Stephanie Meeks, 43: Land and water conservationist
“We’ve become a broker for conservation.”
Meeks, acting president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, is working to reinvigorate the 57-year-old organization with an ambitious goal: By 2015, she plans to help double the number of conservation lands worldwide.
Why is the Nature Conservancy focusing so much attention abroad? The majority of the world’s biodiversity is outside of the United States. The world is expanding its footprint in terms of industry, housing, and agriculture. Biodiversity loss is accelerating.
How can the Nature Conservancy help? We have a robust fundraising program. We’ve been working on how to leverage that asset for our international program. We’ve asked every state program to adopt a fundraising goal for conservation work outside the United States. For example, our program in Colorado has developed a relationship with Mongolia because they share a grassland type.
How has the Nature Conservancy stayed relevant in a field flooded with conservation groups? We’re not competing with those organizations; we’re recognizing what role the Nature Conservancy can play. We’re bringing groups together.
What place do you love most? I grew up in Colorado, and I have to say it’s still one of my favorite places. When I want to recharge, that’s where I go.
Craig Venter, 61: Geneticist
“When we first proposed this research, people thought we were crazy.”
Venter, the biologist who raced the government to sequence the first human genome, wants to end America’s dependence on foreign oil. After taking his yacht on a three-year research trip around the world, he says the ocean may hold the key to alternative fuel sources.
Why did you decide to study the ocean? My major form of recreation is on the water, boating and fishing and sailing and surfing, so I may be more aware of the ocean than most people. After sequencing the human genome, I had the privilege to look around at what I thought were the most important problems facing humanity. What we’re doing with fuels I consider number one on the list.
Any exciting developments? We recently announced a major deal with BP that will look at microbes for converting surface carbon, including oil and coal, into much cleaner-burning natural gas.
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Not a card-carrying one. I like jet travel and cars and motorcycles and boats. I want to get to a place in science so we don’t have to go backward in society—stop traveling or communicating—because of the way we’ve been generating energy.
What drives you? Curiosity. Wanting to make a difference. Wanting to apply the best of science to help humanity survive.
Richard Carroll, 55: Wildlife biologist
“When you make yourself still, it’s amazing what appears before you.”
Carroll, managing director of the Congo Basin, Namibia, and Madagascar division of World Wildlife Fund, has been protecting gorillas in the Congo Basin for more than 20 years. Today, thanks in large part to Carroll, almost 40 percent of threatened forests in that region have been set aside for conservation.
Why have you dedicated your life to studying these animals? When you’re walking through the forest and you see a gorilla and catch his eye, there’s a recognition that we’re not all that different. If we can’t protect our nearest relatives, then we’ve failed ourselves.
What’s it like to hang out with a 400-pound silverback? It’s wonderful—and it can be scary. Sometimes one will come bursting out of the undergrowth and begin beating his chest. You can’t stare. You go slowly to the ground and pretend you’re feeding on leaves and act like a monkey. I’ve had a silverback right in my face for 30 minutes, smelling his hot, acrid breath, until he was satisfied that I wasn’t a threat.
What would surprise people about your work? Me. Many people think that I look like a gorilla. I have a full beard, bushy hair. I want the gorillas to recognize me when I go back.