Founded on April 22,1970 by Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day went down in history as the first nationally supported day focused entirely on the environment and has since transformed into the world’s largest environmental movement. From leading scientific experts to activist celebrities to social justice leaders to civically engaged youth around the world, read about those who are fighting to make this world a better place.
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, addressed the United Nations on the impending and fast-approaching risks of global warming. The teenager launched a call to action with her #FridaysForFuture campaign and initiated a global movement in which school-aged students left class in an effort to demand action to prevent further climate change.
“The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.”
Follow Thunberg on Instagram.
Watch Thunberg’s TED Talk.
San Francisco Bay Area environmentalist, activist, author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has spent most of his life championing environmental sustainability and positively changing the relationship between the environment and business. He is the founder of Project Drawdown—a nonprofit dedicated to researching how and when climate change can be reversed.
“We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion and genius.”
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Visit Project Drawdown.
Photo: Raymond Baltar
Charity: water CEO and Thirst author Scott Harrison is on a mission to provide clean, safe drinking water to all those without it. His nonprofit has raised more than $360 million and funded more than 35,000 water projects in 27 countries, which, when completed, will provide 9.5 million people with clean water.
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, author and social activist known for her political analysis and criticism of corporate globalization. She is also a board member of climate-action group 350.org and an organizer for Canada’s Leap Manifesto—an organization that advocates for a rapid and justice-based transition away from fossil fuels.
“It is a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.”
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Listen to Klein’s TED Talk.
Photo: Kourosh Keshiri
Pharrell Williams, a Grammy Award–winning musical artist, is the founder of From One Hand to AnOTHER—a nonprofit dedicated to providing children with the educational tools needed for success. He has met with leaders at the COP21 summit in Paris and spoken at the United Nations about climate change. Williams works with G-Star Raw to curate a fashion line made from recycled ocean plastic in an effort to provide a cleaner world for future generations.
Bob Ward serves as the policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is also the deputy chair of the London Climate Change Partnership and is a regular news contributor and commentator on climate change and policy.
“Because the impacts of climate change are increasing over time … today’s young people will also be faced with bigger risks in the future than we are experiencing today.”
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Read Ward’s research and clips.
Fiji native and Pacific Island Represent activist Litia Baleilevuka’s message is simple: End fossil fuels now. The 21-year-old environmental activist spoke at the 2018 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland, advocating for a cease in emissions—which directly hit her island home the hardest—from the use of fossil fuels.
“I want for each and every leader to make that commitment, to help us in this fight to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Connect with Baleilevuka on LinkedIn.
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Photo: Pacific Island Represent
The founder of the youth-led Zero Hour movement organized the first ever Youth Climate March in Washington, D.C., and 25 other cities around the country in 2018. The 17-year-old Jamie Margolin lobbies for climate change in local government and on Capitol Hill. Her debut book “Youth to Power” hits bookstores in 2020.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has been a staunch environmental activist for years, and in 1998, he founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation—which is “dedicated to the protection and well-being of all Earth’s inhabitants”—and supports environmental and wildlife organizations all around the world. He also sits on the board of several organizations dedicated to climate issues, including the World Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Clean air, water and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics, it is a question of our own survival.”
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Visit the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
Philippe Cousteau Jr.
Following in the footsteps of his father Philippe and grandfather Jacques, Philippe Cousteau Jr. educates the public on environmental and conservation issues. In 2000, the young conservationist co-founded EarthEcho International with the mission to empower young people to protect and restore the waters of the planet.
“We can argue about foreign policy, we can argue about economic policy, [but] when it comes right down to it, clean air and clean water are nonnegotiable.”
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Visit EarthEcho International.
Photo: EarthEcho International
As the previous executive secretary of the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and the current managing director of the climate program at the Outrider Foundation, Tia Nelson is a tireless advocate for environmental stewardship and climate-change education. She spent 17 years with The Nature Conservancy and won the EPA’s Climate Protection Award in 2000 for her work.
Jesse Keenan, Ph.D., teaches courses on development and climate adaptation at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. In addition, he was the first to publish evidence of the existence of climate change within the real estate market and coined the term “climate gentrification,” which has opened up a broader discussion on climate change, social equity and economics.
“Climate gentrification is a phenomenon that will not be limited to steering residential patterns. … It will directly impact the ranges of flora and fauna, it will dictate the capital flows of real estate investment, it will engender a new form of architecture, and it will rewrite the boundaries of political and cultural geography.”
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Read Keenan’s findings.
Photo: GSD Harvard University
Bill McKibben is a journalist and environmentalist who’s written extensively on climate change. He’s written several books and penned articles for the likes of Rolling Stone, Huffington Post and The New York Times on global warming. He is also the leader of the anti-carbon campaign group 350.org and was awarded the Gandhi Peace Award in 2013.
“[N]ow we’re at the point where we have no choice but to hope we can build movements big enough, loud enough, beautiful enough to challenge that power. … I don’t know if we’re going to win, but we definitely are going to have a fight.”
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Photo: Nancie Battaglia
Canadian author and water activist Maude Barlow is on the board of several environmental organizations, including Food & Water Watch and World Future Council. She is the national chairperson of The Council of Canadians and is the co-founder of Blue Planet Project. Barlow has written several books and has received numerous awards for her global contributions.
Perhaps one of the most well-known environmental activists, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is the founder of The Climate Reality Project, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work. Gore is also a New York Times best-selling author for many notable titles, including “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission.”
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Visit The Climate Reality Project.
Actor Mark Ruffalo received a BAFTA Humanitarian Award for his work with Water Defense, and he is a driving force behind The Solutions Project and Artists Against Fracking. The Solutions Project’s mission is to bring 100 percent clean energy to every community.
Following his tenure as the executive director of Greenpeace International, Paul Gilding serves on the board of The Climate Mobilization and is a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. For the past 40 years, the Australia native has been an adviser on sustainability and most recently wrote “The Great Disruption.”
Mindy Lubber is the CEO and president of Ceres, a nonprofit organization working with influential investors and companies to build leadership and economic solutions through environmental sustainability. She is also the founder and CEO of Green Century Capital Management—a collection of environmentally responsible mutual funds.
“We must all recognize the power of our investable dollars to accelerate the transition to a just and sustainable global economy that ensures a livable planet for all of us.”
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Helio Mattar is the founder of Brazil’s Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption. He has created several organizations that promote consumer consciousness and corporate social responsibility. Mattar is a board member for countless sustainability organizations, and the Akatu Institute was recognized by the U.N. Global Compact for its effective partnerships.
Through her beauty line, The Honest Company, Jessica Alba has set up a charitable arm to her business with the Honest to Goodness campaign. Proceeds from product sales go toward other companies striving for social good and are giving back to the planet and communities all over the world.
Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., is an Indian scholar, author, environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate who founded Navdanya—a movement to protect the diversity of living resources. She also founded an independent institute—the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology—that’s dedicated to addressing the most pressing social and ecological issues.
“The defense of nature’s rights and people’s rights have come together for me in Earth Democracy—the democracy of all life on earth, a living democracy which supports and is supported by living culture and living economies.”
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Jianyu Zhang is the chief representative for Environmental Defense Fund’s China Program, which is responsible for the country’s strategic environmental planning and implementation. Before his role at EDF, Zhang established China’s first environmental consulting venture and implemented a clean production project on behalf of the U.S. EPA.
“EDF is helping China develop infrastructure and policies needed to shift the economy toward a low-carbon future.”
Actress and co-founder of the All It Takes nonprofit, Shailene Woodley is an environmental activist with a focus on sustainability. The charitable organization focuses on youth programming that empowers young people to practice empathy and compassion in order to build stronger communities and a more sustainable planet.
“If we don’t begin taking genuine steps to protect our precious resources—our soil, our water, our essential elements—we will not have a healthy or thriving planet to pass on to future generations.”
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Visit All It Takes.
Joseph Romm, Ph.D., is the chief science adviser for the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously” and the founding editor of ClimateProgress.org. He is a highly influential climate-change writer and advocates for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming through green energy technologies.
“I have been studying and communicating climate science and solutions for two decades. It is the story of the century, yet it remains under-reported in the media.”
Follow Climate Progress on Twitter.
Visit The Years Project.
Photo: The Years Project