TIME 100

The Green Heroes of the TIME 100

Tom Steyer is on the TIME 100
Steyer is one of several TIME 100 honorees fighting for the planet Harry E. Walker/MCT via Getty Images

Energy, climate, food and the environment—a number of selections from the TIME 100 are fighting for the planet

It’s that time of year again. The TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world is officially out, and while boldface names like Beyoncé, Pope Francis and Robert Redford will get most of the attention, there’s also a surprising number of figures whose influence extends to the environment. A quick rundown:

  • Tom Steyer: Steyer became a billionaire as a bold hedge-fund trader. Now the San Francisco financier is betting some of his fortune on climate change, spending tens of millions of dollars to support candidates who are willing to act on global warming—and punishing those that won’t. Suddenly the Koch Brothers have competition.
  • Katharine Hayhoe: The bubbly Texas Tech climatologist has been doing work on climate change for years, but she came to the country’s attention earlier this month when she was featured in the premiere episode of Showtime’s global warming documentary Years of Living Dangerously. What sets Hayhoe apart from most climatologists is her faith: She’s an evangelical Christian, and proud of it. She’s made it her mission to bring the facts of climate change to her fellow believers.
  • Alice Waters: Waters all but kicked off the locavore revolution when she opened her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse in 1971. But in recent years she’s turned her focus to children, using her pioneering Edible Schoolyard Project to push the idea that kids should be able to learn about food and farming in schools. Waters continues to change the way Americans eat—from the ground up.
  • Yao Chen: Every Chinese knows the air quality in their country is bad and getting worse. But not every Chinese is willing to say that out loud. Yao is the exception. The beloved movie star has more than 66 million followers on Weibo, China’s microblogging network, and she uses that platform to raise concerns about the country’s poisoned air and water.
  • Jack Ma: The founder of the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba, Ma has become one of China’s richest businessmen. But last year he stepped back from his business to become the chairman of the Nature Conservancy’s China program, taking on his country’s catastrophic pollution.
  • Kathryn Sullivan: NASA may get all the glory, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forms the backbone of U.S. climate and weather research. NOAA is led now by Sullivan, part of the first class of female astronauts and a veteran of three space shuttle flights—including the one that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.

 

TIME 100

TIME 100: The People in Health You Need to Know

The 2014 TIME 100 list–the annual determination of people who influenced the world in the past year for better or worse–is here, and we highlight the leaders making a difference in health.

This year, TIME recognizes nine innovators who tackled issues from hunger and maternal health to marijuana and aging.

  • Christy Turlington Burns, an ambassador for maternal health. Burns founded Every Mother Counts, which provides poor countries with health education, medicine and emergency care.

“When [mothers] are healthy, everyone thrives. Christy is helping make that happen.” –Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • Ertharin Cousin, a Chicagoan who helps feed the world. As head of the U.N.’s World Food Program, Cousin is responsible for feeding over 100 million people each year.

“Her goal is nothing short of eradicating global hunger in our lifetimes, creating a world where no child or adult knows the feeling of an empty stomach” –Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, served in the Clinton and Obama administrations

  • Aliko Dangote, doing well and doing good for Africa. Dangote is one of the richest men in Africa who also dedicates his time to ridding countries of infectious diseases.

“This year, Nigeria is on pace for its lowest number of polio cases ever. Aliko is a big reason why” –Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • Robert Lanza, in the vanguard of stem-cell research. Dr. Lanza is the chief scientific officer at the biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology, and found a way to turn adult cells into stem cells that may soon be turned into new treatments, or cures, for diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

“The controversies may continue, but thanks to Lanza the science will too.” –Alice Park, health and medicine writer for TIME and author of The Stem Cell Hope

  • José Mujica, the revolutionary who legalized pot. As Uruguay’s president, José “Pepe” Mujica signed a law making the country the first to legalize the production and sale of marijuana.

“Uruguay has embarked on a bold and fascinating experiment that will be closely watched by supporters of legalization in other countries–including myself” –Meghan McCain, co-host of Pivot’s TakePart Live

  • Arunachalam Muruganantham, an unlikely health crusader. Muruganantham designed a simple machine to make sanitary napkins after seeing how hard it was for his wife to get access to affordable ones.

“The invention has sparked interest around the world. It’s a truism for a reason: Empathy is the most revolutionary emotion” –Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap, an Indian anti-sex-trafficking organization

  • David Sinclair, bringing us closer to reversing aging. Sinclair is a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School who discovered a compound that makes old cells act young again.

“Immortality is out of reach, but living more years with a body that’s robust enough to make the most of them is a real possibility” –Dr. David Agus, professor of medicine and author of A Short Guide to a Long Life

  • Alice Waters, pioneer of good food for all. As a respected chef, Waters promotes accessible produce for everyone, including for the youngest eaters, with the Edible Schoolyard Project.

“She proved the power of a chef, showing an entire generation that one passionate person can reshape the eating habits of a nation” --Ruth Reichl, a food writer whose first novel, Delicious!, will be published in May

TIME 100

The Space Sorority

The NOAA head, former NASA astronaut, and TIME 100 honoree is one of 57 women who have been to space. See some of the other members of the great space sorority.

The first man on the moon was a character in popular culture decades—even centuries, perhaps—before Neil Armstrong actually filled the role. The assumption was that humanity would reach the moon someday, and it was simply a given that the first historic step would indeed be taken by a man. “This country should commit itself, before this decade is out,” President Kennedy declared in 1961, “to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” There was no need for the gender-neutral “landing a person on the moon,” no clumsy “and returning him or her safely to the Earth.” Astronauts were supposed to be men and they jolly well would be.

But only until they weren’t. The boys-only rule ended fast, just two years later, when the Soviet Union sent Valentina Tereshkova (slide 18) into orbit for a flight that lasted just minutes shy of three full days. In the half century since Tereshkova’s flight, 57 other women have strapped in and blasted off, representing nine different countries—most recently China. The U.S. did not join the space sorority until 1983, when Sally Ride flew, but America made up for that dallying, sending a total of 45 women into space since then. 2014 TIME 100 honoree Kathryn Sullivan (slide 1) was the first American woman to space walk. Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, a crew member on five space shuttle missions and a former resident of the International Space Station, is now a three-star lieutenant general in the United States Air Force. They have faced the same challenges as the men, experienced the same thrills as the men and, on occasion, paid the same price as the men. Four women—Christa McAulliffe, Judith Resnik, Laurel Clark, and Kalpana Chawla—died in the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

The U.S. space program is now in a state of drift, with no American vehicle currently capable of carrying human beings to space, and NASA thus dependent on the Russians to ferry our crews up to the International Space Station—at a cost of $70 million per seat. But China—as in so many other things—is a rising power in space and on June 11, sent its second female astronaut, Wang Yaping, into orbit on what is just the country’s fifth crewed mission. She was preceded last year by Liu Yang.

There was less global hoopla when Yang flew than when Ride did, and much less than when Tereshkova did. The fact that human beings travel in space continues to be—and should be—something that delights and even surprises us. The fact that women are among those explorers is, at last, becoming routine.

NASA

Astronaut’s Selfie Is Out of This World

It is terrifying

NASA astronaut Rich Mastracchio aboard the International Space Station took a seriously impressive selfie Wednesday during an EVA—short for Extra-Vehicular Activity. That’s astronaut-ese for spacewalk.

As one might imagine, the confines of a spacesuit make it difficult to snap a proper selfie, but he was able to pull it off after a few tries.

Mastracchio may win for coolest selfie ever with this one. At least we can say it’s not the coolest selfie on earth.

asteroids

No, We’re Not All Gonna Die From An Asteroid

Bullseye: A hole left in a frozen lake in Chelyabinsk, thought to have been punched out by a fragment of the meteor that struck in 2013.
Bullseye: A hole left in a frozen lake in Chelyabinsk, thought to have been punched out by a fragment of the meteor that struck in 2013. The Asahi Shimbun

A new report spreads fear about the Earth getting clobbered by a killer rock. But the fact is we get hit all the time and we just don't know it. Move on, nothing to see here (at least for now)

Tell the truth: Did you stay inside today? If you did, was any of it due to the sky-is-falling (literally), Earth-shaking (again, literally) reports that at any moment we could be hit by a city-killing meteor? According to research by Peter Brown of the Meteor Physics Group at the University of Western Ontario, since 2000, there have been 26 meteors that exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere and released the equivalent of at least 1,000 tons of TNT (1 kiloton); four of those packed a bigger punch than the 16-kiloton bomb that leveled Hiroshima.

So scary news, right? Well, not necessarily.

First of all, remember that “exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere” part? That’s no small thing. The atmosphere has been pretty effectively protecting us from harm for a long, long time. Picture the surface of the moon; now picture the surface of the Earth. That’s the difference between a world that stands exposed to the shooting gallery of space and a world that, in effect, wears a bullet-proof vest (OK, plate tectonics and volcanoes resurface the Earth and cover up craters, but not nearly enough to fix the kind of damage that’s been done on the moon).

What’s more, those 26 space rocks over the past 14 years are just the tiniest fraction of the amount of space rubble that rains down on us harmlessly all the time. According to Don Yeomans of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Near Earth Object Program Office—the NASA outfit that tracks the sky for dangerous space ordnance—about 100 tons of rocks and dust enter the atmosphere every day. Most of it is the size of a pea or even a sand grain, he says. But there’s at least one basketball-sized object each day and one as big as a Volkswagen each month—and none of them hurt us.

If the only damage a bigger space rock could do was drill a hole in the ground no larger than itself, there wouldn’t be much to worry about. But the faster an asteroid moves the more energy it’s carrying, and when that energy is released—either in the atmosphere or on the ground—it is indeed like a bomb going off. The asteroid that exploded over the Tunguska region in Russia in 1908 measured only about as far across as a football field and yet unleashed a 40-megaton (or 40 million tons of TNT) blast, wiping out trees across an 825 sq. mi. (2,136 sq. km) footprint of forest. The 2013 Chelyabinsk asteroid that also exploded over Russia, injuring 1,000 people, measured just 66 ft. (20 m) across

Yeomans calculates that his office has now has now found 95% of the asteroids 1 kilometer (.6 mi.) or larger that could do damage on a global scale—say, causing the kind of climate disruption that wiped out the dinosaurs—and 30% of the ones 140 meters (460 ft.) across that could do local or regional damage. Knowing the rocks’ trajectory gives us a chance either to deflect them or at least evacuate the area they’d hit in the unlikely event they were on a collision course with Earth. So is he worried about what Brown and his colleagues in Canada have discovered?

“They’ve taken their data and plotted it up and made it look interesting,” he says. “But there’s only one meteor [Chelyabinsk] that could have done—and did do—any damage.”

The rest? Well, we kind of knew they were there all along. It’s a little like knowing there’s only one burglary in your neighborhood every 10 years, and then learning that three would-be burglars in the vicinity are arrested every week. That’s scary, but all it means is that the police are doing their job—just like the atmosphere is doing its. What’s more, the Canadian findings were publicized in part by an independent group called the B612 Foundation that is trying to raise money for an infrared space telescope that would also hunt for dangerous objects. The people behind B612 are legitimate scientists and include two former astronauts, and NASA plans to use their data if they ever get their instrument launched, but the fact remains that they’re currently seeking backers and it never hurts to play up the stakes.

“They’re in a sales mode,” Yeomans says bluntly.

Even if the B612 group has something important to sell, that doesn’t mean the end is imminent. The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years; we’ve probably got a pretty good run left.

Environment

Lead Didn’t Bring Down Ancient Rome—But It’s Still a Modern Menace

Roman aqueducts led to lead contamination
Aqueducts like this one contaminated Roman tap water with lead Moment via Getty Images

Lead levels were high in ancient Rome's tap water—but not high enough to cause the collapse of its civilization

You could fill a book with theories on why the ancient Roman Empire declined and fell—which, in fact, is what the 18th British historian Edward Gibbon did in his magisterial Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But if you don’t have time to read the 3,000 or so pages in Gibbon’s full work, here’s one very simple theory: it was lead. Canadian scientist Jerome Nriagu published an influential 1983 paper arguing that high levels of the neurotoxin lead—which contaminated water and other beverages through lead aqueducts and lead cups—caused mental disabilities and erratic behavior among members of Roman high society. Nriagu even reviewed the personalities and habits of Roman emperors between 30 B.C. and 22o A.D.—a list that includes notorious nutjobs like Nero and Caligula—and concluded that two-thirds of them suffered from symptoms of chronic lead poisoning. It’s hard to keep an empire going when your living god of an emperor has been brain-poisoned.

An empire brought down by one of its signature innovations, the aqueduct — it’s a theory that has stuck with the public, although experts have long been skeptical of its merits. It turns out that the theory was half-right: In a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a group of French and British researchers report that the tap water in ancient Rome was indeed contaminated with lead, with levels up to 100 times higher than those found in local spring water at the time. But while Roman tap water might not have passed modern-day standards, it’s almost certain that the contamination wasn’t extensive enough to be responsible for the collapse of Roman civilization.

As lead author Francis Albarede of Claude Bernard University in Lyon told the Guardian:

Can you really poison an entire civilization with lead? I think it would take more than lead piping in Rome to do that.

Still, any amount of lead can pose a danger to the human brain, especially those of young children, so Rome’s contaminated water couldn’t have helped. In fact, the more researchers learn about lead, the more dangerous it seems—and the more important it becomes to get lead out of the environment. There’s a fascinating body of research, summed up in this excellent piece by Mother Jones‘s Kevin Drumm, that links the drastic drop in violent crime in the U.S. over the past two decades to the phasing out of leaded gasoline in the early 1970s, which greatly reduced lead levels in the environment.

The theory is that children in the 1940s, 50s and 60s were exposed to high levels of lead in leaded gasoline and lead paint. High blood lead levels are directly correlated with a loss of IQ points. But more than that, lead seems to particularly damage the parts of the brain linked to aggression control and executive function. Lead seems to affect boys more—and men, of course, make up the vast majority of violent criminals. When those lead-exposed boys became young adults in the 1970s and 80s, it wasn’t surprising that so many of them fell into violent crime. But once they aged out by the 1990s, that cohort was replaced by a generation of children who largely hadn’t been exposed to high levels of lead, and violent crime dropped.

But while most—though not all—American children are no longer exposed to high levels of lead, it’s still a major problem in poorer countries around the world. NGOs like the Blacksmith Institute are working to clean up lead contamination, though far more needs to be done. Lead may not have brought down the Roman Empire—you’ll need to go back to Gibbon for that—but two thousand years later, it’s still a public health menace.

astronomy

The Next ‘City-Killer’ Asteroid Could Be Closer Than We Think

Asteroid Hit
A February 15, 2013 photo shows a meteorite contrail over the Ural Mountains' city of Chelyabinsk in Russia. Yekaterina Pustynnikova—Associated Press

Asteroid impacts on Earth are three to ten times more common than we imagined, new data shows, with researchers saying that only “blind luck” is preventing a disastrous strike from a "city killer" asteroid

Asteroids as powerful as atomic bombs may hit the Earth more often than we previously thought.

New data shows how and where 26 asteroids collided with our planet from 2000 to 2013, according to research released in a video by the B612 Foundation.

“It shows that asteroid impacts are not rare, but actually three to ten times more common than we previously thought,” said Edward Lu, a member of the B612 Foundation, which was founded by two former astronauts to raise money for a space telescope to spot asteroids heading toward Earth.

“The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance, is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck,” he added.

B612 Impact Video 4-20-14 H264 from D Josh Rosen on Vimeo.

Opinion

Americans Flunk Science—Again

The Pine Island Glacier, twice the size of Atlanta, is calving away from Antarctica.
The Pine Island Glacier, twice the size of Atlanta, is calving away from Antarctica. NASA

Misinformation about climate change, vaccines and the Big Bang is everywhere. We can't stop people from peddling nonsense, but we can surely stop buying it.

Shhh! Listen! Hear that steady thumping? That’s the sound of scientists—particularly climate scientists—across the country pounding their heads against their desks. And at this point, that’s perfectly understandable, given a new poll released by Gallup concerning Americans’ beliefs about climate change.

The United States breaks down into three camps on the question of whether the Earth is warming and human activities are playing a significant role, according to Gallup: 39% are “concerned believers,” 36% are part of the “mixed middle,” and 25% are “cool skeptics.” And the contrarian camp is growing: The 39% concerned believer figure is the same as it was in 2001; the mixed middle group has tumbled from 49% to 36%; and that 13% difference was completely gobbled up by the naysayers, who went from 12% to 25%.

Worse, the “cool” part of the cool-skeptics rubric misstates the unanimity and intensity of their beliefs. When the respondents were asked more granular questions—exactly how much they worry about climate change; if they believe that the dangers are understated, overstated or are being fairly described; if they believe climate change poses a threat to their lives—the believers and the mixed group generally had a range of opinions, but the skeptics move in lockstep. Is climate change exaggerated? 100% say yes. Does it pose a serious threat? 100% say no. That’s the stuff of a Crimean referendum.

Look, for the 12 millionth time, nobody pretends that climate science has been completely figured out—there are plenty of holes in the models and unanswered questions. But what’s settled is that the Earth is warming, the climate is becoming dangerously volatile and human activity is a meaningful part of the cause. The mere fact that the deniers are flat wrong on this score doesn’t mean that the concerned believers are entirely correct. Fully 58% of them believe that the dangers of climate change have actually been understated—a hard case to make given some of the apocalyptic visions that come out of the louder factions of the green movement. But they’re a whole lot righter than the faction that wants to put its fingers in its ears, make a cheap and easy Al Gore joke and move on.

That, frankly, is as far as we need to go down the false equivalency road—the obligatory hedge that both sides play the misinformation game. The fact is, it’s conservatives (65% of the cool skeptic group), Republicans (80%) and men (66%) who are on the wrong side of the science, and there’s no mystery as to how we’ve gotten here. Global warming denial has become one of the core beliefs of conservative and Republican ideology, along with a handful of other positions including opposition to gun control legislation and tax increases and a near-fetishistic obsession with overturning the Affordable Care Act. If you want to play in the GOP poker game, those are the table stakes.

Tuesday’s Gallup poll comes just a day after an AP/GfK poll showing even higher rates of global warming skepticism—a dispiriting 40%. Another 51% of respondents question the Big Bang, and 15% doubt the safety and efficacy of vaccines. That last is a deadly figure—literally—because vaccination rates of up 95% are required to create the so-called herd immunity that protects entire communities. It doesn’t take much math to see the harm a 15% opt-out will do.

It ought to be a poor time to have such counterfactual beliefs. Just last month, a landmark study out of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics provided some of the strongest evidence yet for the Big Bang. Just this season, New York City and Columbus, Ohio are suffering from outbreaks of measles and mumps as increasing numbers of parents refuse vaccines for their kids. And just on Tuesday—Earth Day—an iceberg twice as big as Atlanta was calving away from Antarctica, one more dramatic step in the slow thaw of the planet’s ice cover.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for our stubbornly misinformed beliefs. All it takes is a know-nothing with a megaphone like Jenny McCarthy or oil-rich sugar daddies like the Koch brothers to spread nonsense about vaccines or global warming. But it’s facile to point the finger at them entirely. Yes, they’re peddling junk, but too many of us are still buying. Until we stop, they’ll never go away.

Saudi Arabia

Fears Rise Over MERS Outbreak While Saudis Fumble

The deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has neither no definitive origin, nor a known cure, so global public health officials are becoming increasingly concerned by the Saudi government's sluggish response as the number of human cases continues to rise

The sudden spike in cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, in Saudi Arabia came soon after camel-racing events at the Jenadriyah Festival in Riyadh. That suggested the surge in the incurable coronavirus, which resembles pneumonia but is fatal to 1 in 3 who contract it, confirmed what scientists already knew of the disease: that camels seem to be reservoirs for the virus, and transmit it to humans more easily than humans do to one another.

But with the number of cases picking up, there are worries that may be changing. And if the virus has mutated to increased person-to-person contagion, it has potentially catastrophic implications for another annual festival: the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina known as hajj. More than a million Muslims from around the globe gather in the western Saudi cities during the first week of October, then return to their home countries, which last year numbered 188. In an age when international travel has dramatically exacerbated the spread of new viruses like SARS, virologists say the mounting concern is only too clear.

The worries are aggravated by the performance of the Saudi government, which has failed to confirm whether the virus is, in fact, mutating. The Saudis have either not performed tests that would reveal the changes, or have not shared them with international authorities, virologists complain. On Monday, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah was fired amid mounting criticism of the kingdom’s handling of the budding crisis.

“It’s frustrating,” says Ian Mackay, an associate professor at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University of Queensland, who compared the Saudi handling of MERS with China’s response to the 2013 outbreak of bird flu. “With the H7N9 virus, China provided almost too much information. You worried about the privacy of some of the patients, given the level of detail that China was providing.

“But we’re seeing the complete opposite extreme in Saudi Arabia, where you can’t even get the sex of the patient in some cases,” Mackay tells TIME. “And the WHO doesn’t seem to be getting that information either.”

Indeed, the World Health Organization as good as confirmed it did not have the latest information from Riyadh in declining to comment on the outbreak on Tuesday afternoon. “Kindly be advised that we cannot comment on latest MERS figures since we do not have the latest case count,” the WHO’s media office says in an emailed reply to questions from TIME. “And we can only communicate and comment on the cases that we have been officially notified of by a member state, namely Saudi Arabia.”

Concerns that the virus may have mutated are focused on two clusters of cases among health care workers: one cluster is in Jeddah, the western Saudi city through which pilgrims pass en route to nearby Mecca. The other cluster is among paramedics in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Mackay, who noted the clusters in his blog, says he can see two possible explanations: “One is a fairly bad but widespread breakdown of infection control and prevention protocols” among the health care workers — that is, nurses or doctors failing to use gloves, surgical masks or other standard measures designed to prevent infection while working with a MERS patient. Such a breakdown would be possible even in a well-equipped and prosperous Gulf nation, Mackay noted, but for both outbreaks to take place at the same time “would be fairly coincidental.”

The other, more alarming possibility? “The other avenue is the virus has changed and become more easily transmitted between humans,” Mackay said.

That is cause for concern way beyond the Middle East. “When humans readily transmit to humans, that’s what will cause a worldwide outbreak,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told National Public Radio. “We are very concerned that … with what we’ve seen over the last two weeks … we may be at that point now.”

Whether the virus has, in fact, mutated dangerously cannot be known until the Saudis examine the genome of the latest samples of the virus and share the results. The WHO has said it is “working closely” with the kingdom, but has not issued any conclusions. Another way to find out if the virus has mutated would be if the number of cases were to skyrocket. But with only 344 cases worldwide so far — a decade ago, SARS infected at least 8,000, and killed 775 — the count remains low, and awareness is growing.

In 2013, concerns over MERS kept many as a million people away from hajj, an obligation that the Koran imposes upon any Muslim who can afford the trip. Saudi authorities discouraged attendance by the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people already suffering from chronic illness, a major risk factor for the virus. Still, more than 3 million people circulated at the holy sites for five days, at close quarters. With the risk of mass contagion in the air this year, the world may be hoping for a better reaction from Saudi Arabia than it has got so far.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of the institution that scientist Ian Mackay belongs to. He works for the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.

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