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By Robert Rapier on Jan 7, 2008 with no responses

50 people who could save the planet

(Also, a Barack Obama discussion in the comments following this essay).

The Guardian has just published a list of 50 people who may save us all from “stranded polar bears, melting glaciers, dried-out rivers and flooding on a horrific scale.” Some of the names certainly belong on the list, and some left me shaking my head:

50 people who could save the planet

It is pretty clear to me that the author couldn’t really distinguish between what is complete hype, and what may actually work. Some will get a kick out of seeing Amory Lovins on the list. Especially in light of this article in Energy Tribune. Leonardo DiCaprio is also on the list, but I think he is a guy who tries hard to walk the talk. I put him in the same category as Ed Begley, Jr. Here is what they wrote about DiCaprio:

Combining the diametrically opposed worlds of the A-list Hollywood star and the impassioned environmentalist is a fraught, sometimes contradictory process, but DiCaprio has pulled it off, becoming one of the world’s most high-profile campaigners.

His primary aim, he says, is to raise awareness, not to preach: “It’s not about imposing a certain belief system or a way of life on people in any economic background. It’s about just being aware of this issue – that’s the most important thing – and really trying to say, ‘Next time I vote, next time I buy something, I’m just going to be aware of what’s really going on.’ “

The first campaigning steps were taken a decade ago after he found himself the target of angry environmentalists. During the filming of The Beach, the bestselling novel about backpackers seeking a shangri-la off the Thai coast, the production team was accused of damaging a pristine beach in a national marine park – in an attempt to make it look even more “perfect” for the cameras, some palm trees were temporarily planted and sand dunes moved. Despite the authorities giving the film-makers permission, their actions made headlines around the world.

Evidently stung by the criticism, in 1998 DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which has since collaborated with the likes of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Dian Fossey Foundation to raise awareness, particularly among children, of environmental issues.

In 2000, he was the US chair of Earth Day, the annual celebration of the environment. “Enough is enough,” he told the crowd in Washington DC. “We must set an example now and move environmentalism from being the philosophy of a passionate minority… to a way of life that automatically integrates ecology into governmental policy and normal living standards. We are entering an environmental age whether we like it or not.” But it was his Earth Day interview with President Clinton on ABC News that caused the biggest ripples: ABC journalists were said to be furious that a young, heart-throb actor had been allowed to do such an important interview. The final edit of the interview itself was fairly soft in tone, but it did include questions that now seem ahead of their time – namely, about the science of climate change, the lobbying power of Big Oil, ways to decrease the use of SUVs and how vulnerable New Orleans was to sea-level rises. There was even a lengthy exchange about hybrid cars, long before they became the car du jour of Hollywood stars.

As DiCaprio’s acting career matured, he continued his parallel life as an environmental activist, speaking at colleges and campaigning on behalf of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. And for his new documentary, he has mustered the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki, Mikhail Gorbachev and Wangari Maathai (below) to take part. He limits his own appearance in the film – essentially a series of talking heads set against library footage – to that of host and narrator. Since its release in the US last year, it has been dubbed the unofficial sequel to Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth.

“It was a learning process,” says DiCaprio, “and I wanted to play the role of investigator – from watching documentaries at a young age, from seeing films on rainforests in Brazil and really appreciating the beauty of our planet, and then learning more and more about human impact and wanting to do something about it.”

His next eco-project is already in production – he’s a producer for a Discovery Channel show called Eco-Town, which records how a Kansas town devastated by a tornado in 2006 attempts to rebuild itself as a “model of green living”.

Some other notable names on the list were Al Gore, Angela Merkel, Craig Venter, and Cormac McCarthy. You may not recognize McCarthy’s name, and I wouldn’t have two weeks ago. He is the author of The Road, which was recommended to me over Christmas. It was very disturbing.

Vinod Khosla did not show up on the list, which was surprising to me given some of the people who were on the list. In a couple of years, I intend to be on it. :-)