The 17th annual Heinz Awards were announced this week, with the awarding of $100,000 each to 10 individuals who are working toward real and inspirational solutions for environmental problems. It's one of the most prestigious prizes of its kind. Past recipients have included NASA climate scientist (and advocate) James Hansen, Amory Lovins, chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and journalist Elizabeth Kolbert.
"At a time when so much of our public discourse is about constraints and the limits of possibility, these men and women offer an inspiring reminder that change always comes from those who see past today's boundaries to a world of new possibilities and new discoveries," said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. "Their ingenuity and persistence is a refreshing reminder of America's can-do spirit, which is as alive today in innovators like this as it has ever been. They offer us practical, real-world ideas for how to protect our environment, and their innovative spirit offers us a powerful and much-needed antidote to the idea that our country is no longer capable of greatness."
This year's winners are (in the words of the Heinz Foundation):
John Luther Adams, Independent Composer (Fairbanks, Alaska)
Referred to as the "environmental composer," John Luther Adams' works written for orchestra, ensembles, percussion and electronic media often reflect the environmental, cultural and spiritual elements of the sweeping, vast wilderness of Alaska. Adams connects millions of Americans to nature through his music. He garnered national attention when he partnered with geologists and physicists to create a groundbreaking sound and light exhibit, which gave voice to the rhythms of the earth. He assigned notes to seismic activity, the sun and the moon, using live data feeds from five Alaskan seismic stations. He has influenced a wave of young composers and he is representative of those in the arts who are trying to find ways to translate and reflect the importance of the environment. Alex Ross of The New Yorker called Inuksuit "one of the most rapturous experiences" of his listening life. Adams has served as a composer-in-residence with the Anchorage Symphony, the Anchorage Opera, the Alaska Public Radio Network, and as the principal percussionist for the Fairbanks Symphony and the Arctic Chamber Orchestra. (His latest recording is Four Thousand Holes ($16.75 at amazon.com)
Richard Alley, The Pennsylvania State University (University Park, Pa.)
Richard Alley is an international leader in climate and polar ice studies. He broke open the field of abrupt climate change when he discovered that the last Ice Age came to a quick end over just a three-year period. Alley and others removed two-mile long polar ice core samples in Greenland and in Antarctica to study climate history and elements that lead to climatic changes. He regularly testifies before congressional committees and policymakers on climate change. At Penn State, Alley has received awards for teaching non-scientists and for engaging advanced students in the rigorous study of climate and ice physics. Earlier this year, he hosted a PBS special on climate change and sustainable energy called Earth: The Operators' Manual and authored the companion book by the same name ($17 at amazon.com).
Janine Benyus, Biomimicry Institute and Biomimicry Guild (Missoula, Mont.)
Janine Benyus introduced many people to a new way of thinking about design engineering, advocating the creation of sustainable solutions by emulating nature's own designs, processes and strategies to solve real-world problems with the publication of her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature ($8.90 at amazon.com). Since then, she has worked with NASA, corporations, universities, design groups, architectural firms and non-profit organizations to offer insight into how their products and manufacturing methods could be improved by borrowing from nature's forms and functionality. She created a groundbreaking database called Ask Nature, which contains nature's answers to many complex design challenges. Visitors can see how organisms filter air and water, gather solar energy and create non-toxic dyes and glues.
Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, Wicked Delicate Films, Truck Farm and FoodCorps (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
As best friends at Yale University, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis were among a group who pioneered a new college dining system, reconnecting students to New England agriculture and sourcing local, sustainable foods for school cafeterias. Following graduation, the duo set out for Iowa to examine the political and agricultural origins of American obesity. The resulting documentary, King Corn ($9.50 at amazon.com), directed by Aaron Woolf, received a Peabody Award and was screened by members of Congress as they debated the 2007 Farm Bill. To illustrate that you can grow vegetables anywhere, their whimsical documentary Truck Farm ($15 at amazon.com) chronicles the transformation of Cheney's 1986 pickup into an edible, mobile garden. Truck Farm inspired a national fleet of 25 farms-on-wheels teaching schoolchildren about healthy eating. Most recently, they helped establish FoodCorps, a national organization spearheaded by Ellis that places recent college graduates into high-obesity, limited-resource communities for a year of public service transforming school food. And a new documentary, directed by Cheney, will explore the role of food in reviving urban waterfronts.
Louis J. Guillette, Jr., Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston, S.C.)
Louis Guillette is internationally recognized for his research on the effect of chemicals on reproductive anatomy, genetics and physiology of wildlife. By exhibiting how alligators can function as sentinel species for environmental contaminant exposure, Guillette's research gives insight into how toxic chemicals may impact human health. He has served as an expert witness to the U.S. Congress and as a science policy adviser to governmental agencies regarding environmental contamination and health. As a teacher and mentor he has been recognized for his work in the field of comparative reproductive biology and developmental endocrinology. Guillette is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a professor of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and has received honorary professorships from institutions in Japan, the Philippines, South Africa and South America.
Joan Kleypas, National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder, Colo.)
Joan Kleypas has conducted seminal research on how changes in temperature and in seawater chemistry and acidity have impacted coral reefs. She has also identified ways to bolster coral reef health so that the critically important ocean organisms can survive climate changes. She was a member of a National Academies of Science committee that produced a 2010 report Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenge of a Changing Ocean, ($26 at amazon.com) and has led many efforts to bring climate change and ocean acidification to the attention of scientists, the public and policymakers. Her testimony before Congress in 2009 on the threat of ocean acidification to marine ecosystems helped to ensure the passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act.
Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History,
Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.)
Nancy Knowlton has had a lifelong focus on the ecology, evolution and conservation of coral reefs. She leverages the best and most current science to help seek protection for the ocean. Knowlton founded the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a model for interdisciplinary education around the world. She chaired the synthesis panel of the World Bank's Coral Reef Targeted Research Program which, for the first time, coordinated the skills and resources of many of the world's leading coral reef scientists. She also co-led the Census of Coral Reefs, part of the 10-year Census of Marine Life, an effort that documented the vast biodiversity sheltered by coral reefs. In her 2010 popular book Citizens of the Sea: Wondrous Creatures from the Census Marine Life ($16.80 at amazon.com), she portrayed the unique qualities of ocean creatures and the threats that they face, using a mixture of humor and passion. Her ongoing Beyond the Obituaries project celebrates success stories in ocean conservation, providing an alternative to the narrative of doom and gloom.
Nancy Rabalais, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (Chauvin, La.)
Nancy Rabalais has been the driving force behind identifying and characterizing the dynamics of the low-oxygen area or "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico the largest dead zone affecting the United States and second largest worldwide. Because dead zones can significantly impact regional fishing economies and the health of coastal environments, Rabalais' work is key to restoring oceans so that both marine and human life can thrive. In 2000, she led one of six research teams in a scientific assessment of the dead zone, connecting it to nutrient runoff originating from the vast farming areas of the Mississippi watershed. Rabalais is addressing the impacts of the 2010 Macondo oil spill on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico. She is constantly working to keep the issue of ocean dead zones in front of the public by testifying before Congress, educating state environmental officials and working with the media. Her work was featured in the 2010 public television documentary Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story.
Sandra Steingraber, Ithaca College (Ithaca, N.Y.)
Sandra Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer at 20 after growing up in an area polluted by industrial toxins. She has dedicated her career as a biologist and ecologist to finding links between toxic chemicals and diseases, as well as urging the government to protect its citizens. She has authored numerous books about her personal story and scientific research that have reached millions of Americans. Her book, Living Downstream ($11.20 at amazon.com), was made into a full-length documentary in 2010. With the recent publication of Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis ($17.15 at amazon.com), Steingraber demonstrates how the world of parenting and childhood staples such as milk and pizza can be sources of toxic exposure.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.