78. Lester Brown
for explaining the connection between planet and plate.
President, Earth Policy Institute | Washington
Lester Brown was puzzling over the links between ecosystem, economy, and esophagus long before Michael Pollan ever contemplated the omnivore's dilemma. Brown's recent work -- most notably his much-updated 2003 book Plan B -- carries a grim message: that a flawed economic system and political paralysis have conspired to push the environment to the brink of catastrophe, one that will take with it the world food system and, ultimately, civilization. Brown had been warning of rising food prices and shortages years before his predictions came true in 2007 and 2008, and his arguments received another bleak bit of confirmation this year when the worst heat wave in recorded Russian history sparked wildfires that wiped out an estimated 38 percent of the country's grain harvest. "I sort of assumed that in our modern world, food could not be the weak link," Brown told FP shortly after the fires. "I now think not only that it could be, but that it probably will be the weak link."
79. George Papandreou
for making the best of Greece's worst year.
Prime minister | Greece
Even before the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek economy was running on borrowed time, an ossified system that predictably buckled under the weight of the crash. When George Papandreou took office as Greece's prime minister in October 2009, he found that the budget deficit was not 6 percent, as his predecessor had claimed, but 12.7 percent, four times that allowed by the eurozone's rules.
Papandreou has spent 2010 telling Greeks hard truths about the unsustainable nature of their welfare state -- and sounding an international warning that Greece is the canary in the European coal mine. The Minnesota-born son of a former socialist prime minister, he has rolled out an austerity plan that will raise taxes and rein in the bloated public sector, a package ambitious enough to convince Europe to keep Greece afloat even as it has provoked riots in Athens. And he has argued that the disaster should be a wake-up call for the threat sovereign debt poses far beyond Europe's borders. "It's not an issue of countries acting on their own," he said. "We need a more coordinated strategy not only in Europe but around the world."
80. Niall Ferguson
for showing that economic crises are about a lot more than the economy.
Historian, Harvard University | Cambridge, Mass.
With a rapier wit and the pugilistic instincts of an Oxbridge debater, Niall Ferguson has proved that sometimes, in an economic crisis, what you need most is a historian. While American economists have been debating the Laffer curve and quantitative easing, the prolific author and Financial Times columnist has explained that a lot more is at stake than tax receipts. Ferguson identifies the tipping point in the decline of world powers as the moment when the interest on a country's debt surpasses its defense expenditures -- a moment the United States will reach, he warns, in about five years.
But judging from his latest book, a biography of the German-émigré banker Siegmund Warburg, Ferguson is hardly a doctrinaire supporter of unrestrained markets. Warburg, Ferguson shows, was a revolutionary financier who helped make London a postwar financial capital, but his dynamism was tempered by a degree of caution and skepticism. We'd all be better off, Ferguson suggests, if the constraints on capitalism were likewise self-imposed rather than the product of regulation. "Banking will never be God's work," according to Ferguson. "But we can make it less like the devil's."
81. Ethan Zuckerman
for showing us how small our online worlds are -- and how big they can be.
Founder, Global Voices | Lanesborough, Mass.
Has the World Wide Web made the world any wider? Ethan Zuckerman doesn't think so. The Internet, he thinks, has fostered a sense of "imaginary cosmopolitanism" in which we mistake communications infrastructure for communication itself, even as we mostly use it to connect with like-minded people.
A pioneering Internet entrepreneur in the mid-1990s, Zuckerman has spent the past decade helping the web live up to its full globalizing potential. In 2004 he co-founded Global Voices, a website where online conversations from around the world are translated and knit together into a true global colloquium. This year, along with Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, he launched Media Cloud, a project that allows users to track how news stories move through the global media. "The real problems in the world, the interesting problems to solve, are global in scale and scope," he told a TED audience this summer.
Photo by Joi Ito