Protectors of the Planet
updated 04/21/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 04/21/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
SAVING THE FORESTS
Connie Best & Laurie Wayburn
Founders, Pacific Forest Trust, San Francisco
For the first half of her life, New York businesswoman Connie Best spent more time among skyscrapers than redwood trees. But then she moved to a cabin in Northern California and fell in love with the towering trees surrounding her home. "I connected with the beauty and complexity of them," she says.
Best quickly discovered the redwoods weren't just pretty, but useful tools in helping the environment. Trees depend for survival on carbon dioxide—one of the main global warming gases—and absorb billions of tons of it from the atmosphere. "Even a schoolchild understands that," says Best, 54. "We can use them as an ally in fighting climate change." Yet with 1 million acres of private forests leveled each year by logging or to make way for development, Best and her partner, environmental expert Laurie Wayburn, 53, realized that financial incentives were needed to save trees. Their solution? Reward owners who preserve forests rather than cut them down. Through their nonprofit, founded in 1993, the women brokered deals with landowners, keeping forests intact in exchange for tax breaks. They also helped craft laws in California that will encourage individuals or companies to buy carbon credits—aimed at offsetting greenhouse gas emissions—that benefit the forests. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently purchased such credits to compensate for pollution from his air travel, as did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Says Pelosi: "Laurie and Connie are doing for forests today what Jacques Cousteau did for marine conservation."
HARNESSING THE SUN
Director, Black Rock Solar, San Francisco
Tom Price dreams of the day his company goes out of business. That would mean that his goal of breaking the nation's addiction to petroleum has been achieved. "I'll happily take a job as a delivery man," says the Utah native, "if every community in America is using solar power."
Through his California nonprofit, Black Rock Solar, Price brings solar power—a clean and renewable source of energy—to schools and hospitals in low-income communities, freeing up funds in their budgets for books, computers and other urgent needs. "Solar power is crucial," says Price, 41, who points out that energy derived from the sun does not lead to pollution like other traditional sources. "With it we can take down the coal-and-oil economy one building at a time."
So far Price has completed three solar installations and plans to build another dozen using materials donated by energy companies, with volunteers from around the country putting them into place. One lucky recipient is the tiny town of Gerlach, Nev. (pop. 499), where Black Rock constructed a 90-kilowatt system, saving the rural school district $20,000 a year in electricity costs. "We wanted to do solar for a long time," says Bruce Deetken, energy manager for the district. "But it would have taken us 30 years to pay it off."
Price's activism was inspired by his mother, a conservationist who taught herself electrical wiring and built a greenhouse after her husband died. Added inspiration comes from Price's 5-month-old baby girl Juniper. "We can't predict the changes global warming will bring," he says, "but I want my daughter to see all the beautiful places in the world I've been able to see."
FIGHTING FOR THE MOUNTAINS
Codirector, Coal River Mountain Watch, Whitesville, W.Va.
Judy Bonds doesn't mind being called a hillbilly. In fact, it makes her feel proud. A coal miner's daughter, she loves the mountains and crystal-clear streams of her native Appalachia so much that when she noticed the creek near her home was polluted a decade ago, she was moved to tears. "I looked down and saw this sludge, thick and ugly like black soup," she recalls. "That disgusting stuff made me cry."
What Bonds witnessed that day in 1997 was toxic spill from mountain-top removal, a controversial mining method, cheaper than traditional mining, in which the tops of mountains are blasted off with explosives to get at the coal underneath. The problem, says Bonds, is that the tons of debris left over are dumped in the surrounding valleys, clogging streams and sometimes smothering them entirely. The land around Bonds' former home near Whitesville, W.Va., became so polluted that she was eventually forced to move. "When you're attacked, you fight back," says the thrice-divorced grandmother.
The next year Bonds joined the nonprofit Coal River Mountain Watch advocacy group and quickly became one of its most vocal members, denouncing the destruction of 460 mountains in her state. Her fighting spirit springs from a source that some find surprising: her deep Christian faith. "It's an affront to God to see his creation destroyed," says Bonds, a former waitress. Her group's biggest victory came in January when the Massey Energy Company, one of West Virginia's largest coal companies, agreed to pay a $20 million fine for violating the Clean Water Act. "She's a little woman with a great big voice," says conservationist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. "More than any single person, she has been responsible for the growing awareness of this environmental apocalypse."