One of the world's most distinguished scientists, E.O. Wilson is a professor and honorary curator in entomology at Harvard. In 1975, he published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a work that described social behavior, from ants to humans.
Drawing from his deep knowledge of the Earth's "little creatures" and his sense that their contribution to the planet's ecology is underappreciated, he produced what may be his most important book, The Diversity of Life. In it he describes how an intricately interconnected natural system is threatened by man's encroachment, in a crisis he calls the "sixth extinction" (the fifth one wiped out the dinosaurs).
With his most recent book, The Creation, he wants to put the differences of science- and faith-based explanations aside "to protect Earth's vanishing natural habitats and species ...; in other words, the Creation, however we believe it came into existence." A recent documentary called Behold the Earth illustrates this human relationship to nature, or rather separation from an originally intended human bond with nature, through music, imagery, and thoughtful words from both Christians and scientists, including Wilson.
Willie Smits: How to Restore a Rainforest
Willie Smits works at the complicated intersection of humankind, the animal world and our green planet. In his early work as a forester in Indonesia, he came to a deep understanding of that triple relationship, as he watched the growing population of Sulawesi move into (or burn for fuel) forests that are home to the orangutan. These intelligent animals were being killed for food, traded as pets or simply failing to thrive as their forest home degraded.
Smits believes that to rebuild orangutan populations, we must first rebuild their forest habitat -- which means helping local people find options other than the short-term fix of harvesting forests to survive. His Masarang Foundation raises money and awareness to restore habitat forests around the world -- and to empower local people. In 2007, Masarang opened a palm-sugar factory that uses thermal energy to turn sugar palms (fast-growing trees that thrive in degraded soils) into sugar and even ethanol, returning cash and power to the community and, with luck, starting the cycle toward a better future for people, trees and orangs.
"This man has dedicated his life to saving the world, and for this he earns our deepest respect." Jean Kern, Ode
Sylvia Earle's TED Prize Wish to Protect our Oceans
Sylvia Earle, called "Her Deepness" by the New Yorker and the New York Times, "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress and "Hero for the Planet" by Time, is an oceanographer, explorer, author and lecturer with a deep commitment to research through personal exploration.
Earle's work has been at the frontier of deep ocean exploration for four decades. Earle has led more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving more than 6,000 hours underwater. As captain of the first all-female team to live underwater, she and her fellow scientists received a ticker-tape parade and White House reception upon their return to the surface. In 1979, Sylvia Earle walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since. In the 1980s she started the companies Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies with engineer Graham Hawkes to design and build undersea vehicles that allow scientists to work at previously inaccessible depths. In the early 1990s, Dr. Earle served as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. At present she is explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society.
Sylvia Earle is a dedicated advocate for the world's oceans and the creatures that live in them.Her voice speaks with wonder and amazement at the glory of the oceans and with urgency to awaken the public from its ignorance about the role the oceans plays in all of our lives and the importance of maintaining their health.
"We've got to somehow stabilize our connection to nature so that in 50 years from now, 500 years, 5,000 years from now there will still be a wild system and respect for what it takes to sustain us." Sylvia Earle
Jason Clay: How Big Brands Can Help Save Biodiversity
Jason Clay's ideas are changing the way governments, foundations, researchers and NGOs identify and address risks and opportunities for their work. He brings people together to improve environmentally sensitive practices in agriculture and aquaculture. Jason's goal is tocreate global standards for producing and using raw materials, particularly in terms of carbon and water. He has convened industry roundtables of retailers, buyers, producers and environmentalists to reduce the key impacts of producing soy, cotton, sugarcane, salmon, shrimp, mollusks, catfish and tilapia.
Clay ran a family farm, taught at Harvard and Yale, worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and spent more than 25 years working with human rights and environmental organizations before joining WWF in 1999"Our goal is to figure out how to produce more with less land, less water and less pollution, so we won't be the only species left living on this planet."
Nalini Nadkarni on Conserving the Canopy
Nalini Nadkarni has spent two decades climbing the trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon and the Pacific Northwest, exploring the world of animals and plants that live in the canopy and never come down; and how this upper layer of the forest interacts with the world on the ground. A pioneering researcher in this area, Nadkarni created the Big Canopy Database to help researchers store and understand the rich trove of data she and others are uncovering.
Nadkarni teaches at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, but her work outside the academy is equally fascinating -- using nontraditional vectors to teach the general public about trees and the ecosystem. For instance, she recently collaborated with the dance troupe Capacitor to explore the process of growth through the medium of the human body. In another project, she worked with prison inmates to grow moss for the horticulture trade, to relieve the collecting pressure on wild mosses. The project inspired in her students a new reverence for nature -- and some larger ecochanges at the prison.
She's the author of Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees.
"Nalini Nadkarni explores the many subtle and extraordinary ways that people rely on trees for the products they yield, the imagery they invoke, and the ecosystems they support." Jade Leone Blackwater, Brainripples
Corneille Ewango is a Hero of the Congo Forest
Corneille Ewango grew up in a family of poachers and hunters -- it was simply a way of life in his village. But when he got the chance to go to school, he found a new mission -- to study and preserve the flora and fauna of his region, the Congo Basin forest. In his passion for the forest, Ewango found himself an unwitting hero, taking bold steps to secure its resources and convince warring parties to leave it in peace.
The Congo Basin's great forests are under pressure from many angles. Settlers look here for fresh farmland; miners look for deposits of valuable col-tan; and soldiers fight over the forests both as territory to be won and as a resource for bush meat (from the threatened okapi) and cooking charcoal. It's home to families of pygmies and herds of okapi -- and a treasure house of green, growing things.
Ewango won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005 for his work at the Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a World Heritage Site. He's now studying in the United States.
"A man who’s seen more hardship and done more hard work that most of us could ever imagine." Ethan Zuckerman, My Heart's in Accra
Romulus Whitaker: The Real Danger Lurking in the Water
Romulus Whitaker's boyhood fascination with the snakes near his home in Bombay has developed into a career of getting up close with some of the world's most venomous creatures. In 1972, Whitaker founded India's first snake park, in Madras, with support from the World Wildlife Fund. Later he founded the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust Centre for Herpetology to re-establish three species of crocodiles that were nearing extinction. The bank now houses 3,000 crocodiles of 15 species. Currently, Whitaker is focusing on the Gharial crocodile, whose species has less than 250 members left in Indian waters.
At age 65, he shows no sign of slowing down. “The Dragon Chronicles,” filmed in 2008 for PBS's series Nature, shows Whitaker cave-diving in ice-cold water for Slovenian olms, climbing trees in pursuit of flying lizards in the Western Ghats, and Komodo dragon-wrestling in Indonesia. Awarded the 2005 Whitley prize, Whitaker used the £30,000 purse to start the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, the first to be built along the whole 1,000km length of the Western Ghats. He uses the research station to study king cobras in their natural habitat.
"I’m 65 years old, and instincts (and some well-meaning friends) say I should slow down and maybe take it a little easier, but how can I? Romulus Whitaker
Jonathan Drori: Why We're Storing Billions of Seeds
Jonathan Drori has dedicated his career to media and learning. As the Head of Commissioning for BBC Online, he led the effort to create bbc.co.uk, the online face of the BBC (an effort he recalls fondly). He came to the web from the TV side of the BBC, where as an editor and producer he headed up dozens of television series on science, education and the arts.
After almost two decades at the BBC, he's now a director at Changing Media Ltd., a media and education consultancy, and is a visiting professor at University of Bristol, where he studies educational media and misperceptions in science. He continues to executive produce the occasional TV series, including 2004's award-winning "The DNA Story" and 2009's "Great Sperm Race." He is on the boards of the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Woodland Trust.
"How can you get Segway inventor Dean Kamen to stammer in astonishment? Tell him, as Jon Drori did during a talk called “Why We Don’t Understand as Much as We Think We Do,” that [many] MIT graduates, like the rest of us, can’t figure out how to light a bulb using a battery and a wire." Wired.com
Edith Widder: The Weird, Wonderful World of Bioluminescence
A specialist in bioluminescence, Edith Widder helps design and invent new submersible instruments and equipment to study bioluminescence and enable unobtrusive observation of deep-sea environments. One of these instruments, the Eye in the Sea observatory, has produced footage of rare sharks, squid and never-before-seen bioluminescent displays.
In 2005 she founded the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), which is dedicated to protecting aquatic ecosystems and the species they sustain through the development of innovative technologies and science-based conservation action.; In an effort to protect and revitalize the ocean she loves she has been focusing on developing tools for finding and tracking pollution -- a major threat to all of our water ecosystems and ultimately to human health. She was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2006.
"One of the remarkable things about Edie is that, for a biologist, she is the most technologically savvy scientist I’ve ever come across." Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California
Daniel Pauly: The Ocean's Shifting Baseline
Daniel Pauly heads the Sea Around Us Project, based at the Fisheries Centre, at the University of British Columbia. Pauly has been a leader in conceptualizing and codeveloping software that’s used by ocean experts throughout the world. At the Sea Around Us and in his other work, he’s developing new ways to view complex ocean data.