Earth's Innovators Some people think outside the box. Some don't think about boxes at all. by Dashka Slater
Environmentalists aren't used to thinking of technology as an ally. After all, many of the most intractable ecological issues — global warming, persistent organic pollutants, nuclear waste — are direct consequences of human ingenuity. It's hard to avoid feeling that the planet would be far healthier if our tool-making talents had peaked with the flint ax.
But technology is an integral part of what it is to be human, and if it has gotten us into ecological predicaments, it's only fair that it should help get us out of them. That's where the six environmental innovators profiled below come in: Each tackles different problems using different tools, but what ties them together is an
appreciation of the intrinsic beauty of systems that work simply and efficiently. Nature has been inventing such systems since the beginning of time. These technological pioneers are showing us that we can learn to do the same.
Natalie Jeremijenko attributes her environmental ethos to having grown up in the "subtropical vividness" of Queensland, Australia, where tree frogs congregated around the rim of the toilet and geckos scampered across the walls. >> Read more.
Amy Smith likens her mind to an untidy dresser: "It has lots of open drawers with things falling out the edges, so that when you see something interesting, there's lots of different places you could put it." >> Read more.
Ted Sargent didn't set out to revolutionize solar technology. The 31-year-old nanotechnologist was working on creating a paintable infrared sensing material that could allow digital cameras to see in the dark or enable ultrafast fiber-optic communication. >> Read more.
Erin Gately was working in the marketing department at Hewlett-Packard when she took a workplace class on voluntary simplicity designed by the Northwest Earth Institute. >> Read more.
Dave Biggs, cofounder of the Canadian company Envision Sustainability Tools, has created MetroQuest, a computer simulation program that helps people decide what they want their region to look like 40 years from now.
>> Read more.
Jay Harman's company, Pax Scientific, applied the spiraling geometric pattern of the whirlpool to create a domestic exhaust fan that is half as noisy and three-quarters more energy-efficient. >> Read more.
Dashka Slater is a frequent contributor to Sierra.