Heroes of Sustainability: Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau“Thank God men cannot fly, and waste the sky as well as the earth.” — Henry David Thoreau

Today, Henry David Thoreau is remembered best for writing Walden, but he did much more than live in a cabin in the woods alone. Thoreau was a naturalist, abolitionist, pencil maker, teacher, conservationist, philosopher — and that’s just scratching the surface.

Born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau was surrounded by influential thinkers still famous today, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott. As Concord grew, Thoreau worried about its expansion.

“Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of 500 or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation,” he wrote.

Back to Basics
Thoreau believed in simplicity above all, and lived that philosophy throughout his life, particularly as he was working on Walden. Wastefulness was not something he tolerated, as he saw the connection between materialism and the destruction of the environment. “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?” he once said.

At his core, Thoreau loved nature. Indeed, he kept meticulous journals about what he saw outside, from bird migration to plant growth to the water levels in Walden Pond. He advocated for recreational hiking and canoeing before that was popular, and he studied how forests regenerated after fire. Keeping the wilderness wild was something he consistently argued for. “What would human life be without forests, those natural cities?” he wrote.
More Than a Century Later
An early environmentalist, Thoreau has influenced the modern-day environmental movement with his thoughts on social responsibility, resource efficiency, living as simply as possible, and the impact humans have on nature. He’s also had an influence on how we think about national forest preserves and the destruction from dams. Fellow Heroes of Sustainability Edward Abbey and John Muir have cited Thoreau as an influence, along with dozens of other notable personalities.

Today, The Walden Woods Project carries on his mission, as they work to keep the forest surrounding Walden Pond intact, instead of letting the area turn into an office park or condominiums (as have been proposed). In addition, the Don Henley–founded nonprofit organization works to preserve Thoreau’s literature and legacy, which you can learn more about here.


Heroes of Sustainability: Jeff and Heather Barrie

Jeff Barrie

Jeff Barrie

Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest impact — that’s the motto of Jeff and Heather Barrie, the husband-and-wife team behind the award-winning film Kilowatt Ours: A Plan to Re-Energize America.

Documentary filmmaker Jeff has been producing independent films since 1993, all related to the goal of showing how people can be part of the solutions to the environmental challenges our planet faces.

A ‘Filmic Jewel’
In Kilowatt Ours, Jeff puts a spotlight on the dangers of coal-generated power and shares how simple changes such as switching incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, using Energy Star appliances, installing adequate insulation, and locating and sealing leaks in air duct systems can have significant results. These changes can result in reduced carbon footprints, along with hundreds of dollars saved on home energy annually, and potentially millions of dollars in savings for businesses and communities.

Heather, an artist and musician, came into the fold in 2000, when she met Jeff at a coffee shop. With Kilowatt Ours, she provided creative input, moral support, and meals (always helpful!), along with becoming part of the focus as she and Jeff worked to find energy solutions in their own home.

The film started airing on public television stations in 2008, has been viewed in schools by more than 5,000 students, and has been screened in 1,000-plus communities. It’s won numerous awards, including Best Documentary Feature at the South Dakota Film Festival and Best Environmental Film at the Southern Appalachia International Film Festival.

Kilowatt Ours CoverKilowatt Ours is the rare environmental filmic jewel — it is well made, filled with just enough facts and figures to galvanize people to action, good for all ages, humorous and extremely accessible,” says a GreenMuze review. “Kilowatt Ours is The Inconvenient Truth of energy. A must-see film for every person in North America.”

Ordinary Citizens
The Barries practice what they preach. They line-dry their children’s organic cloth diapers, pay attention to their thermostat settings, use ceiling fans, and unplug electronic devices that aren’t in use. Those may all seem like small things, but the couple is able to keep their electric bills at half the national average, despite the fact that they live in Tennessee, which has a higher average electricity usage rate than other parts of the country.

Wondering what other tips they have? Check out a short video they made of home tips here.

Perhaps best of all, the Barries say that working together toward a common goal of conservation and learning to compromise and negotiate with each other has helped to keep their marriage strong.

Kilowatt Ours helps ordinary citizens take an active role in energy conservation,” Jeff says. “Most viewers are shocked at the scope of the issue and even more so at the immediacy and simplicity of the solution — energy savings as an energy source.”

For more information on the Barries and the film Kilowatt Ours, visit KilowattOurs.org.