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.

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Heroes of Sustainability: David Suzuki

David SuzukiDavid Suzuki’s mom cried for months when he passed up the chance at med school to instead become a geneticist. What she perceived as a loss was the world’s gain.

Suzuki has become a world leader in sustainable ecology, science, and broadcasting, winning the Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) in 2009.

The Canadian grew up exploring the world around him. “Oh, I loved that swamp behind our house,” he told CanWest News Service. “I’d come home absolutely soaked, and covered with mud, with jars with frog eggs and stuff and my mother never said, ‘Don’t come in, don’t dirty the house.’ She’d just bring me in, take my dirty clothes off and everything I showed her she treated as if it were a Nobel Prize-winning discovery: ‘Salamander eggs! Isn’t that wonderful!’”

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Heroes of Sustainability: Julius Shulman

Photo by Gerard Smulevich

Photographer Julius Shulman will forever be celebrated for his photos of midcentury Modern architecture, particularly the famous shot of Pierre Koenig’s glass-walled Case Study House #22. The way he was able to capture an architect’s vision, rendering the structures he saw through his lens so much more than just a collection of building materials, made him known throughout the world and brought the Modern design aesthetic that swept through California in the mid-20th century into the international spotlight.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Lois Gibbs

Lois Gibbs was on a mission. With just a U-Haul and her children, she left her home in New York to head to Washington, D.C., determined to start an organization that would help families living near toxic waste sites. As she left, her mom told her: “You’re forgetting you’re just a housewife with a high school education.”

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Heroes of Sustainability: St. Francis of Assisi

“My hero is St. Francis of Assisi because he understood the connection between spirituality and the environment. He understood the way God communicates to us most forcefully is through the fishes and the birds and the trees and that it is a sin to destroy those things.” — Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Sarah Susanka

In a country that values McMansions, architect Sarah Susanka has a different idea: build better, not bigger.

The England native moved to the U.S. in the early ’70s and has remained in the States since. She was baffled when she first arrived as a teenager at the fact that American homes had the same formal living rooms and dining rooms that the English homes had, yet no one used them. “Every time I went over to my friends’ houses, they all ate every meal in the kitchen — at the kitchen table,” she said in an interview with Chris O’Leary. “And I kept looking into those rooms that in my life had always been the heavily used ones and thought, ‘Well what do they do with those?’”

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Heroes of Sustainability: Vandana Shiva

For Vandana Shiva, it all started with tree-hugging — literally. It was the 1970s, and the Chipko movement, in which women in the Himalayas stood around trees to keep them protected, sparked her passion for ecological sustainability.

Now a well-known environmental activist and philosopher, the Delhi-based Shiva has authored more than 20 books and 500-plus papers in leading scientific and technical journals, becoming a leader in such areas as preserving forests, organizing women, and protecting local biodiversity. She’s fought against genetic engineering and biopiracy (patenting an idea for profit that’s been long used by indigenous cultures), helped grassroots campaigns across the globe, and started an international college for sustainable living.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Karl-Henrik Robèrt

Most people can’t claim that an idea they had has earned a royal seal of approval, but then again, Karl-Henrik Robèrt isn’t like most people.

A pre-eminent Swedish cancer scientist, Robèrt saw that the debate on sustainability was divided, with no agreement on what the scientific foundations of sustainability are.

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