Remembering those lost this year who left their mark on our planet
William Ruckelshaus, the first Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), passed away this year at age 87. (Credit: US EPA)

Remembering those lost this year who left their mark on our planet

2019 saw the deaths of many notable people from environmental politics, science and advocacy.

A look back at those who passed away in 2019 that—for better or worse—impacted our planet.


Norman Myers, 85, was a groundbreaking environmental scientist who offered some of the first alarming calculations on the demise of the Amazon rainforest.

Norman Myers (Credit: Youtube)

He popularized the idea of biodiversity "hotspots" and challenged the "perverse" role that some government subsidies play in simultaneously harming ecosystems and local economies. A passionate marathon runner, Myers once ran a 36 mile, 13,000-foot climb up the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and back down again in under 14 hours.

Marvin Weitzman, 77, was an environmental economist whose work highlighted the uncertainty of climate science – with the proviso that "we know enough to act."

Walter Munk, 101, "The Einstein of the Oceans" developed techniques for measuring ocean temperatures and sea level rise and helped lead the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to world-class status.

Wally Broecker (Credit: Columbia College)

Known as "The Grandfather of Climate Science," Wally Broecker was 87. His landmark 1975 paper introduced the concept of global warming to an international audience.

Don Melnick, 65, Columbia University conservation biology scholar and author, renowned for his engaging teaching style.

Darryl D'Monte, India's pioneering environmental journalist, 75; and Robert A. Jones, 74, the first environment reporter at the Los Angeles Times.

Indigenous women march, August 2019. (Credit: Apib Comunicação/flickr)

While the final toll is not yet known, the murder of indigenous environmental activists continues in Latin America and elsewhere. In November and December, four members of the Guajajara tribe were murdered as they resisted rampant logging in the northeastern Brazilian state of Marinhao.

Janette Sherman, 89, toxicologist and public health advocate. She was an early go-to expert on the health effects of exposure to radiation and pesticides.

William Ruckelshaus, first administrator of EPA, May 1972. (Credit: US National Archives)

William Ruckelshaus, 87, first Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. He was re-appointed to the position in 1983 as the agency recovered from the scandal-plagued reign of Anne Gorsuch. As Deputy Attorney General in 1974, he resigned rather than comply with President Nixon's order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. The lifelong Republican later criticized EPA's anti-regulatory turns during the George W. Bush and Trump Administrations.

Douglas Costle, 79, who helped create EPA, then became its Administrator under President Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981. He ran the agency when the Love Canal tragedy thrust toxic waste site cleanup onto the national agenda.

Lyndon LaRouche, 96, fringe politician and frequent U.S. Presidential candidate who spun elaborate conspiracy tales about, among other things, the world narcotics trade being controlled by Queen Elizabeth and the World Wildlife Fund.

Tim Means, 75, pioneer in eco-tourism and campaigner to protect Baja California.

Chris Cline, 60, latter-day coal baron who railed against what he saw as repressive pollution regulations, died in a helicopter crash with his daughter and two others.

Trudy the gorilla. (Credit: Al Notter/flickr)

Trudy, 63, a lowland gorilla believed to be the oldest in captivity died in the Little Rock, Arkansas Zoo.

Steve Sawyer, 62, led Greenpeace International in the late 1980's and 1990's, then led the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) as a central force in the clean energy sector.

Chuck Cushman, 75, who died in the final days of 2018, was a garrulous gadfly, raising hell with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and other federal agencies that he saw as threatening private property rights. A former landowner within the boundaries of Yosemite, Cushman was a leader in the 1980's Sagebrush Rebellion. He helped whip some Western communities into an anti-regulatory frenzy, earning the nickname "Rent-a-Riot" from his detractors.

David Koch, 79, whose family oil business made him one of the world's richest men. With his brother Charles, he bankrolled conservative and libertarian candidates and groups, and is credited/blamed as a major player in the rightward turn in Congress, federal agencies, state houses, and the White House.

pipeline protest
Protesters rallying in opposition to the PennEast pipeline. (Credit: Delaware Riverkeeper Network)

Protesting oil and gas line development harms mental health and creates distrust in government: Study

“The number of stress-activated health conditions people reported was quite staggering."

PITTSBURGH — Engaging in public participation during permitting for oil and gas pipelines often harms mental health and creates distrust in government, according to a new study.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less

Climate change's widespread health impacts

Global warming poses a dire threat to public health, with effects ranging from extreme heat deaths to increased disease spread, says the director of The Lancet Countdown. But policies designed to combat climate change while protecting public health can build resilience.

Rob Reddick reports forWIRED.

Keep reading...Show less
plastic waste
Credit: Unsplash+

Plastic chemicals are more numerable and less regulated than previously thought: Report

HOUSTON — Fewer than 6% of more than 16,000 chemicals associated with plastic production are regulated worldwide, according to a new report from PlastChem.

Keep reading...Show less

Methane emissions far exceed official estimates, study finds

A new study highlights the significant underreporting of methane emissions by the oil and gas industry, revealing emissions approximately three times higher than Environmental Protection Agency figures.

Jeff Brady reports for NPR.

Keep reading...Show less
petrochemicals Texas
Cristina Lazo starts the daily routine of washing her daughter Alina’s hands, changing clothes and rubbing an ointment on her irritated eyes after coming home from the outside. (Credit: Danielle Villasana for The Texas Tribune)

Toxic air lingers in Texas Latino community, revealing failures in state’s air monitoring system

This project was created through the Altavoz Lab Environmental Fellowship in partnership with Environmental Health Sciences and received additional funding from the Pulitzer Center. It was co-published by The Texas Tribune, Environmental Health News and palabra.

Keep reading...Show less

Gulf Coast sees petrochemical surge, raising environmental and economic concerns

A new report highlights the rapid expansion of petrochemical facilities along the Gulf Coast, drawing billions in tax breaks despite pollution concerns.

Dylan Baddour reports for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
petrochemicals Texas

El aire tóxico en una comunidad latina de Texas revela los fallos del sistema estatal de control de calidad del aire

Los datos públicos de una red de monitores estatales del aire alrededor del Canal de Navegación de Houston son difíciles de interpretar y a menudo son insuficientes, dejando a vecindarios de mayoría latina, como Cloverleaf, sin saber si el aire que respiran es seguro.

Global Plastic Treaty

This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling

The controversial practice looms large in state environmental laws, federal regulation and global plastic treaty negotiations.

plastic chemical recycling

What is chemical recycling?

While industry claims it could be part of a circular plastics economy, experts say that chemical recycling is extremely damaging to the environment and provides no real benefits.

algoma steel sault pollution

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.