In 2020 you could quite easily answer the question of “who is your environmental role model” by reciting a list of names; Activist Greta Thunburg, Naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Entrepreneur Bill Gates …. I could go on. These people, we see in the media regularly, whether they are making an address at a conference or leading a petition, they are high profile figures in the readily available media, so spring to mind immediately. However, if you use them to answer the above question, you are in for a boring discussion, as we all know who they are and what they are doing. Personally, during lockdown, I have been keeping up to date on environmental issues and have found out about a couple of people who have been doing great things for the environment, who I have not heard of before. These people are my new environmental role models, and if you read on you will see why.
Doug and Kristine Tompkins – Kristine was CEO of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia and Doug founder of The North Face before they began buying ranch-land in Chile and Argentina for rewilding in the early 2000’s. Allowing the plant life to return to its natural state led to them being able to successfully re-introduce native animal species into the land they would make a national park. Their work has continued and since become a team working under “Tomkins Conservation” to protect over 14 million acres of land.
The Tomkins’ have won multiple awards for their conservation work.
Wangari Maathai – Nobel Peace Prize winner 2004, Maathai founded “The Green Belt Movement” to encourage women in Kenya to plant trees in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. She also campaigned against the governments mismanagement of public land and forest, before travelling the world, urging action on climate change and environmental justice. Not only this, but Maathai has an impressive educational history, being the first woman from east and central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, achieving multiple degrees, winning multiple awards and publishing 3 books.
Following her death, the Wangari Maathai foundation was created in order to continue her legacy. They aim to inspire young people to become responsible citizens and ambassadors for change.
Vandana Shiva – Founder of the “Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy”, which maintained seed banks and educated farmers on sustainable practices in India. Shiva continues to work towards moving farmers away from mono-cultures and use of pesticides, which is encouraged by large corporations, towards use of native seeds which are adapted to the climate and soil conditions. By using a wide array of native seeds, she believes that agriculture will be more resistant to climate change.
Recently she has spoken about how she believes that use of monocultures, GMO crops and factory farming has led to a decreased resistance to disease and influenced recent outbreaks, such as COVID and swine flu.
I feel so inspired by these people, and I am amazed that I have not heard of them before this. It has made me realise that I still have so much to learn about environmentalism, and also about how an individual can inspire action in others and make meaningful, lasting changes. I plan to continue my journey into environmentalism by reading some of the works of Maathai and Shiva, and I would also welcome any other suggestions from you of who I should be finding out about next.