Chip Giller

Laugh, or the planet gets it.
Photo: John Clark, TIME.

The cover story in TIME magazine’s international edition this week is "Heroes of the Environment." Lots of good stuff to browse through, but around here we’re particularly fond of #28:

Environmentalists are the people you want to avoid at a party. Trust me — I’m one of them. Get cornered and you’ll hear about how the polar bears on the Arctic ice cap are doomed, and it’s all your fault. We’ll tell you how the world will soon run on a clean mix of wind energy, solar energy and the power of positive thinking. And God help you if you drink bottled water. I have a searing lecture on the benefits of New York City tap water — with PowerPoint slides — that will have you begging for mercy.

But the quirky green website Grist.org — and its 36-year-old president Chip Giller — is livening up dour Earth Firsters. Founded in 1999 by Giller, a journalist who saw an opening for a digital newsletter on the environment, the Seattle-based Grist is a one-stop shop for news, reports and opinion — all delivered with a welcome satiric twist. The punny headlines can be clever (URSINE OF THE TIMES, for a piece on, yes, the polar bear) or groan-worthy (TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE, for a story on honeybee deaths), but the lightheartedness chips away at the sanctimony that too often coats environmentalism. "The strategy is to use irreverence and humor as a way to get through the jadedness that people have around these issues," says Giller, who has grown Grist from a tiny e-mail newsletter to an influential and comprehensive site with 750,000 daily readers. "We’re a beacon in the smog."

If that’s all there were to Grist, it’d be a useful bookmark and not much more. But Giller is out to rebrand the environment movement, turning the focus toward sustainable lifestyles, not just save-the-whale campaigns. Today’s young greens spend as much time thinking about what they eat (organic) and what they drive (Prius) as they do about whom they vote for (Al Gore, of course — given the chance). So Grist covers green celebrities and consumerism with the same depth and panache it brings to analyses of the latest U.N. climate-change projections. "Our goal is for green to be second nature, not the exception," says the unshakably upbeat Giller. And if you see him at a party, don’t turn the other way. Chances are he’s spiking the punch.