Steingraber is hardly a newcomer to the environmental scene: people have been comparing the former biology professor to Rachel Carson since 1997, when she published Living Downstream. The book examines how illness is linked to pollution, and it grew out of Steingraber's experiences battling a form of bladder cancer that may have been caused by industrial runoff.
But over the past three years, Steingraber, 54, has emerged as one of the country's top experts on the hot-button issue of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And here's the really surprising thing: at a time when everyone from big green groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council to President Obama is touting America's newfound natural-gas glut as a bridge to energy independence, Steingraber has prevailed in her efforts to keep the process out of her home state.
In 2011, she received a $100,000 Heinz Award for her human-rights approach to the environmental crisis. At the time, it appeared that New York governor Andrew Cuomo was moments away from lifting a moratorium on fracking, so Steingraber used her prize money to help start the nonprofit New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition that includes thousands of members, from farmers to mothers to actor Mark Ruffalo. In 2012, she starred in the antifracking film Dear Governor Cuomo, which raised pressure on the state government. In March, she was jailed for blocking the entrance to a gas compressor station. A month later she published Raising Elijah, about how environmental issues like gas development will affect future generations. Meanwhile, the push to frack New York remains stalled. Cuomo has yet to lift the moratorium, and companies like Chesapeake Energy have started pulling out of the state.
There may be bigger names in the fracking debate—Josh Fox and Ruffalo come to mind—but none of them are as uncompromising or informed. "The data is showing us that we're killing our planet and killing our children," she says. "And scientists have a moral position to make sure that the data makes a difference."
The list of recent documentaries that have fundamentally altered public attitudes about an important issue is short: The Cove, Super Size Me, Chasing Ice. Add to it Walker's The Crash Reel, which opens in theaters across the country this month. The film, a feature about snowboarder Kevin Pearce's recovery from a traumatic brain injury, makes an unassailable case that action sports are as dangerous as the NFL—and promises to change the way we see the X Games, super-pipes, and the very concept of big air.
"It's like we were breaking a story," says Walker. "There were a lot of things that we realized nobody had talked about before." Among them: an almost willful ignorance about the symptoms of head injuries and their prevalence in the action-sports community, the woeful lack of health insurance among athletes, and the complicity of the industry in pushing people like Pearce to risky heights.
The Crash Reel introduces us to Pearce when he's a fun-loving star primed to rival Shaun White as the world's greatest snowboarder. Then he suffers a brain injury on a Park City, Utah, halfpipe while training for the Vancouver Olympics, and everything about him, from his mental capacity to his disposition, changes. Walker spares us nothing, showing the accident over and over, going inside Pearce's Vermont home as his family helps him recover, and following him as he attempts to snowboard again. (His agent, Lowell Taub, gives Pearce detailed instructions on what to wear during his ceremonial return: "Nike gets a three-inch sticker on your helmet.") Walker also tackles the death of freeskier Sarah Burke, whose family faced a six-figure medical bill after she hit her head on the same Park City halfpipe where Pearce fell. The effect is brutal, which is the point.
"How come action-sports athletes aren't insured?" Walker asks. "I mean, how is that possible?"
Most important, Walker turns the clichéd sports comeback story on its head, making a convincing case that the most heroic thing you can do after a serious brain injury isn't to return to competition. Rather, it's to be selfless enough to walk away for the sake of your family.
Since finding this story, Walker has taken an active role in the issue of brain injuries, starting a nonprofit campaign called Love Your Brain together with the Pearce Family. (She also turned us on to the issue and helped spark our investigative report "After the Crash," which appears on page 68.) Walker has been nominated for two Oscars for her previous work (Waste Landand "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"). If there's any justice in Hollywood, she'll be thanking the Pearce family from the podium in March.
You may not recognize his name, but you've almost certainly been sucked into one of his massively popular online videos—"Word's Largest Roping Swing," "The Human Slingshot," "Zipline Catapult." To date, Graham's YouTube channel, Devin Super Tramp, has racked up more than a quarter-billion page views, making him by far the most successful of a new breed of YouTube auteurs—filmmakers who pump out viral video after viral video. Born into a conservative Mormon household in Provo, Utah, Graham, 30, originally wanted to make features but fell in love with online videos while studying film at BYU. "I'm my own boss, and it's only my audience that determines how I do," says Graham, who dropped out during his senior year and has been supporting himself through YouTube ever since.
There's a reason for that: while his videos have a carefree air, many of them are actually commercials. "Human Slingshot Slip and Slide" (12.3 million views), in which a crew of twentysomethings on an inner tube whip down a hill and off a greased-up jump into a lake, is actually an ad for Vooray, an apparel manufacturer. "Zipline Catapult" (2.1 million views), in which kids zip from a 100-foot cliff into the water near a houseboat on Utah's Lake Powell, was done for Bluehouse Skis. Graham has become so adept at viral marketing that he's now working for the likes of Ford, Google, and Mountain Dew. His secret? Keeping it light. "Most things on the Internet are negative," says Graham. "But people want to see happy videos, too. They want that kind of escape."
Even as we try to let him fade from public attention, Lance Armstrong’s legacy goes on (and on and on and on).
Earlier this month, the disgraced Texan cyclist found himself the subject of both a new book, Wheelman, and a new movie, The Armstrong Lie. And earlier this week, filming began on a Hollywood-size biopic directed by Stephen Frears, with Armstrong portrayed by Chris O’Dowd, of the TV comedy The IT Crowd. And, only today, Ryder Hesjedal, winner of the 2012 Giro d’Italia, admitted to having doped in 2003, just beyond the statute of limitations, and just prior to joining Armstrong during his doping days at US Postal.
A quick glance through the comments of the latest Armstrong coverage shows an overarching ambivalence about him—with roughly half dissing him, the other half staunchly upholding his integrity.
In a stroke of brilliance, Andrew Straw, of the Newcastle, England-based bike-tour operator Saddle Skedaddle, tapped into the undercurrent of Armstrong equivocation when he noticed a few copies of the dethroned Tour champ’s autobiographies on sale in local second-hand shops. Straw determined there must be more Armstrong paraphernalia out there that people don't want or know what to do with. He put out the offer, and, to his surprise, the Armstrong biographies began pouring in. “I thought maybe we’d receive a few copies,” Straw says. “But within a week, we had hundreds.” He also received, among various mementos, an autographed jersey and a US Postal Trek bike frame.
Straw had to find something to do with all the booty. “I had two ideas. One was to make a throne-like piece of furniture, which could live in the Hub, and the public could sit on the pages,” he says. “Another was to cover the floor in pages of the book.”
He opted for the flooring alternative. After ripping pages from the donated books, Straw requested that café patrons write their thoughts about Lance Armstrong on loose sheets and use floor varnish to affix them to the floor. “Lance is a hero,” reads one. “Manipulator!” says another.
Letting clients express their views—good or bad—was exactly the point, according to Straw. “It works in two ways,” he says. “For people who still rate Lance, it is something that can be admired. And those now ‘anti-Lance,’ can stamp all over the lies written in the books."