Sunday, December 27, 2009

World Changers

The holiday issue of the New Yorker this year is not on a 'Winter Fiction' theme, but is instead concerned with individuals or organizations who are involved in making the world a different, and better, place. It is one of the better issues in recent memory, with a plethora of good articles.

The Ice Retreat
by Fen Montaigne

This article is ostensibly about the Adélie penguins of Antarctica, who are finding their usual habitat no longer hospitable to them, as temperatures at the bottom of the globe rise. The real core of this article lies in Montaigne's profile of Bill Fraser, an 'ecologist and penguin expert', who has been spending years studying these unique birds.

It is clear that this population is in grave danger, as the numbers of nesting pairs have dropped precipitously, and quite recently.

Hearth Surgery
by Burkhard Bilger

One and a half million people die each year from cooking, and cook-stove related injuries in the developing world. At the same time, people forced to use inefficient open-hearth wood fires are responsible for almost matching the carbon emissions of people in richer countries.

Bilger chronicles the efforts of an eccentric group of people, many of whom are connected to the Aprovecho Research Center, to construct more ideal stoves. The article chronicles many of their attempts and failures, and paints a portrait of a group of semi-obsessed hobbyists who may manage to create a great deal of positive change in the world.

The Monkey and the Fish
by Philip Gourevitch

This is a fascinating article about Greg Carr, an American who hundreds of millions of dollars in the tech industry before retiring to work in philanthropy - namely in managing the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. He spends tons of his own money in attempting to improve this region - repopulating animal species, planting seedlings, and negotiating with local leaders to improve the park, the lives of the people living around it, and the ecology of a large swath of land.

Carr is an interesting character, and Gourevitch describes both his optimism, and the monumental nature of his task. This was an excellent, well-balanced, read.

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