The Top 5 Environmental Newsmakers of 2008

01/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

2008 was a year when environmental news was perhaps more prevalent than any other -- from green campaign promises to plastic bottle scares to the staycation -- but some names were in the headlines much more frequently than others. Here are five of the most environmentally newsworthy people of the year, both good and bad. Who would be on your list?

Al Gore -- Fresh off the momentum from his recent Nobel prize, Gore continued to spread his climate-change message around the country and the world. He gave a speech in Washington this past July in which he challenged the U.S. to produce 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources within the next 10 years. Gore also continued his work with the We Campaign, which had an aggressive marketing campaign throughout the election, and later met with President-elect Obama to discuss climate change. Some were disappointed he wasn't appointed to an environmental cabinet position, while others were relieved. But even though he won't be serving Obama directly, expect Gore to stay in the spotlight.

James Hansen -- Hansen, a leading NASA climate change scientist who first testified in Congress about the dangers of global warming decades ago, made headlines in the spring for two statements. The first was his research that set a goal of 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide to prevent Earth from going beyond the tipping point for catastrophic climate events, like rising sea levels. The second was his controversial statement that oil executives should go on trial for crimes against humanity for their involvement in climate change -- a charge that was widely derided. Though the idea of trials may have been going too far, Hansen's scientific findings are respected worldwide.

T. Boone Pickens -- The Texas oilman makes the list for his widely-publicized Pickens Plan, naturally, which was met with equal parts praise and skepticism when he revealed it in July. The plan made Americans consider wind power as a viable, clean alternative to our carbon-spewing norm, and Pickens took the liberty of planning the largest wind farm in the world, in Texas. The farm was originally set to debut in 2014, but has been delayed due to the financial crisis. The plan raised some eyebrows among those who thought the billionaire as just out to make a billion more -- a claim he quickly dismisses, saying that he has plenty of money. He's shilling his plan to lawmakers, environmentalists and the media -- will there be any takers?

Sarah Palin -- Three words put Palin on this list: "Drill, Baby, Drill." The chant, like the woman, inspired enthusiasm or venom -- certainly, no lukewarm feelings. Palin was considered an environmental disaster (or hero, for those who agreed with her scientifically unsound views), championing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, shooting wolves from a helicopter, and famously saying that the cause of global warming "kinda doesn't matter." But it was back to Alaska for Palin, at least for now, while green voters and Tina Fey enjoy the respite from her anti-science rhetoric and perky eye winks.

Barack Obama -- A hero to the environmentally-minded, Obama has pledged to make climate a priority in his administration, whether through green jobs or a federal cap-and-trade system. Green job creation, especially in research and development of alternative fuels, has been a longtime part of Obama's plan for economic stimulus. After the election, Obama devoted an address to environmental issues, saying that he would invest $15 billion each year towards a clean energy future, whether solar power, wind power, next generation biofuels, or nuclear power. He's appointed a team of scientists and experts to environmental cabinet positions, and his decisions have so far been met with praise. He even wants to convert the presidential motorcade to plug-in hybrids. It's safe to say that he's off to a green start.