In 2007, CNN introduced to their viewers 10 individuals – CNN Heroes – selected from public nominations – and honored them in a television special that acknowledged their extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and their communities. At the end of the televised special, viewers are invited to vote to determine CNN’s Hero of the Year. Each of the 10 individuals is awarded $10,000; the Hero of the Year receives $100,000. This year’s award program will air on December 13, 2020 at 8 pm ET, broadcast on (of course) CNN. It’s an inspiring show and illustrates how individuals make a difference to others and to our planet.
My good friend and neighbor (thank you George) recently gave me a copy of his 4Q newsletter published by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The EDF is a United States-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group and is known for its work on issues including global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans, and human health. It is nonpartisan, and its work often advocates market-based solutions to environmental problems. The cover story for this quarter’s publication identified and “saluted” Everyday Heroes that are bringing bold environmental ideas to life. The article, entitled The pathfinders, shares the efforts and accomplishments of six individuals from across the country who, with EDF’s support and involvement, make a difference – and a significant difference – in our world. The efforts of these six individuals focus on different problems: air pollution, flooding, corporate climate policies, farming, transportation, and fishing – each of which is linked to climate change. All of these problems affect us and the planet we inhabit. I’ve briefly listed some of the highlights about these six everyday heroes below. You can read the entire article in the highlighted link above.
- Catherine Flowers, a Houston mom, has mobilized 4,200 others through EDF’s affiliate “Moms Clean Air Force” to address Houston’s environmental air pollution. Her advocacy, triggered in part by the recognition of the disproportionate impacts to low-income neighborhoods, has influenced Houston’s new climate action plan and “Moms Clean Air Force” brings a voice to communities that previously had not been heard.
- Jess Whitehead, as a child in 1989, was horrified as hurricane Hugo smashed into South Carolina, and that experience influenced her decision to become an expert on extreme weather and how to help people when it occurs. She is now North Carolina’s chief resilience officer helping the state prepare for, and recover from floods, wildfires and other ravages of climate change. Working with EDF’s experts, North Carolina has created the state’s first climate risk and resilience plan and passed a law that creates new ways to fund natural flood defenses – similar to Louisiana’s recent actions to invest in flood-proofing and other initiatives.
- Christina Herman, an investment advisor for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has played an out-sized role in influencing large companies, like Coca-Cola, to initiate and implement sound environmental practices in their operations. The ICCR is a relatively small investment firm but, of the 281 shareholder resolutions it filed in 2020, 40% were withdrawn following company commitments that addressed the concern presented by ICCR. Many large companies like Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), ExxonMobil and Shell have evolved their positions as a result of ICCR and Herman’s advocacy.
- Keith Alverson, a South Dakota farmer, practices and advocates “conservative farming practices” and has emerged as a local and national advocate for responsible care of land. He believes “conservation farming is climate-smart farming” and, as an everyday hero, sets an example for his neighbors. He has contributed, through EDF, to national legislation that supports farmers and climate-friendly practices.
- Christine Weydig, a director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has been instrumental in leading that agency to convert its fleet of diesel buses at LaGuardia and Newark airports to electric ones. She’s also a supporter and advocate of EDF’s state and national efforts to address transportation – the largest source of greenhouse emissions.
- Paul Kujala, a west coast fisherman, partnered with EDF in 2000 to enact reforms to fishing practices needed to restore sustainability of several areas and to fish species and that were in danger of extinction. Today fish stocks on the west coast are healthier than they have been in 20 years and these reforms provide a model for other fisheries in the U.S. and in the world.
These individuals may not be nominated as CNN’s Heroes. Neither will most of the people – our neighbors and friends – who do admirable things for others and their community every day. But the efforts of these people illustrate how all of us can and do make a difference in our world. I admire the many people I know who choose to make a difference every day, whether it is working to help people register to vote, or volunteering to staff a voting poll location, or driving people who need medical assistance to their doctor’s office, or delivering food to those who need it, or listening to a friend that needs an ear, or building a ramp at a neighbor’s home to facilitate access, or making and delivering sandwiches for the homeless, or providing toys to fire stations to distribute to children in need, or donating time to serve on the board of a non-profit, or providing financial support to an individual that needs it, or to an organization that is doing good work and could do more with more resources.
To all of you, my everyday heroes, Thank You, for making our world and society a little better. I appreciate that your reward or recognition might not make CNN’s or EDF’s list, but to the person or group you help, it makes all the difference in the world.