I've been writing a lot of profiles about cool people over the past couple of months and have asked each of them the same question: does the world need saving? It seems like that's a fundamental question that has drawn a wide variety of answers from everyone I've asked. I'll let their words stand on their own:

Green marketer and media pro Josh Dorfman:

Does the world need saving?

No. The world can muddle through just fine. Even if global warming proves calamitous, the world will figure out how to muddle through. But who really wants to just muddle through? I’d rather focus on making the world awesome for as many people as possible for as long as possible which means bringing human activity into balance with nature’s capabilities to sustain it. To do so, the world needs a credible yet inspiring vision of a future in which quality of life goes up as greenhouse gas emissions go down.

Medical marijuana entrepreneur Troy Dayton:
Does the world need saving?

There is a great Howard Thurman quote that says, "Don't ask so much what the world needs. Go out and do what makes you come alive, because what the world needs most is people who have come alive." So, yes, the world needs saving but it's not on your shoulders. Rather, it's in your heart. There is no sacrifice needed. We each save the world every time we act from a place of love, joy and freedom. When we act from that place, we treat the world and all its inhabitants in ways that will save it. 

Composting worm guru Bentley Christie:
Does the world need saving?

I think what the world really needs is a vacation from its problems (as Bob Wiley might say) — a big long extended period without any of us around to fiddle.   

OK, so I’m mostly kidding — but my point is that the Earth itself is pretty resilient, so I don’t know that it’s so much a matter of us “saving” it, as it is a need for us to “fix” ourselves and undergo some sort of massive global paradigm shift.  

I’m a diehard optimist, and perhaps it’s partially due to my immersion in the eco-blogosphere these last five years or so, but I do feel like we’re seeing some pretty significant shifts in perspective about all of this. Is it “too little too late”? I dunno — I’ll leave that for David Suzuki and Al Gore to decide!  

Eco coder Jereme Monteau:
Does the world need saving?

The planet itself will probably be fine. But certainly there are some big problems that need to be addressed. The scale of these problems is intimidating and can lead to cynicism and helplessness. But there are a lot of people out there trying to make things better. Transit & Trails is my tiny little attempt to make an improvement in our system. I hope that more people can find issues to become passionate about and apply their skills to. A big part of that is not waiting for people to give you the go ahead. If you see an opportunity to get involved with something, then you have to do it! Even (or perhaps especially) if it hasn't been done before or it seems crazy. I'm a firm believer that it's better to try and fail than not try at all.

Green marketing guruJohn Rooks:
Does the world need saving?

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?    

The “earth” will likely be fine — it will find stasis on its own. “Will we be around to enjoy it?” might be the question. We will, in some mutated form or another, I suppose.


Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman:
Does the world need saving?  

Absolutely, and last time I checked, there wasn't anyone who has volunteered to do it for us. As my son's wrestling T-shirt says, "It's on you."

Nonprofit activist Lindsay Clarke:
Does the world need saving?

Humanity is in trouble. Even as the world's population sky rockets, we have yet to begin planning in earnest how we'll live sustainably with the limited resources available to us. The world's leading superpowers have grown their economies of mass consumption at the expense of the poor — both those within their borders, in urban ghettos and rural villages, and those in the unseen underbelly that is the Third World. The "triple disaster" in Japan has shown that even those societies at the forefront of modernity are not invincible. Japan's economy has gone into hibernation for lack of fuel and electricity; its food and water have gone toxic. The Japanese are struggling to share the resources they've long been accustomed to, which are ultimately the same kind of resources that must be shared with the world's almost 7 billion people. Granted, for most us who live in the comfort of the First World, it's unlikely we'll lose access to our precious resources as rapidly as Japan has, but the example is a frightening reality check. It's past time to start making some real changes in how we consume our planet's resources.

Stoneyfield CEO Gary Hirshberg:
Does the world need saving?

Yes, and the good news is it’s very do-able! For instance, Stonyfield’s purchases of certified organic ingredients alone support more than 180,000 acres of organic farmland and have avoided more than 9 million pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and more than 185,000 pounds of insecticides and herbicides. Everybody has a role to play in saving the world and it can start with one cup of organic yogurt. Just do one thing, any one thing.

Renewable energy entrepreneur Quayle Hodek:
Does the world need saving?

No. The Earth doesn’t need to be saved any more than the sun needs saving. It was here long before human beings, and will continue well past the end of human civilization, whether through conflict, disease, evolution, environmental collapse or colonization of other planets. When most people talk about saving the planet, they mean preserving the ability of humans to live here. That means clean water, clean air, healthy food from living soil, and with a diversity of plant and animal life that keeps the earth’s naturally regulating systems in balance.  

True sustainability is a way of living with each other and using natural resources that ensures the ability of current humans to meet their needs, without compromising the ability of future generations to do so. It involves aspects of economy, society, and the environment.

Energy efficiency entrepreneur Peter Troast:
Does the world need saving?

Yes, of course it does. On so many fronts, we’re headed in the wrong direction. But the 20th century has also shown our society’s resilience to huge challenges — two world wars, the Cold War, the prospect of Nuclear Armageddon, etc. In that context, today’s challenges appear manageable.  

That said, we are in a period of energy transition, which history tells us are painfully slow and protracted. We need urgency now and, sadly, the degree to which we ultimately benefit from the changes taking place today rather than suffer from them will depend on our honesty in facing the situation. Climate change will upend communities across the globe, the impact of the decline of fossil fuel resources, in my opinion, is much closer than we might think, and the economic growth taking place in China, India, and other developing countries is upsetting the global landscape in a big way. Global energy demand is expected to triple by 2050. So we do need to be honest about the need to change the way we do things.

Outdoor filmmaker and entrepreneur Nick Callanan:
Does the world need saving?

The earth will be fine. It's the humans that are in trouble. I live in Portland, Maine, and life here is fine — right now. Yes there is unemployment, obesity, almost uniform indebtedness, mass spiritual disconnectedness and absolute dependence on cheap energy to maintain our privileged lifestyles; but for the most part, people here are happy. The sun rises, people go to work, help out their neighbors, buy some cheap crap from China, watch some football, drink some local ale and go to bed. Life is good.  

However, lots of indicators scare the sh*t out of me: Global weirding, our insufferable political theater (when will it end!?!), reeling financial systems, and a general dishonesty between corporations and regular folks. But even setting all that aside, the simple math is this: population is growing exponentially while natural resources are ... not. Any raft guide worth her salt can see that we will be out of cheap energy very soon; and it is quite clear the mass affluent classes throughout the world are not prepared to handle a paradigm in which they can't throw money at problems to make them go away. But, on the bright side, if we kill ourselves off, the earth will surely begin to regenerate herself in rapid fashion. So, from the earth's perspective at least, that's a win-win right?

Environmental journalist Brian Howard:
Does the world need saving?

That's a great question. Many people are quick to point out that it does not, at least on a geological or cosmological scale. However, I think that's a bit too far-sighted. In human-scale measures of time, biodiversity is irreplaceable, because we can't wait a few hundred million years. In that sense, the world very much needs saving, now. I don't buy the cynical argument that humans are part of nature and therefore everything we do is "natural." Sure, that may be true on a philosophical sense, but what good is philosophy if you have no clean water, no breathable air, no genetic diversity to adapt to disease and change?

Media maven and vegan Michael Parrish DuDell:
Does the world need saving?

I’m not sure if “saving” is the right word, but yes, I think we’re in a fragile state and in desperate need of some tangible solutions. The more important question, of course, is how do we go about creating a society that fosters the kind of innovation needed to produce these valuable results? I’m not sure I know the answer to that one. I will say this: I think societal progression requires a capacious amount of cooperation between government, the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors, and citizens. This, sadly, is something that seems to be decreasing each year, and so we are forced to be even more creative.  

At my very core, I’m an entrepreneur and a hopeless believer in the power of conscious capitalism and social entrepreneurship. I think this generation of young people is redefining the principals of business, and I’m optimistic that progressive companies run by thoughtful leaders can contribute greatly to a kinder, cleaner, and more compassionate planet.

Environmentalists and mangrove preservationists Toby Jacobs and Scott Duncan:
Does the world need saving?

The ecological world needs saving — or at least needs to be left alone for a good long while. The geological and climatic world is in the process of saving itself, and we'd better get the (bleep) out of the way!  

Hiker, musician, and photographer Leon Godwin:
Does the world need saving?

The canned answer, which I originally encountered in the book "Jurassic Park," is no, the world will be fine, it’s humans that need saving. This is partially true; life has done well enough recovering after major extinction events long, long, long before we showed up. But right now, we are the cause of the major extinctions that are already taking place, and we will be the ultimate cause of our own extinction if we don’t do something about it immediately. I don’t have an answer to what needs to be done, but the older I get, the more I think that the changes will have to come from the ground up, that no government policy, or Hollywood star with good intentions, or any miracle technology, will be able to save us. It’s the Average American that consumes more energy than the rest of the world, that doesn’t know or care where their food comes from, that doesn’t see the havoc being wreaked on the world in the name of progress. We have to change our lifestyles, especially where it pertains to our disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources. But we are also victims of the infrastructure around us. We’re waiting for that infrastructure to give us all electric cars and charging stations on every corner, when what we should be doing presently is opting out of the lifestyles that require us to drive a car everyday in the first place.

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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

Does the world need saving?
Do we need saving? How about the planet? Experts chime in on a fundamental question, and you can read their answers here.