As scientists and statesmen grapple with the ever-increasing effects of global warming, there are those who think that things are just fine as they are—making the job of any ecological white knight a difficult one. It is to this battlefield that Pulitzer Prize winning writer Edward Humes brings his expertise, in his new book, Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet.
The people Humes profiles in Eco Barons are trying to save us from ourselves not with an army of followers, but single-handedly. Meet Doug Tompkins, the billionaire founder of clothing giant Esprit; not content with creating an environmentally friendly corporation, he’s using his fortune to buy up large swaths of Chilean rain forest with the intent of giving it to the Chilean people as a national park.
He’s not the only one doing this kind of thing. Ted Turner, multi-billionaire founder of CNN, has bought enough land in Montana and the Great Plains to rival Yellowstone National Park. He’s torn down fences and outlawed hunting, and in the process earned the enmity (and grudging respect) of his neighbors. Like Tomkins, he wants to preserve what little wild areas we have left. On the other side of the continent there’s Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees, who is lending her considerable fortune to the preservation of the Maine woods, which is also in danger of the developer’s ax.
Humes also profiles people whose only currency is the legal system, like Peter Galvin and Kieran Suckling, founders of the Center for Biological Diversity, who have forced the government—using existing law—to do their job and protect our environment. Then there’s Terry Tamminen, a former pool cleaner turned environmentalist, whose dedication led to an appointment by California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to head that state’s EPA, and put it on the leading edge of climate change legislation.
Eco Barons is a sometimes depressing and even infuriating book; it seems that the prospect of making a profit blinds all too many to the damage they are doing. Yet Humes presents us with more than a look at people who want to change this world for the better—he presents us with hope.
James Neal Webb often walks at Radnor Lake, Nashville’s own Walden Pond.