UNEP Awards 2012 Champions of the Earth in Rio de Janeiro: Watch Their Inspiring Stories!

© Chris Tackett
Image: UNEP Director, Achim Steiner and Gisele Bündchen pose with the 2012 Champions of the Earth Award recipients.

UPDATE: Don't miss the bonus music video at the bottom of this post!

On Monday, I witnessed Gisele Bündchen plant the first of a new 50,000 tree forest, but that was only the first of many events taking place in Rio de Janeiro for World Environment Day. The tree planting was an exciting experience, however, while the Green Nation Fest - with its fun and interactive games and exhibits - was designed to inspire children and their families about environmental issues, Monday evening's Champions of the Earth Awards dinner was all about inspiring those of us already working in this space to do even more. As the United Nation's flagship environmental awards, the Champions of the Earth Awards are serious business, with the recipients truly setting the bar in world changing thinking of solutions to our growing environmental crises. I was honored to be a guest of the United Nations Environment Programme and attend such an important event.

The 2012 Champions of the Earth Award laureates are the President of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Dr. Sander van der Leeuw, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Mr. Fábio C. Barbosa, Dr. Bertrand Piccard and Samson Parashina.

You'll learn more about these individuals below, but I first want to express a personal take on this event.
It will sound like fawning, but I do not exaggerate when I admit that being in the same room with these Champions of the Earth Award laureates was truly a humbling and life-altering experience. Hearing the backgrounds of these individuals and seeing what all they have accomplished to solve the specific environmental and societal problems in their respective countries was such an inspiration that I kept thinking of how badly I wish everyone I know could have attended with me.

Do you ever read an article or watch a film or news clip that moves you so much you can't stop thinking of how badly you wish everyone would read or see this thing that meant so much to you? For most of my adult life, I've been gripped by this idea: "If only everyone I know read or saw this thing, then everyone would feel this way!" I've come to learn that as much as I hope my reaction to events like this would be mirrored in others, I know not everyone is inspired in the same ways. But, ever the optimist, I can't help but think I won't be alone in being moved by these stories. To that end, I have compiled some of the videos we watched at the awards dinner below and I hope you'll take the time to watch and see if you're moved as I was.

The Champions of the Earth Awards recognize individuals in a number of fields. From science to business, politics and the grassroots, the 2012 laureates come from a wide range of fields and very different backgrounds. What they have in common, however, is the thing we all should strive for. In each case, the story of these people is one of being an observant and a caring human, recognizing the problems in their respective regions or situations, learning about the core issues causing these negative situations and using strong intellect to figure out ways to change the status quo for the benefit of humans, wildlife and the environment everywhere. To put it in simpler, cruder terms, it's really just paying attention and giving a damn.

While we won't all be as successful as these men, they represent what I think we all should aspire for. No, we won't all reach the levels of education or rank in business or politics that these men have, but what we all have in common is the choice of whether to stand by and accept the status quo or allow our brains to recognize where and how things should be changed in order to help improve the lives of others.

UNEP produced some fantastic videos for each of the laureates. Please take some time to learn about these people by watching the videos and following the links below. And if nothing else, keep in your mind the thought of how you can improve things for others, in small and large ways alike.

Dr. Bertrand Piccard (Switzerland) is awarded for raising global awareness of the possibilities of renewable energy-driven transport.

More on Dr. Piccard

President Tsakhia Elbegdorj (Mongolia) is awarded for delivering on promises to put the environment at the forefront of policies.

More on President Elbegdorj

Dr. Sander Van der Leeuw (Netherlands) is awarded for his research, which applies lessons learned from history to understand why humanity is not facing up to the long-term issue of environmental change.

More on Dr Van Der Leuww

Samson Parashina (Kenya) is awarded for leading community efforts to conserve Kenya's Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem.

More on Samson Parashina

"The business of business is sustainable business."

Mr. Fábio C. Barbosa (Brazil) is awarded for his business efforts in sustainability and promoting renewable energy.

More on Mr. Barbosa

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (UAE) is awarded for his business efforts in sustainability and promoting clean technology.

More on Dr. Al Jaber

BONUS VIDEO!
Besides all the inspiring stories above, one of the more interesting things to happen at the Champions of the Earth Awards was this performance by a traditional folk musicians from Mongolia. They were here as guests of President Elbegdorj and wowed the crowd with their unique style. I've never seen anything like it! Enjoy.

Chris Tackett is currently in Rio de Janeiro for World Environment Day. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisTackett for the latest and view the World Environment Day page for all of TreeHugger's coverage.

Tags: World Environment Day