In an era in which government has been either broke, indifferent or actively hostile to environmental causes, a band of visionaries – inventors, philanthropists, philosophers, grassroots activists, lawyers and gadflies – have been using their wealth, their energy, their celebrity, and their knowledge of the law and science to persuade, and sometimes force, this country and the world to take a new direction. They use lawsuits, charitable foundations, land trusts, mass protests, armies of school children and billions in corporate profits. They use pictures of beached whales and videos of starving polar bears and murals revealing vast fields of stumps where towering pine forests once stood. They use anger and fear, and they use hope.
They are following in the tradition of Rockefeller and Carnegie and the storied initiatives that saved Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Tetons from the bulldozer and the Grand Canyon from the dams. Their goals are to save wilderness and rain forests from destruction. To slow the rising tide of mass extinctions and to “re-wild” large swaths of land and migratory corridors where development has long intruded. They are pushing new (and old) green technologies, farming methods and sources of energy, beginning the process of weaning the country and the world from the fossil fuels that drive global warming, whether government leaders like it or not. They seek to show, in deeds and words, that it is possible to strike a better balance between consumption and conservation and still prosper – to save the world, piece by piece, species by species, place by place.
They are the Eco Barons.
Their ranks include Doug Tompkins, the founder of the North Face and Esprit, who gave up his fashion empire and his wealth to save more rain forest than any other person on the planet, rivaled only by his wife, Kris, the former CEO of Patagonia; Professor Andy Frank, inventor of the plug-in hybrid car, who has been alternately wooed and snubbed by Detroit for decades; Peter Galvin and Kieran Suckling, ex-Forest Service owl counters and founders of the most effective environmental organization you’ve never heard of, the Center for Biological Diversity, who, in the landmark polar bear endangered species case, finally got the Bush Administration to acknowledge that global warming exists; and Terry Tamminen, a Malibu pool cleaner-turned-environmental guru who formulated California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s game-changing climate change law.
These are the sorts of people and efforts that this blog will focus upon. And they are at the heart of my upcoming book, Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers & Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet, arriving in March from ecco/Harper Collins.
Here’s a short excerpt.