All successful movements must have leaders — to mobilize, organize, and inspire. The fight to save our planet from the devastating effects of climate change is no different. All over the world, individuals (young and old), communities, and corporations are stepping up and making heroic, selfless, and innovative contributions to protect our environment, advocate for reform, and prolong humanity’s lifespan. Their efforts and stories are to be celebrated, emulated, and held up as examples of the power we each hold to make a meaningful difference in the outcome of this life-or-death issue. One amazing man, Nuseir Yassin, in this amazing video celebrates some of those people who are out in the world making the difference. Meet more here.
It won’t surprise you to learn that the UN has created an United Nations Champion of the Earth award recognizing six outstanding figures from the public and private sectors and from civil society whose actions have had a significant positive impact on the environment. Green Biz just announced their fourth annual GreenBiz 30 Under 30 honorees who are sustainability leaders in their companies, nonprofits and communities throughout the world. And, of course, there is the startling documentary, Climate Heroes: Stories of Change, weaving together nine stories of climate action, from solar light entrepreneurs in India to low-carbon-housing in Mexico.
Sylvia Earle is President and Chairman of Mission Blue / The Sylvia Earle Alliance. She is a National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence, and is called Her Deepness by the New Yorker and the New York Times, Living Legend by the Library of Congress, and first Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine.
Washington was an early pioneer of climate modeling. Working with Japanese scientists in the early 1960s, he was one of the first to build computer atmospheric models using the laws of physics to predict future atmospheric conditions. Washington along with Michael Mann will be awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement.
Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in response to the damaging deforestation happening in Kenya. Her mission was to build “green belts” around towns and villages, and the resulting tens of millions of replanted trees improved access to water and fuel, and curbed erosion. She was later elected to the Kenyan parliament and became the deputy minister for the environment. At 64, Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel prize.
Wallace Smith Broecker was a pioneering scientist who raised early alarms about climate change and popularised the term “global warming.” He was also an advocate for political action to deal with the problem. In 1984, he told a House of Representatives subcommittee that urgent action was required to halt the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere because the climate system could “jump abruptly from one state to another” with devastating effects. His theories have subsequently become proven by events and are almost universally accepted by climate scientists.
Co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement
Prakash was born and raised outside Boston. As an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she joined the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign and led the campaign for two years. Two years ago, UMass bent under pressure that had included a mass escalation and arrests for civil disobedience. She has for the past three years coordinated fossil fuel divestment campaigns with the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network at a regional and national level. Read Five Questions for Varshini Prakash here.
Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist justice activist, was named as one of BBC’s 100 Women in November, 2020. She is the founder of the Rise Up Climate Movement, which works to amplify the voices of climate activists from Africa. Read more about her call to action in Vogue magazine.
Sharon Lavigne never imagined herself an environmental activist. The retired teacher had spent much of her life working with special education students in the St. James Parish public school system.
But the idea of another chemical plant being built in her parish, after she had lost acquaintances to cancer that she blames on industrial pollution, spurred her into action in 2018. She began organizing and educating neighbors on the risks, an effort that gained global recognition Tuesday when she was named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize.
Saul Griffith is an inventor whose innovations span industrial design, technology, and science education. He founded and co-founded numerous technology companies based in the Bay Area. These include Treau, Sunfolding, Roam Robotics, Fablight, Wattzon, Canvas Construction, Makani Power (acquired by Google), Instructables.com (acquired by Autodesk), Squid Labs, Howtoons, Optiopia, and Potenco. He is currently Founder and Chief Scientist at Otherlab, an independent R&D lab that helps government agencies and Fortune 500 companies understand energy infrastructure and build transformational technologies that bring us closer to 100% decarbonization.
Co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement
Sara Blazevic is a co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth movement working to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. She is currently focused on leading the Sunrise training program nationally, and building Sunrise NYC‘s organizing capacity. She is also a member and strategist at IfNotNow. She worked for a year and a half as a campaign coach and strategic adviser at the Divestment Student Network, which trained students to run campaigns to divest their campuses from the fossil fuel industry. After first encountering Momentum in spring of 2014, Sara experimented with momentum-based organizing in her campus campaign and in her national movement work, and feels honored to be able to contribute to this growing community of practice.
On October 8, 2017, the worst fire in California’s history was destroying drought-ridden Northern California. The 400 acres of Safari West, a preserve and home to 1,000 exotic animals was in its path. All guests and employees were evacuated but founder, 76 year old Peter Lang stayed behind and saved all 1,000 animals although all buildings, including his home, were burned to the ground. He received the 2018 American Red Cross Animal Rescue Hero Award.
Michael Mann has distinguished himself as a pioneer in uncovering the historic climate record and communicating climate science. Mann along with Warren Washington will be awarded the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. Bryan Schatz has written, in California Magazine, a terrific piece about the climatologist taking on both the fossil fuel lobby and those who think the climate fight is futile.
Michael Bloomberg, the former three-term mayor of New York, launched Beyond Carbon, the largest-ever coordinated campaign against climate change in the United States. His latest investment is $500 million to put the US on track towards a 100% clean energy economy. Bloomberg leads two networks of cities focused on meeting ambitious climate goals, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge also supports and rewards cities based on their climate action. Michael serves as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action and is co-author of Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet.
Maureen Raymo is a paleoceanographer/marine geologist who focuses on the history and causes of climate change. She is the first woman to have received the Wollastan Medal of the Geological Society of London, an honor she shares with Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz. Learn more about this astonishing woman in this
New York Times profile.
Under the auspices of the CIA, Linda Zall established the MEDEA program in 1992. Using reconnaissance satellites whose original job was to spy on threats to the United States, Zall and her team obtained images which provided a new understanding of climate change on a planetary scale. Read more about Zall and her work in this NYTimes article.
Kendra Kuhl and Etosha Cave are the cofounders of Opus 12. Both Stanford graduates, Kuhl and Cave are part of the founding cohort of a carbon-focused Stanford program which allowed them to study the chemistry of carbon capture. Opus 12 is creating technology to recycle CO2 sucking it from the air and converting it to fuel or plastic.
Climate Envoy of the Marshall Islands
Kathy is a Marshall Islander poet, performance artist, educator. She received international acclaim through her poetry performance at the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in 2014. Her writing and performances have been featured by CNN, Democracy Now, the Huffington Post, NBC News, National Geographic, and more. In February 2017, the University of Arizona Press published her first collection of poetry, Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter.
Communicating climate change
Katharine Hayhoe is a leading climate researcher and prominent climate communicator. As an evangelist, she helps bridge the gap that political polarization often creates in working towards climate action. She was a finalist for Texan of the Year in 2019; you can catch her TEDxTalk here and hear her in a panel discussion on 12/17/19 here. In March 2021, she joined Nature Conservancy as chief scientist. Her book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World is due to be published in September 2021.
Julia Olson works at the intersection of human rights and environmental protection. She is the Executive Director at Our Children’s Trust and chief Legal Counsel for plaintiffs in Juliana v. U.S.. Olson founded Our Children’s Trust in 2010 to lead this strategic legal campaign on behalf of the world’s youth against governments everywhere. Julia leads Juliana v. the United States, the constitutional climate change case brought by 21 youth against the U.S. government for violating their Fifth Amendment rights to life, liberty, property, and public trust resources.
Jeff Orlowski served as director, producer, and cinematographer on the Sundance Award-Winning film, Chasing Ice. Orlowski’s feature length documentary was invited to screen at the White House, the United Nations and the United States Congress and has captured over 40 awards from film festivals around the world. As founder of Exposure Labs, a production company geared toward socially relevant filmmaking, Orlowski has served as director and producer of short film projects and online/broadcast commercial work. His work has aired on the National Geographic Channel, CNN and NBC and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, NPR and Popular Mechanics. He has traveled on tour representing the Sundance Institute, President Obama’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, and the National Endowment of the Arts. Orlowski most recently produced the award-winning film Frame by Frame and earlier this year received the inaugural Sundance Institute | Discovery Impact Fellowship for environmental filmmaking. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Swiss businessman and philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss has launched and donated $1 billion to the Wyss Campaign for Nature in a bid to conserve 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030. It is the most ambitious project of the businessman’s environmental charity, The Wyss Foundation, to date. The initiative will aim to guard twice the amount of land and ocean that is currently protected.
Audrey Schulman stood in the middle of the sidewalk, her eyes fixed on the gas detector in her left hand. It was mid-August, and she hovered above a steel grate alongside Highland Avenue in Somerville, Mass. The detector was connected to a black wand with a cupped end, which she pushed into the ground like a toilet plunger, taking a reading.
Eunice Foote is the little known mother of climate science. In 1856, Foote was the first person to ever discover the theory that would become known as global warming–she identified carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and showed that rising levels could have a warming effect on Earth’s climate. Of course, as her research was further developed by a man named John Tynan, he is known as the father of climate science, while Foote has been widely forgotten.
Emily Penn is an ocean advocate and founder of eXXpedition, an all-women’s voyage to relate the health of our environment and oceans to women’s health. Penn is both the youngest and only female recipient of the Yachtmaster Award and the Seamaster Award. She was also awarded the Fitzroy Award at the 2016 Oceans Awards.
Dr. Keeling became the first person in the world to develop an accurate technique for measuring carbon dioxide in the air, and he quickly made profound discoveries. One was that carbon dioxide oscillated slightly according to the seasons and that carbon dioxide was indeed rising, and quickly. That finding electrified the small community of scientists who understood its implications. Later chemical tests, by Dr. Keeling and others, proved that the increase was due to the combustion of fossil fuels. The graph showing rising carbon dioxide levels came to be known as the Keeling Curve. Many Americans have never heard of it, but to climatologists, it is the most recognizable emblem of their science.
This Celtic botanist says that the global forest, which keeps the atmosphere rich in oxygen and low in carbon dioxide, “forecasts our future in every breath it takes and every seed it releases into the leaf mold of the forest floor. The greenhouse effect combined with a loss of forests is adding extra moisture to the atmosphere,” says Beresford-Kroeger. In her bestseller, The Sweetness of a Simple Life she describes the forest as “a molecular memo” that harvests one carbon atom at a time and “pulses that sweet gas we call oxygen, needed for every breath we take.” There is also a film, Call to the Forest, about her life’s work.
Bren Smith, GreenWave executive director and owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm, pioneered the development of restorative 3D Ocean Farming. A lifelong commercial fisherman, he was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “25 People Shaping the Future” and featured in TIME magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2017”. He is the winner of the Buckminster Fuller Prize and been profiled by CNN, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and elsewhere. He is an Ashoka and Echoing Green Climate Fellow and author of Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures as a Fisherman Turned Restorative Ocean Farmer.
Nearly two dozen of the world’s most successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists will invest up to $1 billion in a climate action fund led by Microsoft-co-founder Bill Gates that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by financing emerging clean energy technology
Beth Terry is the blogger behind My Plastic Free Life. In 2008, Terry started the Take Back The Filter Movement after realizing that Clorox failed to provide an avenue to recycle their Brita filters, citing the belief that Americans don’t care enough as their reasoning. Terry singlehandedly gained over 16,000 signatures demanding a way to recycle the filters and Clorox changed their policy.
Andrea Dutton is a geological crime scene investigator trying to figure out and understand what has happened in the past, to better understand what could happen in the future, regarding sea-level rise and what that means for coastal cities. She is one of 25 people selected by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone’s 2016 issue featuring 25 people who are changing the world.