Frances Beinecke

Photo: Anders Hansson

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The Defender: Frances Beinecke
Who she is: President of the National Resources Defense Council, one of the most influential environmental groups in America, and part of President Obama's seven-member commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Her breakthrough: Creating a new—and highly effective—strategy for protecting the natural world. Far from granola-crunching, poncho-wearing picketers, Beinecke and the 1.3 million-member NRDC combine legal might, battalions of devoted (and deep-pocketed) supporters, cutting-edge science, and sharp communications skills to sue big polluters and fight for clean air and water, thriving forests and oceans, and a smart energy policy.

Lesson she's learned: Transformation trumps conciliation. "You think, 'Maybe we could get an agreement with the oil industry; maybe we could figure this out together.' And then you go, 'No. We're going toe to toe with the most powerful entity in the world.' We've got to break our oil addiction and head in a new direction."

What's next: A major roster of challenges so that all 6.9 billion of us can live well on a planet that, in her words, "grows ever smaller as our demands accelerate for all the same resources."

Breakthrough advice: "Don't leave those politicians alone. You elect them; hold them accountable." —Susan Casey
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