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

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“Well written and compelling, Eco Barons gives the reader a first glimpse of the activists, philanthropists and gadflies who may well turn out to be the J.D. Rockefellers and Rachel Carsons of our time.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer


Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Humes offers readers an eye-opening look at the remarkable philanthropists and visionaries who are devoting their lives to saving the earth from overdevelopment and destruction. In Eco Barons, Humes, the bestselling author of Mississippi Mud and Monkey Girl, gives us fascinating portraits of extraordinary men and women who are dedicated to humankind’s survival—as important a contribution to the environmental cause as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. As the New York Times points out, “Humes’s urgent message is clear: We must all strive to become ‘eco barons’ in our own right if we are to save Planet Earth.”

384 pages, Hardcover

First published February 20, 2009

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About the author

Edward Humes

18 books221 followers
Edward Humes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of 16 nonfiction books, the latest being The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder. His other books include Burned, Garbology, Mississippi Mud, and the PEN Award-winning No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court. He and his family split their time between Southern California and Seattle.

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5 stars
53 (26%)
4 stars
75 (37%)
3 stars
56 (28%)
2 stars
12 (6%)
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3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 42 reviews
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
653 reviews6,939 followers
February 21, 2015

Eco Barons is a well-written and profoundly moving collection of inter-linked real-life stories that is surprisingly dramatic and engaging in its concise chronicling of the lives of these heroes who are making it their life’s work to save the planet in their own outrageous, touching and sometimes idiosyncratic, but always genuine ways.

There are thousands of  environmentalists and activists doing important work in America and around the world. But a few of them go farther—these dreamers, schemers, moguls, and coupon clippers; these eco barons. There are others out there, certainly, more all the time; this book is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is an inspiring selection. The eco barons depicted here stand out because they are  game-changers, accomplishing  something  extraordinary, raising the bar of  the possible, usually after being told that what they are attempting is impossible. They have undertaken an epic project: to set an example for the rest of us.

Their actions are their message: that there is a clear choice, a difficult choice, a right choice, and to make it is to express the faith that it is not too late to save the world—and that a new way of living can be better, healthier, smarter, and more prosperous.

The first and probably the most inspiring is the story of how the legendary Doug Tompkins, millionaire and the founder of Espirit, abandoned his sprawling fashion empire, found a rugged cabin in the middle of Eden (read Chile), and started saving and restoring paradise, one plot, one fence, and one tree at a time, conquering government antagonism, lobbyists and big industry that wanted to make concrete jungles out of these majestic old-growth forests.

The second story elaborates on two naturalists and lawyers who lived like monks and found a way to use the law to save forests, species, and clean air when no one else could.

Then is the techy tale of a professor and his students building magical cars that burn no gas and trying to redefine the doomsday trajectory plotted by Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Coal and the other leviathans and to set us on a new course. His cars are cleaner, cheaper, faster, more enduring, gives more mileage - how many more boxes do you want your dream car to tick?

Also, there is the story of a cosmetics queen who, like Doug, sold her empire and is spending her fortune to save the last great forests of Maine and having to fight every inch of the way to do it.

Not to be forgotten is the Media Mogul who gave us CNN and Cartoon Network and numerous other entertainments, who owns more land than anybody else in the country and is devoting his real estate might to trying so hard to return the land to its pristine state before humans arrived to despoil it, working step-by-step to re-wilding the lands and to reintroduce native species and to preserve a heritage fast vanishing.

Last, and seemingly the least, but still an eco-baron, is the “turtle lady” who walks along a beach inspecting turtles and single-handedly saved a species - As good a story as the traditional rags-to-riches story that makes for a newspaper headline? Shouldn’t it be?

These eco-barons see, clearly, that what we’re doing as a society is not working. Their response is not to shout about it, or lobby about it, or generate self-aggrandizing headlines about it. Their response is to do something about it, and their results have been spectacular.

Some Resources for the interested/concerned:

To Know more on the Eco-barons:

For the Internet supplement to this book, including photos of the eco barons and their projects, maps, background information, links to their individual Web sites, and more resources, visit http://ecobarons.wordpress.com.

For general environmental information, news, and advice:

Grist: Environmental News and Commentary: www.grist.org and the related blog, http://gristmill.grist.org.

Greenwash Brigade: www.publicradio.org/columns/sustainab....

The Sietch Blog: www.blog.thesietch.org.

Green Options: http://greenoptions.com.

Climate Debate Daily: Get all sides of the global warming debate at http://climatedebatedaily.com.

For advice on ‘living like an Eco-baron”:

Terrapass:  Calculate  your  carbon  footprint  and  find  green  products  at  www.terrapass.com.

NativeEnergy:  Learn  about  and  purchase  carbon  offsets  at  www.nativeenergy.com.

Service trips: Earthwatch Institute and the Sierra Club maintain lists of volunteer vacations that put you to work on conservation and public lands projects.

Earthwatch: www.earthwatch.org/expedition.

Sierra Club: http://tioga.sierraclub.org/TripSearc....

Treehugger: This environmental Web site’s How to Go Green guide offers tips on green home buying, green dishwashers, green gift buying, greening your sex life, and more at www.treehugger.com/gogreen.php.

On “driving like an Eco-baron” 

EPA Green Vehicle Guide: Learn about the greenest cars in America at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.

Plug In America: www.pluginamerica.com

Green Car Congress: News, reports, and information on sustainable transportation at www.greencarcongress.com.

The California Cars Initiative: www.calcars.org.

Drive Green: Calculate and offset the greenhouse gas emissions for your travel at www.drivegreen.com.

On “eating like an Eco-baron”

Green Daily Green Eating Guide: www.greendaily.com/2008/02/07/eating-....

Eat Well Guide: Find, cook, and eat sustainable food at www.eatwellguide.org.

Sustainable Table: Another excellent resource for local and sustainable food is www.sustainabletable.org.
30 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2010
I agree with the reviewer who complained about sloppy reporting. There were a few things in the footnotes that hinted that there was another side to some of the stories, but they were not expanded on and did not make it into the main text. The book was basically hero worship. Granted, there were definitely some inspiring people in the text, but a good writer would have idolized less. After all, if the work that these people are doing is so important, why do they need the extra bump to their reputations that omitting controversial data gives them? At the very least he could have given the data in the text and explained why he didn't feel that it had merit. I mean, go green, woo hoo, but don't expect me to check my intelligence at the door.
I also noted that the hero worship phenomena grew dramatically worse with the size of the bank accounts involved.
67 reviews7 followers
September 15, 2009
Really good book. Really interesting biographies.

The book highlights several individuals who exceed the environmental call of duty. Ordinary treehuggers, like myself, or TINO (treehuggers in name only), like Al Gore, don't make the cut.

People, like Doug Tompkins, exemplify the single-minded commitment to preservation of the world around us. He ensures the world would be a better place for all of us, no matter how foolishly we undermine his actions.

His life, arguably, personifies the maximization of rational self-interest. Interestingly enough, his self-interest entails saving the planet. Not monetary profit (ahem, Ayn Randian cultists.)

The book is both encouraging and frustrating, and a quick read yet slow. For that reason, the book gets 4 stars and not 5.

It also gets 4 stars because it promotes some of the environmental solutions that still revolve around the "worse vs. less worse" approach. The book "Cradle to Cradle", which received 5 stars, provided the win-win approach to environmental solutions. C2C's approach removes the ability of the bad actor to choose bad. If some dumbass, let's call him "Geoff W. Bush", wanted to litter, the C2C approach would have his litter, essentially, nourish the ground onto which it's thrown.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.

Though you should read and re-read "Cradle to Cradle" first and second.
Profile Image for Laura.
3,684 reviews95 followers
January 3, 2015
I've been reading good reviews for this book, which must mean that other readers have a higher tolerance for hero-worship, lack of foot-/endnotes, and generally sloppy reporting than I do. By that I mean that the dreamers, schemers and millionaires come in for unquestioning approval, while the Big Bad Other Side comes in for unremitting approbation. My guess is that there's a middle ground, and had this book been written there, it would have been far more instructive and interesting.

When I read that someone learned certain facts about a species or an area of the world, I want to know from whom? who's say-so? None of that is provided.

This trend towards "these people are great, take my word for (almost) everything I write" non-fiction is troubling.
Profile Image for Catherine.
976 reviews17 followers
July 5, 2009
Did you know that before World War I Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had plans to market electric cars, with curbside recharging stations available across the country? Some of the segments of this book were certainly more interesting than others -- besides the section on "Andy Frank and the power of the plug" I really liked the segments on "eco baronesses" -- Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt's Bees, and Carole Allen, who was instrumental in saving sea turtles in the gulf seas off southern Texas.
181 reviews
July 1, 2009
A really fun read. Thanks to Ellen for finding it and sending it to me. I really couldn't put it down, and before I knew it, I had finished. Favorite parts: the Burt's bees lady and the Center for Biological Diversity. I had no idea that the Endangered Species Act was such a big deal. After reading this book, I've decided I'm going to do a presentation on the endangered species of the area. Must read more on Deep Ecology...
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 1 book35 followers
July 25, 2011
Focus is on the U.S., (with few chapters on Chile) therefore the scope is limited. Lots of pages given to biographical sketches of successful business people, good to know for some background on how they came to be environmental champions but could be briefer. Expected more on conservation, but there are chapters on hybrid car technology, and general environmental philanthropy too - interesting but felt like a digression. The parts about Deep Ecology concept was particularly interesting for me.
21 reviews
August 10, 2011
Very informative book regarding a great group of folks trying to do their part to conserve and preserve nature. Kind of slow at times, but interesting, especially if you are a tree hugger like me. Kudos to those individuals that found their calling by being environmentalists.
Profile Image for David Biello.
29 reviews3 followers
July 19, 2009
the best way to save the earth is apparently making a lot of money exploiting it, then feeling bad about it and reforming your ways. ecce eco barons!
Profile Image for Fiona.
628 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2013
Good book about people who have improved the planet with their conservationism. Even though the title says "millionaires", not all the people were millionaires.

Here are some of what I learned.

-- owls are a great index species. "If owls are thriving, the theory goes, the food chain is intact, top to bottom and the whole ecosystem is likely to be thriving".

-- there have been 5 major extinction events in history. We are currently int he sixth event called the Holocene which is not yet complete. It is estimated that half the planet species will disappear in 100 years. In previous major extinction events, it took thousands of year for the extinctions to occur.

-- Kieran Suckling, one of the people referenced in the book, studied the link between vanishing biological diversity and the loss of linguistic diversity in humans. Example 1: people used to be able to walk down the street and name the tree names such as maple, sycamore, etc. Now they are just called "trees". Example 2: The first four notes of beethoven's Fifth (da-da-da-daah) is the sound of the wood wren which was a common bird in Beethoven's time.

-- When the Model T debuted in 1908, Henry Ford chose to use electric cars for his wife and son & not his fossil fueled car. In past years Andy Frank has developed electric & battery cars but the big auto makers have stalled the progress of alternative cars.

-- Roxanne Quimby, creator of Burts Bees, used her money when she sold her company to buying wilderness areas near established parks to protect them from commercial development.

-- Carol Allen, who is not a millionaire, saved the Ridley turtles on the Texas/Louisiana coast even when she had to battle the shrimping industry.

-- Ted Turner,not a millionaire but a billionaire, has converted his cattle ranches to bison ranches because cattle gas harms the air.

-- Doug Thompson, former Esprit(?) founder, used his earning from selling his company to buy lands in patagonia area in Chile to protect from development. He later gave much of the lands to Chile.

Good book about how these individuals were able to improve planet earth.
Profile Image for Camille McCarthy.
Author 1 book27 followers
January 9, 2015
I was very excited to read this book as it looked like it would be right up my alley. While the people the book focuses on are very inspirational in the way they are each doing their part to conserve nature, I felt that the author ranted too much against conservatives and at times he went on and on with details that didn't seem all that relevant and this was confusing. My favorite parts were the sections on Burt's Bees and the story of the TEDs used by shrimp vessels to prevent turtles from being caught in shrimp nets.
I really wish the author hadn't inserted his personal agenda into this book so much. I can see he blames Bush for a lot of the environmental policy issues but he doesn't need to shove it in our faces constantly. Also his faith that the liberal, newly-elected Obama will save us from climate disaster is rather heartbreaking in view of how he has not really followed through on any of those environmental promises, and has really stabbed GMO labeling in the back.
Humes talks a lot about the vilification of environmentalists but doesn't really go into the reasons behind it, he just puts conservatives in a bad light and makes them seem like villains. Why would shrimpers not use TEDs when they save turtles and create a higher-quality catch because the shrimp haul is cleaner? There has to be more to it than how they just didn't feel like it and they loved killing turtles.
I found the font he used to be distracting. This may seem like a small detail but it really made it difficult to read the book sometimes. I also feel the author really should have used eco font, which uses far less ink, as this book would have been perfect for such a thing, but so far as I can tell he didn't really do anything sustainable for its publishing. Further editing could have really saved some forests.
Profile Image for William Bay.
Author 1 book7 followers
February 24, 2010
A quick and compelling read that spawned in me inspiration for and from the Eco Barons themselves, contempt for the policy makers and industrial complexes that have placed profit above Earth, and a inward focus and examination of my own role in the global environmental decline.

I photograph primarily because I was exposed to so much nature as a kid, my Dad always dragging us to the national parks and monuments. And in my little town on the coast is a beautiful estuary where, as kids, my friends and I would spend hours exploring and getting lost in the anaroebic mudflats and tall grasses, scaring herons and egrets.
I also learned to surf in the ocean that was just on the other side of the dunes from that estuary and took great pride as a card carrying Surfrider Foundation member.

This book has got me thinking about who I was then as a child, and who I am now as an adult, and the responsibility I have to make sure that some other group of children have that opportunity to play like we did in 50 and 100 years from now.

I think we all owe it to the future generations, as well as every living organism to reduce our impact, and live as a partner to our planet, not a taker.
Profile Image for Hayden Trenholm.
Author 33 books39 followers
April 16, 2010
Although occassionally lapsing into hagiography, The Eco Barons offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives and motivations of a dozen or so individuals -- all american -- who are devoting their lives and, in many cases, fortunes to environmental causes -- from protecting endangered species and preserving ecosystems to creating parks and fighting climate change.

Doug Tompkins, co-founder of Esprit clothing, is a major figure in the book, devoting his $200 million fortune to preserving wilderness in Chile and Argentina and to supporting a wide variety of eco-causes and organizations around the world. Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt's Bees, and Ted Turner of CNN are major figures as well. (Turner holds more land in the USA -- 2 million acres -- than any other individual.)

Most of them are dedicated and determined environmentalists who use whatever legal tactics available to them to advance their causes. Even if you don't agree with all their views, you might be thankful they exist -- because without them the world would be in even worse shape than it already is.
3 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2010
For me, this book pieced together the entrepreneur/financially-minded human aspect of conservation. I really enjoyed the stories of the co-founder of Esprit, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the co-founder of Burt's Bees. They were humanizing, to say the least. The second half of the book sort of petered out. It was as if Humes didn't want to or didn't have time to write about his last subject, the Turtle Lady. Then it sort of sums up like a Self-Help book on how to make small changes.

I think for this book, a more philosophical/existential ending would have been more appropriate. It's title suggests big picture ideas from big picture people, but I was left with a small picture ending.
Profile Image for Nancy.
56 reviews
July 22, 2013
Both depressing (we are not on a good trajectory planet-wise) and encouraging (thank God fpr bazillionaires like Doug Thompson, Roxanne Quimby, Ted Turner) who are investing in land to be preserved so that the planet can begin to heal itself in some places. Since I don't have billions to invest in land preservation, though, I picked up on the best "act locally" concept offered in the text: "If Americans would simply reduce their meat consumption by one-fifth, according to an analysis by two geophysicists --Gidon Eshel of the Bard Center and Pamela Marrin of the University of Chicago-- this would have the same effect as if ALL Americans traded in their cars for super efficient, low-polluting Priuses."
Profile Image for Jenny.
173 reviews
April 16, 2011
Inspiring stories describe the spectacular results achieved by conservation's selfless and ardent supporters. Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face and Esprit directs his $200M fortune towards protecting and restoring the Chilean Patagonia wilderness, for donation back to the Chilean government. Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt's Bees, uses her $400M sale proceeds to create a de facto park in the Maine Woods for donation back to the national park service. Suspenseful storytelling compels the reader to take personal action to lower our carbon footprint.
21 reviews4 followers
July 27, 2009
Very informative read on the current big names in the environmental movement, but I took issue with the perspective of "preserve as much as possible at any cost." The Burt's Bees chapter gave a good lesson--that working with stakeholders would in the long-term work better for everyone than alienating them with inflexible policies. Unfortunately, this book was less about training a new generation for environmental causes than illustrating a few extreme cases.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
133 reviews25 followers
August 26, 2010
Very quick read, kind of fluffy, and really feels like it only tells the rosy half of the stories. I'd be much more interested in hearing the full story good or bad.
I think it's a good concept and nice to show people who are working for the environment instead of solely for big business, but some of their business practices are questionable.
I'd recommend this book as an introduction to names that are often tossed around the environmental world, but nothing more than that.
103 reviews4 followers
June 21, 2012
Some amazing profiles of amazing people doing what they can to grab and save wild land for the sake of the planet and life's continued existence. Interesting and inspiring and beautifully written. A joy to read. Chomping at the bit even more now to follow in their footsteps. Even if only a pale shadow of what they have been able to do.
Profile Image for Paul.
5 reviews
August 4, 2016
A book full of inspiring people that have dedicated much of their time and/or money to protecting the planet. It certainly has made me strongly question why I'm not doing more conservation work. It is only unfortunate that it is light on footnotes and perhaps glosses over some of these folks' faults.
Profile Image for Lauren.
39 reviews5 followers
May 22, 2011
Liked this book a lot. Interesting insights into the minds, lives and businesses of people making change for the good around the world. You many not agree with all the tactics employed and philosophies lived, but one has to admire the drive and gumption of those chronicled.
30 reviews2 followers
June 23, 2009
This is an engrossing read about people who have gone to unusual lengths to protect the environment.
Profile Image for Mike.
75 reviews3 followers
July 3, 2009
A must read for anyone interested in the global warming and current state of world ecology debate!
61 reviews
May 25, 2010
Eco Barons: dreamers Schemers and millionaires who are saving the planet. This leaves you feeling good and optimistic and empowered.
2 reviews1 follower
July 21, 2010
this book is probably the most inspiring piece of literature I have ever read. Read it and weep.
Profile Image for Andrea Wright.
813 reviews14 followers
December 17, 2011
Absolutely fantastic book that shows some positives in the ugly case of our environmental decline.
Profile Image for Angela.
184 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2009
Good book that brings a little hope to this dire environmental situation that we live in.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 42 reviews

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