49. Vaclav Smil
for keeping the West honest about its plight.
Environmental scientist, University of Manitoba | Canada
The brilliant Czech-born Vaclav Smil has led a 30-year career of interdisciplinary contrarianism, writing hundreds of scientific articles and dozens of books attacking sacred cows of Western environmental and geopolitical thought. This year alone, he published four books and took on carbon sequestration and peak oil; Thomas Friedman's flat world ("hard to believe how [he] could get it so wrong"); the environmentalist obsession with alternatives to fossil fuels; and the notion that the West could tear itself away from oil in a couple of years given the political will ("We are structurally cooked"). Bill Gates, enthusiastic funder of some of the exact innovations Smil deplores, often cites Smil and his "phenomenal" books.
Stubbornly clear-eyed about the human race's sorry muck-up of the planet, Smil advocates radical energy conservation as our only hope -- and even that is a distant one. "It's doable, but doable only by catastrophe and crisis," he said cheerily in October. "People will not voluntarily abandon their Hummers."
Read more: Smil talks to FP about how the West got tricked into thinking it could overcome its gasoline addiction.
50. Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart
for keeping the focus on governance, not just guns.
Co-founders, Institute for State Effectiveness | Afghanistan, Washington
While others have been focused on winning the war in Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart have been thinking about how to win the peace. The two founders of the Institute for State Effectiveness, the world's most influential state-building think tank, have very different backgrounds: Ghani was born and raised in Afghanistan, trained as an anthropologist at Western universities, and served as his homeland's finance minister from 2002 to 2004 before his failed 2009 presidential bid; Lockhart was a lawyer and investment banker before stints at the World Bank and the U.N. But they share a common goal: a government in Kabul that can manage its own affairs.
Their 2008 book, Fixing Failed States, suggests how to achieve this in bite-size chunks, and Ghani and Lockhart have since been invited to lend their nation-building insight to governments from Sudan to Lebanon to Nepal. And both remain staunch critics of Afghanistan's status quo, whether it's Ghani launching jeremiads against corruption or Lockhart pointing out that Afghanistan has wasted money by trying to convince expat Afghans to return home instead of investing in high schools and universities.
51. Ahmed Rashid
for being the world's eyes and ears in one of its most volatile regions.
Journalist | Pakistan
Listen to Ahmed Rashid. In 2000, the Pakistani journalist and veteran of Central Asian conflicts since the late 1960s published a book about an obscure band of religious extremists who had taken over Afghanistan, a subject of so little general interest that Taliban was only picked up by a university press. Just a year later, journalists and government officials were fighting each other for copies.
His 2008 book, Descent Into Chaos, offered a meticulous and unsparing chronicle of the United States' strategic blunders and missed opportunities in post-9/11 Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention his own growing disillusionment with his once-close friend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In the wake of Pakistan's devastating summer floods, Rashid has continued writing prolifically with an even more urgent message: that the confluence of natural disaster with the country's manifold security and economic problems poses an existential threat to the Pakistani state. As he wrote this summer, "the very fabric of the country is falling apart." Rashid's diagnosis isn't what anyone wants to hear -- but then again, the best advice hardly ever is.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images