We’re celebrating 10 exceptional people – ranging in age from their 40’s to their 80’s –who’ve appeared in Green News Update stories in the past 5 years: Their talent, creativity and passion have made the planet a better and safer place. Some put their lives on the line—with consequences.
- One designs shelters, schools and places of worship for people who have lost everything to disasters and war.
- A second has written 30 acclaimed science and natural history books – 13 of them in a 13-year period
- A third is building a digital ark of every captive species in a zoo or sanctuary – not an ark of remembrance but of hopefulness
- A fourth gave her life to safeguard sacred places and indigenous people.
But why tease you more?
Below are the 10 we’ve selected for our 5th Anniversary. You can link to the Green News Update stories and go deeper with resources inside each story.
Shigeru Ban: Humanitarian Architect
Shigeru Ban’s lucrative architectural practice on several continents does not stand in the way of his 20 years of humanitarian efforts with on-the-ground solutions– designing refugee housing, temporary schools and places of worship on several continents for thousands who have survived wars and disasters — hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes in the Philippines, India, Turkey, Japan, New Zealand and Italy. Add to that his innovative use of humble and recycled materials—rolled paper tubes! — and Ban is a standout in the environmental world. Ban’s motivation and aesthetic is “mottainai”– which means “too good to be wasted” in Japanese– to describe his economy of style and materials. No wonder he earned a well-deserved Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 2014 for his humanitarian design – and the work goes on. Read our story from 2014 story
Berta Caceres: Indigenous Rights Leader
The story of Berta Caceres– a righteous, indigenous environmental activist in Honduras – has no happy-ever-after ending. In 2015 we featured Cáceres in Green News Update as one of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Award winners. Less than a year later she was dead from assassins’ bullets in her own home. Berta fought for the Lenca indigenous people and the Rio Blanco, whose waters they consider sacred. She opposed the government’s plans for huge hydroelectric dams that would have destroyed land and taken the waters from the people. She was successful, but at a huge price – that of her own life. It’s safe to say, Berta wouldn’t want us to sit around moping. She’d say, “Despertamos humanidad” (“wake up humanity”) and carry on the work. Caceres is Murdered
That’s what her daughter Bertha Zuniga Caceres, in her 20’s, is doing today.
James Balog: Chasing Ice
Photographer James Balog’s biggest assignment spans thousands of miles, fixed position cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, Austria, the Nepalese Himalaya, and the US Rocky Mountains, and a team of experts knowledgable about glaciers. The project? James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is like watching a planetary train wreck through time-lapse photography – breathtaking, bizarrely beautiful, shocking and worrisome—to document the dramatic retreat of glaciers.
The Extreme Ice Survey — now with over one million images — inspired a new organization, a NOVA special Extreme Ice; and a documentary Chasing Ice (2012), based on the EIS and other original photography, a 75-minute Emmy- and Academy-Award -winning documentary that has been viewed in over 170 countries. His book Ice: Portraits of the Vanishing Glaciers is a summary of the EIS through 2012. Balog’s work – and passionate commitment — is both scientific proof and powerful stuff for outreach and educating the public. Read our 2015 story.
EO Wilson: A Man for All Seasons
Dr. Edward O. Wilson’s Half-Earth proposal is the culmination of a life richly lived in academe and the real world: author of 32 books, many of them acclaimed, with an astounding 13 written in 13 years. He’s spent a life in research (his subject is ants), teaching standing-room-only biology courses at Harvard University, an expeditioner, an authority on biodiversity, and a theorist on subjects (sociobiology and consilience) that have gotten him in hot water with scientific peers.
When he says that half of earth’s species may be gone by the end of the century, you’d better believe him! Half-Earth: The Planet’s Fight for Life – his newest book published by Livewright—is also his proposal to save half of earth’s surface as conservation zones, for millions of species to inhabit human-free zones, and reduce the threat of catastrophic extinction events. Wilson thinks it is attainable, and a new foundation is underway to help achieve that goal. In September 2017 he received his newest award – among the 100 others, he was awarded the National Medal of Science—the 2017 Global Environmental Leadership Award (in Boston). Almost anything you read by Ed Wilson will illuminate your life and thinking. He is a national treasure in the scientific world! Green News Update has been sharing Ed Wilson’s books and knowledge with our followers since 2012. In 2014 we highlighted 4 of his books Below are links to several other EO Wilson selections worth reading; Do more to preserve life on earth
A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk through Gorongosa National Park
Dee Boersma’s Love Affair with Penguins
Dr Dee Boersma uses a sense of humor and a wealth of data from long-term scientific research to talk about her passion for penguins. She calls them “the sentinels” of ocean health and changing climatic conditions. She should know: for 35 years the University of Washington Professor has assessed the biological characteristics of Magellenic penguins – the largest breeding colony of these birds — in Punta Tombo, Argentina, where she has documented foraging patterns, migratory routes, and anthropogenic threats to their survival. And there are plenty.
“Think of penguins as ocean sentinels,”says Dee Boersma. “They’re on the frontlines of sea change.” Sharing stories of penguin life and culture, she suggests that we start listening to what penguins are telling us about overfishing, pollution and climate change. Update on her work
Just watch her TED talk video and you’ll see how she weaves together their story and the threats faced by these superfast swimmers, who live and nest in highly dense groups, range hundreds of kilometers in searching for food (“they dress well,” she adds impishly). Read our 2014 story.
Frida Kahlo: Mexico’s Indigenous Culture
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1954 ) may seem an outlier among the passionate scientists and environmental activists we’ve assembled for our anniversary, but she earned her place decades ago for her love of Mexican indigenous culture and its natural features, the pre-Columbian world, and the interconnectedness of all life. In her art, Frida “extends her being into the world” with self-portraits, according to biographer Hayden Herrera, who has written extensively about her. She is both grounded in the earth – with roots and tendrils– and transcendent, with butterflies coming out of her hair (see the self-portrait above).
Kahlo came to embrace the Tehuana style of Tehuantepec culture, with floral headpieces, square-cut blouses, and full floral skirts that inspired a new generation of Mexican-American women with confidence to pursue their art and admiration for the elaborate native Tehuana style that she wore. Kahlo’s home Casa Azul – and the enclosed native garden she cultivated – are now open to the public in the Coyocan neighborhood of Mexico City. Read our 2015 story. Look at the photo gallery.
Emmanuel de Merode and His Rangers
Sometimes your life is on the line – that’s the case for Emmanuel de Merode, and his rangers, whose efforts to protect the Congo’s endangered mountain gorillas inVirunga National Park put them in harm’s way from any number of opponents, including poachers, armed militias and companies that want access to Virunga’s natural resources. Virunga is on the frontline of demand for minerals, oil exploration, trafficked animals, and local resources such as charcoal. Some 150 local rangers have been killed in Virunga. De Merode, a Belgian conservationist who is the park’s director, was nearly killed –shot and seriously injured by AK-47 gunfire while traveling on the route to the park from Goma. A newer report by National Geographic in March 2016 noted that two more rangers were killed by anti-government forces.
What makes people risk their own lives for the welfare of wild animals ? At Virunga, the Senkwekwe Orphan Mountain Gorilla Center at park headquarters in Rumangabo is a refuge within the park for baby gorillas injured in snares or traumatized by witnessing their mothers’ death by poachers and others. Andre Bauma, a local caretaker, at Senkwekwe, has spent years raising a band of young gorillas orphaned as infants. Andre has his own, human family; and he is “mother” to gorilla orphans now growing toward adolescence. Read our story and you’ll learn about the gorilla “doctors” and the documentary film of the team that stands at the frontline of protecting deeply endangered species.
Sylvia Earle: Connected to the Oceans
Renowned oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle says in her book Blue Hope: “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the ocean, no matter where on Earth you live.”
“The ocean is dying.” So says Dr. Sylvia Earle, internationally known oceanographer, National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, and advocate who is spearheading Mission Blue — a new nonprofit advocacy organization– that underscores her deep concern for what is happening to the oceans, and in turn, is affecting all life on our planet. Her twitter handle is her mantra: #no bluenogreen.
During more than 100 scientific expeditions, Earle has spent upward of 7,000 hours underwater — that’s the equivalent of her having submerged at midnight on New Year’s Eve and resurfaced in late October. No wonder she earned the New Yorker nickname “Her Deepness.” Now in her 80’s, Earle shows no signs of slowing down. She is concerned – and she is hopeful!
Her words are as timely now as when she announced her Mission Blue campaign in 2014. Read our story about Mission Blue’s campaigns, books and more.
Skloot+Mukherjee: Standout Writers
Two standout first-time authors made their way into Green News Update in 2012—Rebecca Skloot for the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Siddhartha Mukerjee for the epic Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. They both appear in one of our earliest posts as prizewinners –books to give or receive as gifts. Both have been lauded with major awards; their books transformed in media for the small and large screen.
Mukherjee’s second book in 2016, Gene: An Intimate History, is often called a prequel to “Emperor.” Why is that? Cancer is after all a corruption of our genetic code that leads to malignancy. Cancer was known as a malady, usually fatal, for dozens of centuries. Mukherjee pulls back the curtain on the discovery of the gene, the creation of genetics.
Skloot’s first-time book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks also deals with cancer, but a darker side that is an intensely personal story. Ten years of research and passionate commitment by Rebecca Skloot produced a magnum opus on African-American Baltimore resident Henrietta Lacks, and the cancer cells she unwittingly furnished in the 1950’s (treated unsuccessfully for cervical cancer) that sparked a revolution in medical research: HeLa cells (as they were known) reproduced endlessly, making them a bank of reproducible cells for medical research all over the world. Skloot’s book was awarded the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize and 2011 National Academies of Science Best Book Award. The Immortal Soul has been produced in 2017 by HBO, with Oprah Winfrey in a starring role
Read our story about the Mukherjee and Skloot books – with numerous links to media and excerpts.
Read our story about Mukherjee’s second book, Gene
Joel Sartore: Driven by Nature
National Geographic Fellow-photographer Joel Sartore is a welcome friend on these web pages –in a half-dozen stories we’ve published on him and the Photo Ark. What’s that? His photographs of endangered and at-risk animals have been appeared everywhere: projected 40 stories high on the Empire State Building and other iconic sites (Racing Extinction 2015) to transit posters in the nation’s capital Washington DC. Why again? Joel Sartore is so much fun to listen to, you’re surprised at how compelling and personal he is about the loss of biodiversity, the threats of extinction, and what he wants people to do: pay attention. Perhaps it’s because he is a native Nebraskan with an easygoing style — don’t be deceived.
Sartore is on a 25-year worldwide mission. “The whole goal of my life,” he says, “is to get people to care about species while we can still save them.” Sartore has traveled to 40 countries in search of nature and wildlife photographs for the National Geographic. As for extinction, he is painfully aware that half of all species on Earth may be gone by the end of the this century!
Sartore created the Photo Ark project – a commitment to photograph every captive species in zoos or sanctuary sites, some 12,000+, most of them endangered or on the brink of extinction — birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. He’s more than halfway there! His books, and a recent three-part PBS series, are a compelling alphabestiary of familiar species and those we scarcely know. It’s a mission of hopefulness and activism.
Read our most recent story on Joel: Driven by Nature: Joel Sartore
COME BACK: We’re still celebrating our 5th Anniversary! Green News Update will share favorite stories and series from the 340 stories, hundreds of books, and over 2,000 photos we have published over the past five years.