Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet [NOOK Book]


From Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes comes Eco Barons, the story of the remarkable visionaries who have quietly dedicated their lives and their fortunes to saving the planet from ecological destruction.

While many people remain paralyzed by the scope of Earth's environmental woes, eco barons—a new and largely unheralded generation of Rockefellers and Carnegies—are having spectacular success saving forests and wildlands, pulling endangered species back from the brink, and ...

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Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet

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From Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes comes Eco Barons, the story of the remarkable visionaries who have quietly dedicated their lives and their fortunes to saving the planet from ecological destruction.

While many people remain paralyzed by the scope of Earth's environmental woes, eco barons—a new and largely unheralded generation of Rockefellers and Carnegies—are having spectacular success saving forests and wildlands, pulling endangered species back from the brink, and pioneering the clean and green technologies needed if life and civilization are to endure.

A groundbreaking account that is both revealing and inspiring, Eco Barons tells of the former fashion magnate and founder of Esprit who has saved more rainforests than any other person and of the college professor who patented the "car that can save the world," the plug-in hybrid. There are the impoverished owl wranglers who founded the nation's most effective environmental group and forced a reluctant President George W. Bush to admit that humans cause global warming. And there is the former pool cleaner to Hollywood stars who became the guiding force behind a worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At a time when there is no shortage of dire news about the environment, Eco Barons offers a story of hope, redemption, and promise—proof that one person with determination and vision can make a difference.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize-winner Humes (Mississippi Mud) profiles a band of idealistic environmentalists devoting their lives and fortunes to protecting nature, including such tycoons as Doug Thompson, the founder of fashion house Esprit, who now spends his millions buying up thousands of acres of land to create nature preserves, and Roxanne Quimby, creator of the cosmetics giant Burt's Bees, who is purchasing huge tracts of forests in Maine woods to "trump the real estate investor's visions of resorts, golf courses and suburban homes on clear-cut lands." But other "barons" are more David than Goliath. The Center for Biological Diversity, a cash-strapped nonprofit founded by an "owl expert, scientist and mystic" and a "former engineering student turned philosopher," is responsible for the recent campaign to fight climate change by protecting the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Engineering professor Andy Frank has spent 20 years "battling a recalcitrant [auto] industry and confused policy makers" to produce an affordable, plug-in hybrid car. Readers concerned with conservation will appreciate this optimistic if starry-eyed introduction to these little-known giants of the environmental movement. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Humes (Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul) showcases environmentalists who are saving our planet. The millionaires of the subtitle are Doug Tompkins, who put Esprit clothing profits to work protecting Argentina's Patagonia; Roxanne Quimby, who used Burt's Bees cosmetics earnings to purchase vast wild lands in Maine; and Ted Turner, whose CNN fortune allowed him to become America's single largest landowner, with 15 immense ranches managed for native species. Others featured in the book get the job done through sheer tenacity. Humes writes of a former pool cleaner who developed what became California's Global Warming Solutions Act; the professor who is the go-to guy for plug-in hybrids; and the volunteer who saved the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. Humes has written a page-turner. Although too fast-paced for much nuance, this book is full of captivating facts and well-told tales of environmentalism's human side. End notes and an appendix point the way toward more detailed sources. Best for public libraries and undergraduate collections.
—Michal Strutin

“Eco Barons reminds me of the best that journalism has to offer as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Humes has a knack for flowing the narrative in his tales as well as any fiction writer....offers welcome tales of people making positive change.”
New York Times
“ECO BARONS...offers encouraging, often inspirational, profiles of nearly a dozen would-be planet savers. . . .[Humes’] urgent message is clear: We must all strive to become “eco barons” in our own right if we are to save Planet Earth.”
Los Angeles Times
“This is a fine little book: a collection of starry-eyed portraits of environmentalists who have devoted their lives and/or fortunes to saving the Earth.”
E - The Environmental Magazine
“What [ECO BARONS] uncovers are folks who have taken their profitable businesses and turned them into seriously beneficial enterprises. . . .These profiles are lessons in the lasting power of conservation, which, even more than corporate profits, remains an essential part of the great American identity.”
Outside magazine
“Humes’ in-depth reporting makes the book stand as a solid portrait of the new face of American environmentalism.”
Booklist (starred review)
“A dramatic, insightful history of environmental conflicts and breakthroughs threaded through timely and inspiriting profiles in courage and creativity.”
Outside Magazine
"Humes’ in-depth reporting makes the book stand as a solid portrait of the new face of American environmentalism."
Bill McKibben
“I know some of the heroes chronicled [in ECO BARONS]—they are unlikely champions, but united by passion, hard work, and a willingness to think outside of conventional paths. Their stories will dramatically expand your sense of what you can do for the environment!
Terry Tamminen
“Humes is a master story teller, illuminating the compelling lives of an unlikely cast of characters who just may save us from ourselves, while inspiring us to save our planet.”
"A dramatic, insightful history of environmental conflicts and breakthroughs threaded through timely and inspiriting profiles in courage and creativity."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061972799
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,130,300
  • File size: 663 KB

Meet the Author

Edward Humes

Edward Humes is the author of ten critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including Eco Barons, Monkey Girl, Over Here, School of Dreams, Baby E.R., Mean Justice, No Matter How Loud I Shout, and the bestseller Mississippi Mud. He has received the Pulitzer Prize for his journalism and numerous awards for his books. He has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, and Sierra. He lives in California.

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Read an Excerpt

Eco Barons

Chapter One

Reaching the Summit

His friends say it makes perfect sense, this transition from the fashion world to saving the world. All the pieces were there for years, hiding in plain sight. Still, none of some ways, not even Tompkins himself...saw it coming. The metamorphosis of the CEO of Esprit fits only in hindsight, as a journey that mirrors the changing priorities, assumptions, and points of view at the heart of many executives' and corporations' greener thinking in the twenty-first century...the principal difference being that Esprit's chief image maker got there twenty years ahead of the pack.

Douglas Tompkins grew up in the village of Millbrook, New York, a Hudson Valley enclave of tree-lined roads, rolling green pastures, and large homes with horse barns and plenty of land. His ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. In 1943, when Tompkins was born into a world at war, Millbrook was already known for its moneyed inhabitants, understated country elegance, and walled estates. Today it is one of the wealthiest towns in New York state, and such diverse figures as Jimmy Cagney, Mary Tyler Moore, Katie Couric, and Timothy Leary (the apostle of LSD) have called it home.

Tompkins's mother was a decorator and his father was in the antique business...high-end, appointment-only antique dealing, which involved combing the region for museum-quality pieces and works of art in a private plane and seeing clients in their homes and galleries. If Doug Tompkins's flashes of warmth and gentleness, as well as his deep attraction to forests and nature, come from his soft-spoken mom, his most obvious trait...stern certitude...comesfrom his dad. A tough, demanding, tasteful man with a sharp eye for quality and style, the elder Tompkins expected no less from his sometimes unruly son. He presented young Doug, age ten, with a book that explained how to distinguish between good and bad specimens of Chippendale and Hepplewhite furniture...and he expected the boy to read and discuss it.

The son may have inherited the father's eye for design and style, but the antique dealer's traditionalist views and sense of order were another matter. The respected boarding school his parents chose for his high school years...Connecticut's Pomfret School, whose students would include another future eco baron, Robert F. Kennedy Jr....could not contain Tompkins. The headmaster expelled him in his senior year for rule-breaking and rebelliousness when he failed to come back after a weekend...for the tenth time. "I wasn't great on heeding authority," Tompkins says now, shrugging at the memory. "I'm still not too good at that."1

At age seventeen, at the dawn of the 1960s, he gave up on high school, taking off for Colorado to ski bum, mountain climb, and go "adventuring," as he calls it. The outdoors mattered to him most: He had started rock climbing when he was twelve in the Shawangunk Mountains, a favorite New York spot for climbers seeking a challenge, and by fifteen he was skiing and climbing mountains during family trips to Wyoming. In Aspen, he waited on tables and worked in ski shops, taking two jobs at a time during the seasonal holiday crunch, squirreling away all his money, saving for his next journey, passing himself off as older, relishing being on his own. The tips were good, but even better were the free staff lodgings, meals, and ski passes, which meant his expenses hovered near zero and the slopes were wide open to him.

After a year spent in Colorado hoarding cash, he took off for Europe, where he first climbed the Alps. Then he traipsed through the Andes in South America, making his first visit to Patagonia. Even then, eighteen and heedless, he recognized the rain forests of Chile and Argentina as special places, and he was in no hurry to leave. He stretched his money by hitchhiking, camping, and eating next to nothing while roaming the landscape. When his money finally gave out, forcing him back to the states to find more work, he did not settle back in Aspen. It was 1962, John Kennedy was the president of an America not yet tainted by assassination or Vietnam or Kent State or Watts. Where else would a young man from back East with no ties and no plans beyond making a run at the U.S. Olympic ski team go but California? He put out his thumb and headed west.

He landed on the outskirts of Tahoe City, where he found plenty of work at the ski resorts during the snowy season as a trail and mountain guide, leading to his first business venture, the California Mountaineering Service. During the summer he worked in construction or as a tree topper, taking down the big Douglas firs that were interfering with power lines and summer homes. Because the trees were so large and so close to houses, chopping them at the bottom was out of the question; tree toppers had to scale the trunks with cleats and harnesses and remove the tree piece by piece, working from the top down...difficult, dangerous, and time-consuming work, paying good money for a high school dropout.

Hitchhiking home from a job one summer day, Tompkins watched as a vivacious twenty-year-old with a blond ponytail pulled over and opened the door of her Volkswagen. Susie Russell peered out at the wiry, dark-haired Tompkins, discerning a certain rugged charm about him, though in those days, she would have offered a ride to just about any hitchhiker...everybody did back then. She was working that summer as a keno girl at the Nevada Lodge, just over the state line, where she had used a phony ID to get around the casino age restriction of twenty-one so that she could run bets and winnings back and forth from the keno tables.

Tompkins climbed in and, while introducing himself, boasted that he was a Harvard man. Russell was attractive and smart and Tompkins wanted to impress her, but he miscalculated. She had much more in common with Tompkins's real résumé than with his imagined one. Her dad had been a well-known real estate developer and San Francisco's betting commissioner back in the day of legal gambling parlors. Her mother, an artist, had complained about her headstrong daughter's embrace of the counterculture and her lack of interest in college. Susie went to several top private and public high schools in San Francisco but she, like Tompkins, left high school without her diploma: Her principal at Lowell High School said she would not be welcome at graduation because she had been "too wild" at the prom. So the lie about Harvard didn't gain Tompkins any traction...quite the opposite. Who needs a pretentious lumberjack? Susie asked, suggesting he could hop out of the car then and there. But he shook his head, and she dropped him where he wanted to go.

Eco Barons. Copyright © by Edward Humes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Plan-Buy Low, Sell Never

Pt. 1 Out of fashion

1 Reaching the Summit

2 The Empire Strikes Out

3 Lost and Found

4 Image and Reality

Pt. 2 Of Hot Spots and Hooters

5 Thinking Like AIda

6 They Never Saw It Coming

7 The Polar Bear Express

Pt. 3 Waiting for Thoreau

8 A Plum in the Wood Basket

9 Bees and Trees

10 Your Land Is My Land

Pt. 4 Lone Wolves

11 Andy Frank and the Power of the Plug

12 Can a Malibu Pool Cleaner Savethe World?

13 The Turtle Lady

14 Wild Man

Epilogue: Schemers and Dreamers

Appendix Some Resources



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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Edward Humes about Eco Barons

Q: Why does America lag so far behind the rest of the industrialized world in the global warming battle?

A. It's difficult for Americans to view our country as failing to lead the world in vital areas, but when it comes to reigning in global warming and fossil fuel dependence, we have truly relinquished our role as world leader - technologically, politically and morally. Even China has more stringent automobile fuel efficiency standards. Part of the problem is the amorphous nature of global warming - it is slow, inexorable, not easy to perceive as a clear and present danger, lacking the immediacy of a terrorist attack or a hurricane. Global warming is more like cancer - insidious, systemic, creeping below the radar, a slow-motion disaster, and therefore easy to ignore or dismiss. Another part of the problem is the sort of lifestyle change required by a commitment to slowing global warming: less reliance on driving cars and more use of public transportation, walking and biking; a resurgence of local rather than global economies (remember when we only ate fruits and vegetables in season?); denser real estate development and less sprawl; architecture that emphasizes energy efficiency rather than aesthetics; composting toilets rather than flushing with water. It's a long list, and most of us have shown little appetite for such disruptive change. Meanwhile, we remain the most wasteful country in the world in terms of per capita energy use and production of waste; we lag far behind Mexico, to cite just one example, on the simple matter of switching out inefficient incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs.Finally, there is the attitude that Ronald Reagan brought to Americans: his notion that government is the problem, not the solution. For the last three decades, this has resonated with the country's sprit of individuality, but it also ignores the fact that government programs such as the WPA, Social Security, Medicare, public schools, and the World War II-era GI Bill played the dominant role in fostering the prosperity, home ownership, widespread college education, and expansion of the middle class we now take for granted. Just as it required a robust government role to open up the housing market and the colleges after World War II, to reach the moon in the sixties, and to save creatures like the Bald Eagle in the seventies, such a government commitment will again be required to defeat this new enemy, global warming. Market-based solutions will help, but just as they are not enough to win a war, neither will they stop the worst effects of climate change. Burt's Bees founder and Eco Baron Roxanne Quimby told me she believes Americans will have to experience a humbling climate-based disaster of epic proportions before we wake up and take action. She may be right, but I hope not.

Q: Eco Baron Terry Tamminen developed a groundbreaking climate change program in California that tackles fuel efficiency, tailpipe emissions, alternative energy, water quality, and pollution. This sweeping plan has subsequently been copied by many other states. Can his model work on a national level?

A: It is working on a national and international level (California and other states are joining cap and trade programs with Canada and Europe), as a majority of states, tired of inaction and obstruction by the Bush Administration, essentially sidestepped Washington in the global warming battle. But concerted federal action is required as well, and with so many states on board and a new president in the White House, the tensions that existed between the states and the feds on the issue have rapidly faded.

Q: An Eco Baron like Carole Allen, a widowed single mom who took on the powerful shrimping industry to save a rare sea turtle, shows that ordinary folks can make a tremendous difference. Along those lines, what steps can every American take to save money and lower his or her carbon footprint?

A: Here's ten good ones, courtesy of Terry Tamminen:

1. Adjust your thermostat by two degrees (cooler in winter, warmer in summer), to save one ton of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

2. Switch out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents and save three hundred pounds of greenhouse gases per bulb. Switching ten bulbs saves 1.5 tons of greenhouse gases and cuts the household electric bill by seventy-five dollars a year.

3. Insulate your hot water heater with a simple thermal "jacket" and save 550 pounds of greenhouse gases a year.

4. Replace air-conditioner filters to save 350 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions a year.

5. Unplug "vampire" electronics that suck up electricity even when turned off - TVs, VCRs, DVD players, cable boxes, chargers - anything that is instant-on or that has a blinking light. The typical household will save a half ton of greenhouse gases just by making sure "off" is really off.

6. Wash clothes in cold water and save one ton of greenhouse gases.

7. Dry clothes on clotheslines and save nearly one and a half tons of greenhouse gases.

8. Take mass transit or telecommute once a week to save one ton of greenhouse gases.

9. Check tire inflation every week to increase fuel efficiency by three percent and save a quarter ton of greenhouse gases (as most drivers have chronically under-inflated tires, which makes the engine work harder and burn more gas).

10. Lose ten pounds - the average weight gain for Americans in the past ten years. Airlines use 350 million more gallons of jet fuel every year hauling around those extra pounds.

Bonus items to substitute where necessary: eat fresh food, not frozen (fresh consumes ninety percent less energy); eat less beef (the production of beef, pound for pound, uses up more energy than any other food); avoid bottled water and disposable grocery bags; buy local produce and other foods to avoid the 1,300 miles the average American plate travels on its way to the dinner table, using fossil fuels all the way.

More substantial steps: plant a vegetable garden, weatherize your home, install a solar water heating system or solar electric panels.
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