Chris Johns: A vital voice for protecting our planet
As a photojournalist, Chris Johns fell in love with the wild places he captured on film for National Geographic. As editor in chief of the magazine since 2005, he has to see the world through a wider lens.
“We give voice to the magnificent landscapes and species that aren’t heard,” Johns says. But Geographic also shines light on endangered environments: “Every month we try to balance the wonder and the worry.”
Last month, National Geographic devoted an entire issue to water. In the United States, we take water for granted, Johns says, but almost a billion people in the world don’t have access to clean water. To illustrate the shrinking of glaciers in Asia—the source of water for many of the world’s great rivers—Johns pulls a picture of Mount Everest’s East Rongbuk Glacier in 1921 from the Geographic archives, comparing it with an image of the same site today.
The magazine’s grounding in scientific exploration contributes to its credibility, Johns says. But his challenge is to cover issues such as global warming in smarter, surprising ways.
“How does National Geographic do it?” judges of the National Magazine Awards asked when Geographic won a 2008 award for general excellence. “With photography that reveals wondrous and often threatened corners of our planet and reporting that is both intrepid and tough-minded.”
Johns encourages his staff to practice what the magazine preaches. People work from home on “green Fridays”; drivers of hybrids get a parking discount.
Says Johns: “It helps people feel good about working here.”
Tracy Bowen: Champion for a cleaner Potomac
“It’s amazing how little people know about the Potomac, our source of drinking water,” says Tracy Bowen, executive director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation and a leader of the campaign to clean up the river.
As part of her efforts, Bowen has persuaded 140 elected officials to sign an area trash treaty. She recruits more than 13,000 volunteers for the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup every spring. Her goal: a trash-free Potomac by 2013.
It will take a lot of community education to get there, says Bowen. But environmental education is the focus and the forte of the Ferguson Foundation. Every year, 12,000 area students come to the foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center in Accokeek, Maryland, to discover the outdoors.
Many of the kids experience “green shock,” Bowen says. It takes a couple of hours for urban children to adjust to the outdoor space. Some arrive with latex gloves, afraid to touch anything. But once they get comfortable, many experience a big shift in how they see the world and develop a new curiosity about science.
Summers at the farm are devoted to teaching teachers about the environment. Bowen’s staff also trains park rangers in educating students about the natural world.
Bowen grew up outside Detroit and was a stranger to the outdoors until a friend convinced her to go backpacking. Upon coming to Washington to work for Senator Carl Levin, she discovered kayaking and fell in love with the Potomac.
“This is great whitewater,” she says. “It’s free, and it adds so much to the quality of life here.”