Graham is the real deal. He's a pediatrician with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, who got fed up watching his patients suffer from air pollution-induced asthma.
While most of us have the luxury of distancing ourselves from the gasoline we burn and the electricity we use, Graham sees firsthand the effects of pollution from cars and dirty power plants. He spends every day making sure that the airways of young asthma patients don't close -- a task that gets harder every summer when smog season rolls around.
Unlike many professionals who stay quiet and "proper" when it comes to controversial issues, Graham isn't afraid to publicly speak out against power plants and traffic congestion. In letters to the editor and conferences on air pollution, Graham publicly calls out polluters by name. He regularly upbraids the Southern Co. and elected officials for doing next to nothing to fix the region's air pollution.
Graham is a physician who cares about his patients and a professional who understands the science of air pollution. It's rare for ethics and credibility to combine to create such an everyday hero.
Rachel Fowler and the Garden Club of Georgia
Most lobbyists have a hard time getting legislators' attention. And environmentalists find it particularly difficult to chase down good ol' boy lawmakers who get loads more campaign money from polluters than from greenies.
But the 16,000-member Garden Club has its own weapons of mass intimidation: civically active women, often from influential families, in just about every town in the state. So rural lawmakers regularly chase down Fowler, the Garden Club's indomitable legislative chairwoman, and ask her if they can do any favors.
The 75-year-old organization has long provided a genteel connection to the South's rich natural heritage -- something Southerners tend to sweep under a concrete rug of roads and malls.
But the group got more political during its epic (and ongoing) battle with the billboard industry, which has used its influence in the General Assembly and the state Department of Transportation to uglify Georgia. In 2001, the club hired former Attorney General Mike Bowers to successfully sue the DOT for charging a minuscule price to billboard companies for chopping down state-owned trees. Last year, Fowler helped defeat a bill that would have allowed billboards to be posted closer together.
That clash with a particularly venal special interest group seems to have activated an activist gene deep within the soul of every steel magnolia. This session, the Garden Club has branched out to tackle broader environmental issues. It's teamed up with the Georgia Water Coalition to fight for clean water. Next year ... who knows?
Few environmentalists realize that a homebuilder has done more than anyone in the metro area to move green home construction into the mainstream. Sessions is one of those rare individuals who -- finding herself in a position to do something about the environment -- actually ... did something.
In the late '90s, she helped the Southface Energy Institute devise the EarthCraft Housing Program, which requires eco-friendly materials and construction methods, as well as energy efficiency and pedestrian-friendly design. In 2000, it took real courage and leadership to build EarthCraft homes, much less to commit to building them exclusively. After all, green houses were an uncertain market.
They aren't anymore. Other builders have followed suit in constructing what has become a seal of safety and quality for metro homebuilders. Sessions' company, Hedgewood Properties, has built 500 EarthCraft houses. And she personally practices what she preaches: Her own new Forsyth County home is a model of eco-friendly design.
Sessions is even getting national recognition for combining good business with good works. She recently was named Builder of the Year by Professional Builder magazine.
Unlike most politicians, Woolard actually is pressing forward with ideas to improve Atlanta's traffic and air.
The first-term president of Atlanta City Council also is inching the city toward creating its first-ever energy policy, which is focusing on money-saving steps like efficiency and conservation, and may eventually lead to solar panels on top of city buildings.
But Woolard, a former council member, has made her real mark by pushing for new zoning ordinances that encourage pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with a mix of shops, offices and homes. Now, she's championing a so-called "inner-loop" light rail system, which would be built on existing, unused tracks. As more redevelopment projects add buildings, people and a boatload of congestion to Atlanta, Woolard's inner loop would help the inner city avoid a suburban-style traffic mess. It also would be a testament to her idealistic but no-nonsense approach to solving Atlanta's problems.
Tucker directs the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, a civil rights group that fights for environmental justice. She's kept the spotlight on an oft-ignored aspect of environmental issues: Power plants, chemical plants, landfills and other polluting sites typically are found in poor or minority communities. That doesn't just affect property values; residents near such facilities typically have higher rates of asthma, cancer and other health problems.
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