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THE MOST INFLUENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS

Updated: Nov 9, 2023


The health of the earth is the backbone of humanity’s survival, and currently humankind faces one of the greatest challenges to its existence: climate change, a topic receiving increasing attention in the media and social conversations in recent years, though, in the last 200 years we did almost everything to cause damage to our planet – our home – possibly without real knowledge of what we were doing for the first 150, but certainly with increasing amounts of information and evidence over the last 50.


At the same time, scientific studies (the increasingly accurate science of climate change) and the impact of international agreements like the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) support the struggle to find solutions to the problem.


However, despite growing awareness, we still have a long way to go, and our success with this issue, which will have a crucial impact on future generations, requires a greater level of commitment from all of society. So what can we do to inspire everyone to join the fight against climate change?


One of the ways is through role models a.k.a environmental activists, i.e. personalities committed to the environment who influence through their impact, their responsibility or their wisdom, encouraging others to follow their paths to make meaningful changes and live sustainably.


The goal of environmental activism is to create a harmonious living environment that can be handed down from generation to generation without degrading in life quality due to poor human stewardship – thus, essentially a sustainable world. Let's take a look who are they and what have they managed to achieve:


Sir David Attenborough - Environmental Activist


Sir David Attenborough is Britain’s best-known natural history filmmaker and one of the most famous environmental actvisists. His career as a natural and history broadcaster has spanned nearly seven decades. By studying geology and zoology at Cambridge University, he came to understand the importance of using both branches of science when figuring out how the natural world works.


His first job—after Cambridge University and two years in the Royal Navy—was at a London publishing house. Then in 1952 he joined the BBC as a trainee producer and it was while working on the Zoo Quest series (1954–1964) that he had his first opportunity to undertake expeditions to remote parts of the globe to capture intimate footage of wildlife in its natural habitat.


In 1973 he abandoned administration altogether to return to documentary making and writing and established himself as the world’s leading natural history programme maker with several landmark titles, including ‘Life on Earth’ (1979), ‘The Living Planet’ (1984), ‘The Trials of Life’ (1990), ‘The Private Life of Plants’ (1995), ‘Life of Birds’ (1998), ‘The Blue Planet’ (2001), ‘Life of Mammals’ (2002), ‘Planet Earth’ (2006), ‘Our Planet’ (2019), and ‘David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet’ (2020), ‘Climate Change – The Fact’s (2021), and ‘Frozen Planet II’ (2022).


Sir David was knighted in 1985 and received the Order of Merit in 2005. He is a fellow of the Royal Society and stands at the forefront of issues concerning the planet’s declining species and conservation. 


Greta Thunberg - Environmental Activist


An environmental activist who always makes headlines. Greta Thunberg has become one of the most famous environmental activists, despite her young age. She fearlessly challenges world leaders on climate change and political action. Greta’s activism began in her home country: Sweden. She has challenged her parents and convinced them to make sustainable changes and swaps to reduce their carbon footprint. Later on, this led to demonstrations such as the ‘School strike for climate.’ This encouraged other students and young people to demand changes in their respective communities, which ultimately led to the founding of the FridaysForFuture (FFF) movement.


Greta has given several speeches and held protests as a call for change. Her undying passion for creating awareness about the climate crisis has seen many young environmentalists, and ultimately, people like Greta are showing how important sustainability education is for the long-term protection of our environment.



Leonardo DiCaprio – Environmental Activist


Beside a famous actor, Leonardo DiCaprio also a ferocious environmental activist. One example is the foundation he set up in 1998 that bears his name: The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. It runs more than 35 conservation projects and its mission is to protect Earth's last remaining wild places and apply sustainable solutions to encourage a healthier relationship between humankind and nature. What's more, he has also produced several documentaries on these concerns.


DiCaprio was also designated as the United Nations Messenger of Peace for Climate Change in 2014. And it doesn’t stop there: he also sits on the board of several environmental organisations including WWF, the Natural Resources Defense Council, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Pristine Seas and Oceans 5.


Paul Watson - Conservation Activist


Paul Franklin Watson is a Canadian marine wildlife conservation and a famous environmental activist. Watson exhibited an early affinity for protecting wildlife. At age nine he would seek out and destroy leghold traps that were set by beaver hunters, interfere with deer and duck hunters, and foil the attempts of other young boys to shoot birds.


Watson was an early member of Greenpeace International. During his years with the organization, he often employed daring and innovative tactics to defend wildlife from hunters, because of these conflicts concerning such unconventional protest methods, Watson left Greenpeace, and established the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an anti-poaching and direct action group focused on marine conservation activism in 1977. This organization frequently undertakes dangerous expeditions to protect and defend marine wildlife from illegal poaching.


Jane Goodall - Wildlife Protection Environmentalist


Jane Goodall is one of the most famous environmentalists, particularly in the wildlife protection space. Her story has been the subject of numerous articles, books and films.

The young English woman who ventured to Africa in 1960, conducted research on chimpanzees and wound up revolutionising primate science. Today, her extensive studies have become a crucial aspect of her legacy. 


In 1977, Jane established the Jane Goodall Institute, a non-profit organization, which she uses to further her research and spread environmental preservation awareness. She later founded the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots, which aims at empowering youths to pursue their dreams.


Paul Hawken - Intellectual Environmentalist


Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist who has dedicated his life to environmental sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment. He is one of the environmental movement’s leading voices, and a pioneering architect of corporate reform with respect to ecological practices. His work includes founding successful, ecologically conscious businesses, writing about the impacts of commerce on living systems, and consulting with heads of state and CEOs on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.


Paul is Founder of Project Drawdown, a non-profit dedicated to researching when and how global warming can be reversed. The organization maps and models the scaling of one hundred substantive technological, social, and ecological solutions to global warming.


Paul Hawken is one of the leading drivers when it comes to green innovations and the development of sustainable business models.


Dame Ellen McArthur – Circular Economy Intellectual


Dame Ellen MacArthur made yachting history in 2005, when she became the fastest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe. 


Spending 71 days alone at sea, Ellen began to ponder the fragility of the systems we’ve built. Her boat was her world and her survival was entirely dependent on the limited food, fuel, and other supplies she’d brought with her. She realised that our global economy is no different – it relies completely on the finite resources we extract, use and then dispose of.


When she returned, she began a new journey of learning to understand how our economy works. She realised that the solutions to our biggest problems don’t just lie in the way we make energy, but also in the way we use materials. Everything we use is in limited supply, from the precious metals in our computers and phones to the sand in cement used to make buildings.


Having become acutely aware of the finite nature of the resources on which our linear economy relies, she retired from professional sailing to launch the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010.


Since its inception, the Foundation has served to promote three circular economy principles: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems.

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