Environmental activism is the implementation of direct action, such as demonstrations or lobbying to pressure governments to enact policy changes. Learn how to get active this year.
Environmental activism involves the collaboration of various stakeholders, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists, individuals and communities, to raise awareness of environmental issues — climate change, for example. These activist groups try to bring about policy changes and increase public awareness.
Environmental activism can also include putting pressure on businesses to be greener by switching to more sustainable practices like waste management, conservation and reducing their carbon footprint.
What Is Environmental Activism?
Environmental activism in the US can be traced back to the end of the 19th Century, when naturalists like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir encouraged the conservation of natural wilderness areas for the public; the latter pioneered the creation of America’s first national parks.
Later, in 1965, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published and sold more than 500,000 copies. It described the harm that pesticides can have on humans and the environment, and its success helped bring environmental issues to the public agenda. The increased public interest in ecological concerns eventually influenced the banning of the harmful pesticide DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) in the US.
With this increased public interest in the environmental movement came the first annual Earth Day in 1970, marking the start of the modern environmental movement. Millions of Americans marched on the streets to protest the impact of industrialization and its pollution of the environment. Thus, environmental activism was born. Even today, Earth Day is a popular occasion for people to get active in environmental protection. Check out our 16 best Earth Day activities to see some examples.
The goals of environmental activism are to draw attention to environmentally harmful policies and projects and promote social, political and environmental change. In addition to demonstrations, this is done through media campaigns, lobbying of politicians, and public education.
Want to read more about it? Check out our list of 8 best books on climate change to inspire action.
Climate Change Activism
Environmental activism has gained momentum worldwide in recent years; one of the major talking points has been climate change activism. In 2018, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg started the international movement Fridays For Future. Instead of going to school, she began spending her Fridays outside the Swedish parliament to protest their lack of action against climate change.
Thunberg’s actions led to a global movement among young people who want climate action now, as their generation will be the most impacted by climate change in the future. Students from around the world have followed her example by demonstrating against climate change on Fridays.
In many ways, Thunberg has become the modern face of climate change activism. She has spoken at rallies and conferences worldwide, met world leaders, and continues to push climate change activism as the most important environmental issue today.
Get Involved in Environmental Activism
Environmental activism is accessible to anybody interested in environmental issues and those who want to change current systems and policies. There are groups at the local, national and international levels, and members come from a range of backgrounds, uniting with a passion for the environment.
Here are some of the largest national environmental organizations:
- Greenpeace — One of the oldest NGOs in the U.S. is Greenpeace, campaigning about environmental issues since the 1970s. Current campaigns include saving the Arctic and promoting sustainable food. Their volunteer platform enables users to sign petitions online and join local events.
- Extinction Rebellion — This climate campaigning group uses peaceful methods such as blockades and gluing themselves to public property to attract maximum attention and cause disruption. In 2019, Extinction Rebellion members disrupted Wall Street by lying in fake pools of blood outside the building and dancing and chanting. This led to increased media coverage and public discussion about climate change. Activists can sign up for their newsletter to receive details about national events; they are also encouraged to start new local groups.
- 350.org — This group campaigns to end fossil fuel use and a switch to renewable energy. Interested parties can sign up for the newsletter and join their local group. One of the current campaigns is about a fossil-free federal reserve. 350.org is campaigning to regulate banks’ financing of fossil-fuel-focused projects.
- Take Action: 15 Everyday Ways to Combat Climate Change
- Climate Change Denial: How to Stand Up to Skeptics
- How to Make a Protest Sign and 15 Cool Ideas
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