Peter Dykstra: 2022's distinguished deaths
Two "dismal scientists," a denier, a world-class spiller and a pioneering hellraiser headline the year’s passages.
Let's look back at people we lost in 2022 who left their mark on the planet (for better or worse).
Until one night in March 1989, Joe Hazelwood was at the pinnacle of his profession, bringing in the big bucks as a supertanker skipper.
After a night of what the captain later admitted was heavy drinking, he retired to his cabin, leaving a third mate to skipper the 986-foot Exxon Valdez out of port and on its way to an 11 million gallon disaster. Hazelwood died in July.
Hazel Henderson and Herman Daly
Economics is called the “dismal science,” and the environmental field often yields dismal news. This year we lost the only two economists brilliant enough to marry the dismal science to the dismal news and have it make sense.
Hazel Henderson died in May. She popularized the phrase “think globally, act locally,” and advocated redefining a strong economy as embracing good health and quality of life, and not just a healthy bank balance and stock portfolio.
Herman Daly developed the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) with fellow economist John Cobb. It’s meant to challenge the standard of Gross Domestic Product, the rather coldhearted means of measuring wealth by dollars only. Health, happiness and ethics be damned. Daly died in October.
Patrick Michaels speaking at the 2016 FreedomFest at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr
Pat Michaels is arguably the most ironic Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever. He shared the 2007 prize with Al Gore and 1,500 other scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change despite his status as the go-to scientist for climate change deniers.
Garrulous and always available, Michaels bristled at the term “denier,” but he filled the role nicely for groups like the Western Fuels Association, a coal industry trade group. He died in July.
Disillusioned by his job as a lobbyist for the Wilderness Society and inspired by novelist Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, DaveForeman and Mike Roselle founded Earth First! in 1980. They were the consummate eco-hellraisers, rolling a huge plastic “crack” down the face of the Glen Canyon Dam. In later years, he founded The Rewilding Institute to advocate for turning developed land back to nature. Foreman died in September.
October saw the passing of author Mike Davis, whose 1990 book Los Angeles, City of Quartztook L.A.’s growth from desert mission to megalopolis, and what it all means for the future.
Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira
In June, journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were murdered deep in the Amazon rainforest. Brazilian authorities arrested three men a month later. The NGO group Global Witness compiles an annual list of environmental defenders killed each year, and it's reliably in the six figures. Here is their 2021 list; their 2022 list won't be available till mid-2023.
Donald McEachin and Don Young
Senator Donald McEachin (left). Credit: chesapeakeclimate/flickr
Two members of Congress who were respectively stalwarts for and against environmental regulation died in 2022.
A. Donald McEachin, (D-Va.) died in November shortly after winning his fourth term. An ardent environmentalist from the low-lying Hampton Roads area, McEachin scored 96% on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard in 2021.
Don Young, the gruff Alaskan, made 36% on LCV’s 2021 card. That’s positively angelic for a Republican. But he remained a fierce defender of the fossil fuel, mining and timber industries till his death in March.
Sheila O’Donnell died in October after a long battle with cancer. As a hellraiser for various progressive causes, she became a licensed private investigator – a rarity in a field long dominated by men. “Dick-less Tracy,” as she was affectionately known by many colleagues, took on mostly pro bono cases for the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance, Greenpeace and the animal rights group PETA.
In 1995, she worked for Earth First! activists Judy Bari and Darrell Cherney, who were accused of blowing themselves up with a pipe bomb. The two eventually won a lawsuit against the Oakland, California, Police Department and the FBI.
O’Donnell also wrote “Common Sense Security,” a frequently-updated to-do list for activist groups who may be subject to surveillance or infiltration.
My friend and CNN colleague Gary Strieker was a disenchanted banker in Nairobi whose epic mid-life epiphany found him learning how to shoot and edit video about the plundering of a beautiful continent. His work, and audience, went global on CNN for the better part of two decades.
The last, but not least, is the passing of a fictional character who won’t be born for another 200 years. Lt. Nyota Uhura, aka actress Nichelle Nichols, graced the bridge of the Starship Enterprise for the three-year run of the original Star Trek series. As the show ascended to cult status, Nichols became an evangelist and recruiter for science, space and NASA.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and at least five Space Shuttle astronauts credit Nichols with helping launch their careers. She died in July.
Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @pdykstra.
His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.