Michael Braungart. Photo by Enith Stenhuys.
“Think about this — today the indoors air quality in most buildings is very poor, yet the insulation techniques keep improving, so by not looking at the big picture we’re effectively trapping ourselves in polluted air. My conclusion is that if you do something wrong, don’t make it perfect, otherwise you’re just making something that’s perfectly wrong.”
— Michael Braungart
Michael Braungart is driven by two big questions: How can mankind really integrate itself into life on earth? How can people be not just less harmful, but rather useful?
When working to create a new process or product, Janine Benyus recommends asking one simple question: What would nature do?
The biologist and science writer coined the term biomimicry (from bios, meaning “life,” and mimesis, meaning “to imitate”) to describe the process of taking designs from our natural environment and using them to create more-efficient and sustainable products and processes. For example, think about a plane emulating a bird, a spider’s web that’s as strong as a bulletproof vest, pharmacists studying organisms that self-medicate, and buildings that model themselves after termite mounds that maintain a constant temperature despite fluctuating heat outside.
One of the hundred most influential books published since World War II, according to The Times Literary Supplement, E.F. Schumacher’s internationally known Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered has informed thinking on Western economies since 1973.
The German-born economist and statistician was more than just a numbers guy — he was an environmental champion. In Small Is Beautiful, he argued that technological production shouldn’t mean damaging our finite natural capital and thus ruining it for future generations. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent,” he said. “It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”
“I can’t imagine something being beautiful at this point in history if it’s destroying the planet or causing children to get sick. How can anything be beautiful if it’s not ecologically intelligent at this point?” –William McDonough
When William McDonough co-wrote Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things a decade ago, it revolutionized the way we think about design. Part of that was because of the book itself — instead of being printed on paper from trees, the words were pressed onto plastic resins and inorganic fillers that feel like paper (yet are waterproof) and can easily be recycled.
Donella Meadows in 1994. Photo by Medora Hebert, Valley News.
“Speak the truth. Speak it loud and often, calmly but insistently, and speak it, as the Quakers say, to power. Material accumulation is not the purpose of human existence. All growth is not good. The environment is a necessity, not a luxury. There is such a thing as ‘enough.’” — Donella Meadows
Remembered for her contributions to systems analysis and environmental science, Donella Meadows — known as Dana to her friends — gained international acclaim when she served as lead author for The Limits to Growth in 1972.
Although writer Daniel Quinn is a well-known environmentalist, he wouldn’t categorize himself that way.
“I don’t consider myself an environmentalist,” he told EcoGeek.org. “I feel that the category itself is badly conceived, dividing the world into people who are ‘for the environment’ and people who are ‘for people,’ which is nonsense. Thus it came to be seen that ‘environmentalists’ were ‘for’ the spotted owl, while non-environmentalists were seen to be ‘for’ forestry jobs that would be lost by saving the spotted owl. The term ‘environmentalism’ emphasizes a false division between ‘us’ and ‘it’ — ‘it’ being the environment. There is no ‘it’ out there. We are all in this together. There are no two sides. We cannot survive as a species somehow separate from the rest of the living community.”
Like many people who’ve served in the military during wartime, historian, playwright, and activist Howard Zinn was irrevocably changed by his experiences in the armed forces.
The Brooklyn native flew bomber missions during World War II, during which he bombed targets in Germany, Czechoslovakia, France, and Hungary. Partly because of his experiences, he became vehemently anti-war and passionately interested in history. He later attended New York University courtesy of the GI Bill, and then went on to get a master’s and a PhD in history from Columbia University.
Harvey Lacey, a grandfatherly looking Texas inventor in his 60s, has found a simple and elegant solution to a problem that others have found to be completely unsolvable — housing the most desperately poor people on earth. Lacey teaches Haitians how to build dry, well-insulated, and sturdy dwellings made from trash. The basic element of construction is what Lacey calls Ubuntu-Blox. (“Ubuntu” means “humanity to others.”)
While the United States typically prides itself on being a country where free speech reigns and journalists are able to chase down stories without government interference, Amy Goodman doesn’t see it that way.
“In the old Soviet Union, people knew that they had to read between the lines of state-sponsored news to get to the truth,” Goodman said at an event in Philadelphia. “But in this country there is the illusion that…”
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Philippe Cousteau Jr. once told Elle magazine that “it takes more than a birth certificate to be a Cousteau.” The 30-something certainly isn’t resting on his famous name, but he is living up to it, carrying on the work of his father, Philippe Cousteau, and grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
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