European Heroes – 2005

 Maud Fontenay

As my exploits in the field may be viewed as inertia personified, I always greet tales of extraordinary physical endurance with a mixture of awe and wonder. The awe is simple enough – and in the case of the youthful Maud, quite understandable – but the wonder is how bonkers some people are. There are innumerable cases of individuals fulfilling long held ambitions by testing their limits and Maud Fontenay demonstrates this point in spades.

Maud Fontenay is a slight, slender woman of 27 who sought to show that size and strength alone mean little without mental toughness and resourcefulness. Her achievement? Rowing 7,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean on her own in 73 days while variously contending with a broken seawater filtration system and diving into shark infested waters to fix her boat. Spending the first fifteen years of her life at sea was certainly a helpful start but, nonetheless, it’s a pretty staggering feat. As for my feet, you can be assured they remain rooted to the spot.

Jeff Porter

Thank God, I have never borne personal witness to a terrorist outrage or other catastrophe. Yet, if I was and I was also compus mentus, what would I do? Run for the proverbial exits? Sit in shock? Or, indeed, take some responsibility? That all assumes, of course, that I only had myself to worry about and not the scenario that confronted Jeff Porter.

Porter is a driver on the London Underground who saw a train on an adjacent track blown up as part of the orchestrated campaign last July by supporters of al Qaeda. His presence of mind as he approached Edgware Road station ensured the death toll was minimised. He decamped from his train, in the wake of this ferocious explosion, and groped his way through the dust, smoke and trapped bodies to raise the alarm in the main body of the station. He subsequently assisted in the orderly evacuation of around 1,000 passengers from his train in small groups. We often marvel at the heroic achievements of trained emergency services so Jeff Porter, a modest, self effacing train driver, deserves our great admiration all the more.

Lars G. Josefsson

I attended a seminar recently which, among other things, showed the result of a vox pop that asked members of the public whether they were both environmentally friendly and aware. The bemusement, embarrassment and mild irritation that unfolded on screen was highly instructive and was almost a mirror image of the attitude and stance of business leaders and politicians. Climate change is the most serious long term threat to the planet, far more than the threat of race wars or mutant viruses, and Lars G. Josefsson is among the most serious champions of this issue.

His influence reflects his position as CEO of Vattenfall, the Swedish state controlled electricity company, and he has used it to exert pressure on G8, the United Nations and the international business community to impose a worldwide system to limit carbon dioxide emissions over the next century. This will permit a market in which quotas may be traded and indicates that energy providers are starting to regulate their industry before governments demand it. The brand of enlightened radicalism displayed by Josefsson has been an infrequent guest in boardrooms hitherto but is, I suspect, something we’ll be seeing rather more of in the future.

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