with the Obama campaign and advised the Obama transition team on energy matters.
The charismatic founder of Project Better Place is bringing convenient, affordable electric-car infrastructure to Israel, Denmark, Australia, Hawaii, and now California. They said it couldn’t be done — and by “they” we mean the sclerotic Big Three. Guess they were wrong.
This year the teen crooner released a song with the refrain, “Everything I read — global warming, going green/I don’t know what all this means, but it seems to be saying/Wake up, America, we’re all in this together.” Note to NASA: Like, totally.
We couldn’t decide whether these final three folks were heroes or villains. What do you think?
T. Boone Pickens
On one hand, he’s probably done more to make Americans take wind power seriously than anybody on the planet, including that Al guy. On the other hand, he’s got some cockamamie ideas about natural gas and a jones for eminent domain we just don’t feel comfortable putting in the hands of a Texan. Anyway, we can’t shake the feeling that this whole energy-security thing is some kind of super-genius, triple-bank-shot scheme to make eleventy kajillion (more) dollars.
The CEO of Duke Energy has been a tireless advocate for carbon legislation and utility energy-efficiency programs. Hell, he was reportedly on Obama’s short list for energy secretary. Buuuuut … his company keeps pushing to build deadly dirty coal plants and offloading the risk for those financially disastrous choices onto its ratepayers.
This good ol’ girl descended on the political scene like a spinning disco ball into a meeting of the math club. After a period of stunned gawking, America noticed that she kills moose and wants to kill polar bears, thinks all energy is oil and all oil is in Alaska, and doesn’t seem to quite get the whole global-warming thing. Which is, y’know, bad — except that it motivated millions of progressive voters to get off their butts and go to the polls (and Tina Fey to get even funnier). Thanks, Sal! (Can we call you Sal?)
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