Brave Thinkers

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Name: Thorkil Sonne
Job: CEO and Founder of Specialisterne
Why he’s brave: He launched a software-testing company and staffed it with employees who have autism spectrum disorder.
Quote: “I think normality is whatever the majority decides it will be, and in our company people with autism are the norm.”


After his son Lars was diagnosed with autism in the late 1990s, Sonne had an epiphany. Autistics tend to have poor social skills and difficulty responding to stress or changes, which makes finding work a challenge (one study suggests that only 6 percent of autistic adults have full-time employment). But Sonne realized that they also tend to be methodical, possess excellent memories, and show great attention to detail and tolerance for repetition—in other words, they might make excellent software testers. With this in mind, Sonne launched Specialisterne, in Copenhagen, in 2004. Thirty-seven of its 51 employees have autism (though most have a mild form called Asperger’s syndrome). The firm now pulls in $2 million a year in revenue and serves clients like Microsoft and CSC. Sonne refuses to run the company like a charity: he competes in the open market and aims to make a profit. This makes government support unlikely, but it may lead to a sustainable new model for companies with disabled employees: Harvard Business School now uses Specialisterne as a case study in social-enterprise business. People on the autistic spectrum are not superhuman memory machines; but neither are they incapable of work. Sonne treats them as employees with strengths and weaknesses that smart employers should respect—and capitalize on.

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Name: Ben S. Bernanke
Job: Chairman of the Federal Reserve
Why he’s brave: His radical interventions may have saved the day.
Quote: “There were many people who said, 'Let them fail. It’s not a problem. The markets will take care of it.' And I think I knew better than that.”


The political focus on the federal stimulus package and Bernanke’s own professorial mildness have deflected attention from how radically the Fed chief has acted. He dropped target interest rates to near-zero for the first time in history; made trillions of dollars in government cash available to financial institutions; expanded the Fed’s lending and relaxed its collateral requirements; bought up billions of dollars in securities backed by consumer debt and mortgages; prevented the collapse of AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac; and somehow found time to bear the made-for-TV harangues of financially illiterate members of Congress. The particulars of the Fed’s interventions remain lamentably shielded from oversight. But in the Great Recession, Bernanke’s forceful approach may have spared the world from a true nightmare.

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Name: Morgan Tsvangirai
Job: Prime Minister of Zimbabwe
Why he’s brave: He stood his ground against Robert Mugabe and is now bringing some normalcy back to the country.
Quote: “There is a long line of dictators who have refused to go peacefully. And the people have removed them violently.”


Despite being beaten, threatened with assassination, and repeatedly thrown in jail, Tsvangirai continued to criticize Robert Mugabe’s victory in last year’s rigged election, and angry crowds eventually propelled him into a power-sharing deal. The new government has since brought hyperinflation under control, the stock market has reopened and surged in value, and the IMF says there are “signs of a nascent economic recovery.” A raging cholera epidemic has subsided and civil servants are finally being paid again. Tsvangirai is no saint: he’s been heavy-handed and dishonest in intraparty squabbles, and made oblique threats of popular violence. But he has reasoned throughout his career that patience and a professed commitment to the high moral ground would enable him ultimately to triumph, and that Mugabe’s brutality and ineptitude would be his undoing. And that reasoning, more than anything else, may have averted an all-out civil war.

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Name: Camille Parmesan
Job: Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Why she’s brave: She’s devising new ways to save endangered species from climate change.
Quote: “Anybody who is empathetic to other forms of life needs to be worried. Do you want there to be bears in the Rockies, dolphins in Monterey Bay?”


Parmesan spent the first half of the 1990s tracking the Edith’s checkerspot butterfly—an unlikely basis, perhaps, for a revolution in conservation biology. She found that the butterfly—which is sensitive to temperature—had declined in lower-latitude areas, but was coping in Canada. It was also doing far better at higher altitudes than at lower ones. In a landmark 2006 article in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, Parmesan presented evidence from nearly a thousand ecological studies she had reviewed showing that the butterfly’s shifting habitat was not an aberration: plants and animals were moving northward and up to higher altitudes; those species that could not move, like the polar bear, were in declining health or dying out. By 2050, according to one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the species on Earth could face extinction because of climate change. Parmesan and some of her colleagues are now considering a radical solution: humans stepping in to move imperiled species far out of harm’s way. Potential drawbacks abound: species may not adapt well to their new environment, or they may adapt all too well, and ravage a fragile ecosystem. And that’s not even considering the logistical or financial barriers. But the solution is not without precedent: throughout history, flora and fauna have changed their habitat to adjust to climate fluctuations, and humans have helped them in some cases before. If the gray wolf can flourish again in Yellowstone, why not tigers in Africa?

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Name: Shai Agassi
Job: Founder of Better Place
Why he’s brave: He’s building a nationwide network of electric car charging stations.
Quote: “Charge spots will be everywhere, like parking meters. Only instead of taking money from you when you park, they give you electrons.”


Electric cars would make everyone happy. They don’t pollute, they can be powered using renewable energy like wind and solar, and they’d undermine nasty oil-rich regimes. The problem has always been how to charge them: electric cars can typically travel only 50 miles or so without a recharge. Agassi, a former executive at the software giant SAP, has a solution that will lead either to acclaim and fortune, or to a very expensive, and public, failure. He hopes to create a national electric-car infrastructure that consists of charging stations where motorists could plug in to refuel, along with switching stations where they could swap out old batteries for new ones during longer trips. Agassi has backing from Renault-Nissan, and has inked deals with governments in Israel, Denmark, Japan, Canada, and the United States to start testing roadside stations.  He intends to make electric cars the standard way society travels in the 21st century. It helps that he (and his investors) may make a lot of money doing so: they plan to lease the batteries to consumers and charge them a fixed amount per mile driven, much the way mobile-phone companies now operate. For the big car companies, almost all of which have electric-car initiatives under way, this could eliminate a huge hurdle to innovation.

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Name: Steve Jobs and John Lasseter
Job: Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Pixar Animation Studio
Why they’re brave: They haven't let commercial success stifle their innovation or storytelling.
Quote: “Every single Pixar film, at one time or another, has been the worst movie ever put on film. But we know. We trust our process.”


An unusual thing happened at the Cannes Film Festival this year: the glamorous conclave of high-minded cineastes opened with a cartoon. A 3-D cartoon, in fact. The audience loved it. Up, Pixar’s 10th creation, achieved critical and commercial success with nuance and narrative originality, rather than pretense and crudity, and Jobs and Lasseter, the driving forces behind the digital-animation studio, deserve the credit. Over the past two decades, the pair has combined technological foresight with an infamously perfectionist ethos to produce well-loved movies from Toy Story to Wall-E. Now owned by Disney, Pixar is a commercial colossus. But its movies still feature characters that grapple with real problems and undergo subtle and plausible moral development; they still eschew the violence, prurience, and stupidity that has infiltrated children’s movies over the past decade. In short, Pixar has the courage to respect the intelligence of the people watching its films. Even if their feet don’t reach the theater floor.

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Name: Montgomery McFate
Job: Senior Social Scientist at the Human Terrain System
Why she’s brave: She taught American soldiers how to navigate the cultural terrain of Iraq.
Quote: “If you understand how to frustrate or satisfy the population’s interests to get them to support your side in a counterinsurgency, you don't need to kill as many of them.”


In the darkest days of the Iraq War, one scenario seemed constantly to replay itself: Iraqi drivers would unaccountably fail to stop when ordered to at checkpoints, and American soldiers, fearing a suicide bombing, would open fire—sometimes killing innocents. One possible reason was a devastatingly simple cultural confusion: the American gesture for “stop”—arm straight, palm out—means “welcome” in Iraq. “This and similar misunderstandings have deadly consequences,” McFate wrote in Joint Force Quarterly in 2005. The Pentagon recruited McFate, a cultural anthropologist, to help troops avoid such mistakes and learn about the cultures of those they’re ostensibly assisting. She helped develop the Human Terrain System, which provides, in a database, everything a soldier in the field might find useful to know about a foreign culture—from tribal structure, to local water issues, to regional quirks of language and mannerism. Although the social sciences have historically had an uneasy if not hostile relationship with the military, the system also embeds anthropologists, sociologists, and linguists with combat units to help them communicate and navigate tricky cultural terrain. Despite the inevitable recruitment and retention problems, and several civilian-scientist casualties, the military credits the program with a measurable decline in the need for combat operations. And though McFate has endured intense criticism from her peers in academia (the American Anthropological Association worries that the program could lead to subjects’ being studied without their “informed consent”), General David Petraeus used McFate’s work in his counterinsurgency manual and the Army now assigns social scientists to serve with all combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Name: Freeman Dyson
Job: Professor Emeritus, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Why he’s brave: He’s taking a contrarian view on the Kyoto Protocol.
Quote: “I like to express heretical opinions. They might even happen to be true.”


Dyson, a renowned physicist and pioneer in quantum electrodynamics theory, has lately committed a heresy without equal in modern science: questioning climate-change orthodoxy. Dyson doesn’t deny that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet. But he predicts that advances in bio-technology—especially the creation of genetically engineered carbon-eating plants, which he foresees within two decades—will mitigate the damage with a minimum of economic and social disruption. In the meantime, he argues that large-scale carbon-restricting approaches like the Kyoto Protocol are ineffective and disproportionately hurt developing countries like China and India, where the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty now hinges on access to carbon-spewing industries. Such arguments have won him few friends; he describes the interaction between the majority of scientists holding conventional climate-change views and the skeptical minority as a “dialogue of the deaf.” But in Dyson’s case, at least, those arguments have evolved from a lifetime of scientific rigor and intellectual honesty.

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Name: Iftikhar Chaudhry
Job: Chief Justice of Pakistan
Why he’s brave: His independent thinking got him suspended by the president, and his commitment to the law got him reinstated by the Supreme Court.
Quote: “We should be proud of our citizens who, despite difficult conditions and state of war in the country, are still loyal to the state and cooperating.”


Chaudhry was expelled from Pakistan’s Supreme Court and arrested in 2007 after demanding more government accountability and resisting the growing power of then-President Pervez Musharraf. A historic two-year protest by the country’s lawyers—made famous by televised images of police tear-gassing men in business suits—eventually prompted his full reinstatement in March. Chaudhry has ruled against the crooked privatization of government assets, agitated for human-rights reform, and investigated illegal detentions by Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies. More recently, he has criticized the government’s cowardly and disastrous acquiescence to the Taliban in Swat, the chaotic territory 100 miles from Islamabad. Though criticized for his temper and self-aggrandizement, Chaudhry has come to personify Pakistani hopes for an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and an end to the arbitrary authority exercised, often violently, by the country’s political and military elite.

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Name: John Fetterman
Job: Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania
Why he’s brave: He’s luring artists to a dying steel town.
Quote: “We’re not distressed. We’re experimental.”


Braddock, the site of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, was once a beacon to immigrants. But it would be hard—maybe impossible—to find a city that’s worse off now: riddled with crime and violence, Braddock has lost 90 percent of its population and is on the brink of total abandonment. Fetterman, a young and heavily tattooed giant with a public-policy degree from Harvard and a mountain of ambition, wants to save the city by luring artists and small businesses with loft apartments, cheap rent, and other inducements. He imagines Braddock—only a few miles from Pittsburgh—as a community for creative types and eco-friendly businesses, filled with public gardens and culture centers. It’s an utterly idealistic experiment in extreme urban renewal with next to zero financial backing—one that could totally fail, or perhaps serve as a model for other devastated industrial towns.

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Name: Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Job: Publisher of the New York Times
Why he’s brave: In the face of collapsing stock prices, he’s avoiding staff cuts and expanding
online presence.
Quote: “We do care. I care very much. But we must be where people want us for our information.”


The Times employs 11 people to moderate online comments, more than twice the number of reporters on the masthead at The Huffington Post. One might mistake such quality control for timidity, or for an anachronistic journalistic indulgence. But even as Sulzberger has aggressively led The Times onto the Web, he is betting that his paper’s dedication to high-quality journalism is its most valuable asset, however costly it now seems. He has resisted deep newsroom cuts even as the company’s stock has collapsed, and he has risked alienating the younger generation of Sulzbergers,  who may sell their premium shares (and the voting rights they confer) to the highest bidders. Such a sale could lead to ruin: one need only browse a recent edition of the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune to see what happens when putatively savvy capitalists insist on slashing news budgets to increase profit margins.

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Name: Craig Watkins
Job: Dallas District Attorney
Why he’s brave: He’s championing wrongly convicted prisoners and challenging unreasonable sentences.
Quote: “My job as the criminal district attorney for Dallas County is to seek truth and justice, not to feed the insatiable appetite of those who have political agendas.”


Prosecutors are not typically inclined to free lots of prisoners, especially in Texas. But Watkins, the state’s first black DA, has made a name for himself by crusading to free those who’ve been wrongly convicted—and in Dallas County, long known for its prosecutorial fervor, it turns out there are a lot of them. Watkins created a Conviction Integrity Unit to reassess questionable sentences using DNA testing, and since he came to office, 12 wrongly convicted prisoners have been exonerated, including James Woodard, who unjustly spent 27 years behind bars for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Woodard is part of a disturbing trend: in the past two decades, 38 people have been exonerated in Texas, more than anywhere else in the country. Watkins clearly enjoys the spotlight—the Discovery Channel is filming his progress—and if more media attention leads to the overturning of more wrongful convictions, so much the better.

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Name: Henry Greely
Job: Director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Bio-Sciences
Why he’s brave: He’s helping “smart drugs" shed their steroid-like stigma.
Quote: “Better-working brains produce things of more lasting value than longer home runs.”


On some college campuses, 25 percent of students buy drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to help them study. Not a problem, says Greely, who advocates easier access to such “cognition-enhancing” pills and considers their use no more unnatural for students trying to improve their grades than the use of computers, sleep, or coffee. In an article in Nature, Greely and his colleagues argued that the drugs “should be viewed in the same general category as education, good health habits, and information technology—ways that our uniquely innovative species tries to improve itself.” We may recoil at the effort to treat things like sloth and indiscipline as pathologies instead of personal failings (not to mention at the effort of drug companies to package that “improvement”). But we accept without question many cognitive enhancements—from encyclopedias to calculators to the Internet—unavailable to previous generations of students. Reconciling these legitimate and conflicting impulses will be one of the primary public-policy challenges of the years ahead. Revolutionary advances in our understanding of brain chemistry are on the horizon, and society should be prepared, morally and legally, for a future in which much more powerful “smart drugs” are easily available.

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Name: Walter E. Hussman Jr.
Job: Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Why he’s brave: He refused to give content away for free and his newspaper is thriving.
Quote: “We are offering value on our Web site that complements, rather than cannibalizes, our print edition.
"


Hussman began charging for online access to his newspaper in 2002—and the paper remains profitable, with circulation higher than a decade ago. Once, he seemed like a lonely holdout against the future. Now, newspapers and magazines that have lowered their firewalls are looking at raising them again, emulating his revolutionary economic strategy of asking customers to pay money for a product.

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Name: Ralph Nader
Job: Perennial Third-Party Presidential Candidate
Why he’s brave: He’s irked everyone from politicians to auto makers, but his warnings about wealth and power have proven prescient.
Quote: “As the years pass and things get worse, the laws become themselves an instrument of injustice.”


Many on the left considered Nader’s candidacy in 2000 a brave stand against a dangerously homogenized two-party system. But much of their admiration curdled after Al Gore was denied the presidency, and as Nader went on to undermine John Kerry and Barack Obama. Throughout, however, Nader has evangelized under the slogan “There’s too much power and wealth in too few hands.” After the financial collapse—and the banker-friendly responses of both Bush and Obama—Nader’s ideas, on this score at least, increasingly seem vindicated. His recent crusades have made him deeply unpopular and cost him respect he had built over a lifetime as a consumer advocate and environmentalist. But if anyone is entitled to say “I told you so” following the government’s handouts to the likes of AIG, Citigroup, and Bank of America, surely it’s the Unreasonable Man.

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Name: Sheila C. Bair
Job: Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Why she’s brave: She spent years sounding the alarm about lending standards. Now she’s standing up for beleaguered homeowners.
Quote: “I think we just need to say what we've always said, that it’s going to take time to work through these credit losses, but we'll get out of this.”


For years, Bair was one of the only voices in Washington warning about the dangers posed to the economy by deteriorating lending standards. The Kansas Republican has overseen the (more or less) orderly dissolution of more than 100 failed commercial banks since her appointment in 2006. As more banks failed and the public panicked, Bair persuaded Congress to boost the FDIC’s borrowing authority and increased the amount of private deposits the government insures to $250,000 per account. She got banks to pay more into the FDIC insurance fund, oversaw a program to insure their debts, and helped develop the Public-Private Investment Program to buy up mortgage-backed securities. She also pushed to empower a council of top regulators to oversee “too big to fail” institutions and prevent them from threatening the stability of the financial system. Bair has made mistakes—like bungling the Wachovia takeover. But since the collapse, she has stood up in Washington for beleaguered homeowners and persistently confronted the influence that the big Wall Street banks wield. “If anything is to be learned from this financial crisis, it is that market discipline must be more than a philosophy to ward off appropriate regulation during good times,” Bair told Congress in July. “It must be enforced during difficult times.”

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Name: Paul Polak
Job: Founder of International Development Enterprises and D-Rev
Why he’s brave: His companies treat the poor as consumers and entrepreneurs.
Quote: “Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.”


Criticizing charities and development groups—for bloat, condescension, or naïveté—can be a convenient excuse to forget about the excruciating reality of poverty and inequality. But not for Polak, whose complaint with conventional charities is that they fail to consider the market potential of the world’s 1.2 billion poor people. Treating the poor as potential consumers and entrepreneurs, he believes, is the best way to help them achieve self-sufficiency. Operating under the guideline “Cheap is beautiful,” his companies sell affordable and useful tools—like manual-treadle pumps for irrigation, or solar-powered water purifiers—that poor people can use to make a living selling products to their peers. For instance, a farmer who buys a treadle pump for $8 can use it to transport groundwater to his fields during the dry season, when crops fetch higher prices, and quickly recoup his investment at the local market. Polak thinks that profitable markets in impoverished areas will spur more prosperity than offering direct donations, financing large infrastructure projects, or relying on government initiatives. “The single most important thing they need to get out of poverty is to find a way to earn more money,” he writes in his book, Out of Poverty. “This is so obvious that people tell me that it is a perfect example of circular logic. But the sad fact is that it isn’t at all obvious to the great majority of the world’s poverty experts.”

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Name: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Job: South Park Creators
Why they’re brave: They managed to create a runaway commercial success even while alienating everybody.
Quote: “Sometimes what’s right isn't as important as what’s profitable.”


For 12 years, the pair has produced one of the best satires on television, while achieving new standards of vulgarity and political incorrectness. Parker and Stone have risked alienating advertisers and audiences alike with an ambitious, comprehensive offensiveness that lampoons the tired culture war and the cycle of moralizing protest and hypocritical hyperventilating it sets in motion. In the process, they’ve shown that there’s an audience for smart political satire, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s expressed by foul-mouthed, poorly animated schoolchildren: the show remains the highest-rated offering on Comedy Central. That popularity recently led the pair to seal with the network a groundbreaking $75 million digital deal—in which they receive 50 percent of online ad revenue and help spread South Park content through mobile devices, video games, and various Web-based iterations—that could offer a model for other TV programs whose online success has thus far benefited only pirates.

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Name: Barack Obama
Job: President of the United States
Why he’s brave: He gambled on the auto industry just a few months into his presidency.
Quote: “We will look back and say that this was the moment when the American auto industry shed its old ways, marched into the future, remade itself, and once more became an engine of opportunity.”


In certain quarters—Venezuela, Central Asia, France—the nationalization of industry attracts little notice. Not so in the United States: in yielding to the supplications of the auto companies for help, Obama made an enormous gamble only a few months into his presidency—and he went all in. Withstanding intense scrutiny and criticism, Obama asserted unprecedented government control over America’s once-totemic industry. He committed billions in taxpayer dollars to GM and Chrysler, ousted Rick Wagoner and much of GM’s board, ordered Chrysler to merge with Fiat, and forced the sale of both companies through bankruptcy court in a time frame no one previously thought possible. He also wrangled concessions from bondholders and the autoworkers’ union (the former more aggressively than the latter), backed new-car warranties, halved the number of GM’s domestic brands, and demanded the closing of failing plants and dealerships. He told both companies to improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets, and backed them up by offering $2 billion to boost electric-car production and stimulating demand through the cash-for-clunkers program. “This industry is like no other,” Obama said. “It’s an emblem of the American spirit; a once and future symbol of America’s success.” If this industry should still fail, he owns it. And not just symbolically.

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Name: Mark Zuckerberg
Job: Founder and CEO of Facebook
Why he’s brave: He’s willing to make bold moves at the risk of offending his customers.
Quote: “We are publishing more in a day than most other publications have in the history of their whole existence.
"


Zuckerberg turned down $1 billion from Yahoo for the networking site he famously built in his dorm room—perhaps the most audacious in a series of decisions he’s made that narrowly split the difference between bravery and folly. History (and his creditors) will judge Zuckerberg’s business acumen, but he’s clearly a genius at shaping the online world. By encouraging users to divulge real information about themselves to their “friends”—as opposed to creating an idealized online persona—he overcame privacy fears and made Facebook into a legitimate community. And by opening up the site to outside software developers, he made it a successful platform for reaching customers with new applications. But Zuckerberg has repeatedly shown that he’s willing to offend his vast customer base in pursuit of a profit, introducing an invasive news-feed feature, allowing businesses to infiltrate the site and follow users’ habits, and applying a Twitter-like redesign. And he has rarely backed down in the face of popular protests. When you’re giving your product away for free, who’s to say the customers are always right?

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Name: Danny Day
Job: Founder and President of Eprida
Why he’s brave: His company offers a promising method for absorbing and burying excess carbon dioxide.
Quote: “We have 3 billion people out there who are at risk for climate change and they can be making money solving our global problem.”


Indigenous tribes of the Amazon Basin had a neat trick for sequestering carbon: they buried a combination of animal by-products and charcoal in their fields, which made their crops grow in abundance. Thousands of years later, that soil, known as “terra preta,” remains exceptionally fertile—and rich in carbon. Day believes that this process could be the key to relieving the atmosphere of its burgeoning levels of carbon dioxide. He and others advocate expanded use of a material called biochar, which results when organic waste—like peanut shells or chicken excrement—is cooked in a special container that limits its exposure to oxygen. This process creates small pellets of charcoal (biochar) that lock in the carbon from the cooked organic matter—preventing it from escaping back into the atmosphere—and generates gasses that can be used as fuel. When the biochar is buried in the right agricultural areas, it enriches the soil, increases crop yields, and keeps the carbon trapped beneath the ground. The NASA climate expert James Hansen says that the carbon could be stored for “centuries to millennia.” Eprida hopes to use the biochar to soak up carbon dioxide at polluting factories and then bury it in areas with poor soil quality—potentially addressing two grave problems with one elegant solution.

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Name: Jim Webb
Job: Senator from Virginia
Why he’s brave: He’s taking on the nation’s neglected prison system.
Quote: “I think you can be a law-and-order leader and still understand that the criminal justice system as we understand it today is broken.”


After squeaking into his seat in 2006, Webb became an activist for prison reform—an issue almost universally unpopular among voters, especially in a tough-on-crime state like Virginia. He introduced a bill in March that would establish a commission to review the nation’s prison system. A small step, certainly. But he’s taking on public apathy and a thriving privatized-prison industry that houses nearly 10 percent of federal and state prisoners and lobbies politicians with vigor. Webb has called our prison system a “national disgrace,” and he’s right: the U.S. incarcerates 2.3 million people (25 percent of the planet’s prisoners), and monitors another 5 million on probation or parole (more than 60 percent of whom will end up back in the clink). Huge numbers of inmates are mentally ill and more than 20 percent have been sexually abused while locked up; meanwhile the number of drug offenders behind bars (where they take up scarce space and resources) has increased by 1,200 percent since 1980. By tackling prison reform as a freshman senator, Webb has shown he possesses two things vanishingly rare in Congress: a conscience and a spine.

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Name: Jeff Zucker
Job: President of NBC Universal
Why he’s brave: He retained Jay Leno and moved late-night TV to prime time.

Quote: “The only sure way to declare defeat is to say, 'I’m going to keep doing it the same old way.'”


Zucker wooed Jay Leno to stay with the network when his run on TheTonight Show ended, and to move into prime time. Leno’s new program will compete directly with popular scripted dramas like CSI—a huge gamble for a talk show. But if cheap and easily produced fare like Leno’s works in prime time, it could completely change the dynamics of network television. Or it could bomb.

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Name: Meredith Whitney
Job:Founder and CEO of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group LLC
Why she’s brave: She exposed Citigroup’s shady dividend payments
Quote: “Citigroup is in such a mess Stephen Hawking couldn’t turn this company around.”


In October 2007, as an analyst at Oppenheimer & Company, Whitney noted something strange about Citigroup’s finances: the banking behemoth was paying more in dividends than it was making in profits. She argued that it would need to find $30 billion by raising capital, paying out less to shareholders, or selling assets. Almost alone among the more than 20 analysts then covering Citi, she recommended that investors sell its stock. Her now-famous report—titled “Is Citigroup’s Dividend Safe? Downgrading Stock Due to Capital Concerns”—triggered hundreds of billions of dollars in stock-market losses and subjected her to hate mail, death threats, and the enduring enmity of many on Wall Street, especially Citi’s executives. But now her name is synonymous in the media with prudent financial advice.

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Name: Alex de Waal
Job: Program Director at the Social Science Research Council
Why he’s brave: He foresaw that war-crimes charges wouldn't necessarily bring peace to Sudan.
Quote: “International justice is a virtuous enterprise, but not risk-free.”


The world’s foremost authority on Sudan and the war that has engulfed it since 2003, de Waal was nearly alone among Westerners in arguing that the International Criminal Court should not bring war-crimes charges against Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the dictator responsible for many of the conflict’s 300,000 deaths. De Waal warned that al-Bashir was likely to react violently, that rebel groups would be emboldened to violate hard-won peace agreements, that the ICC had no way to enforce its indictment, and that the whole thing would be a spectacle for the benefit of Western audiences and would only further destabilize the country. Sure enough, when al-Bashir’s warrant was issued in March, Sudan shut down human-rights groups and international aid agencies (including Oxfam and Save the Children), seized their assets, and declared, “For us, the ICC doesn’t exist.” De Waal’s argument was of a piece with his life-long thinking: aggressive international intervention, however well-intentioned (and however consistent with the concept of “Never again”), is often ineffective or horrifically counter-productive. After years of chronicling the horrors of modern Africa—from genocide to extreme poverty to the ravages of AIDS—he believes that ignorant grassroots activism often hinders delicate political compromises and that “salvation delusion” blinds idealistic foreign governments to the hopelessness of military intervention. “When peace and justice clash, as they do in Sudan today,” he wrote in a recent op-ed, “peace must prevail.”

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