18 Eco-Influential People

by Giselle Chollett
People with banners protest as part of a climate change march

The following are individuals that are making an impact in the environment through their advocacy and activism for this fundamental global cause.

Photo: i-D Magazine

Greta Thunberg

This activist began her path when she was 15 by asking her parents to change some of their lifestyle choices to reduce their carbon footprint. Thunberg inspired other students in her home country of Sweden to engage in manifestations that would ultimately capture the Swedish Parliament’s attention to focus on stronger action on climate change. With the support she had gathered, she created the student movement Fridays for Future, which calls for a school climate strike each Friday. Fridays for Future has been replicated worldwide by millions of students. Thunberg is well recognized nowadays for her participation in the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit in 2019. Firstly, she made a point of sailing to America instead of flying to avoid contributing to the carbon dioxide that flying releases into the atmosphere. Secondly, she delivered her controversial “how dare you” speech. Thunberg is now only 17-years-old.

Photo: GeekWire

Bill & Melinda Gates

Bill Gates, theco-founder of Microsoft and one of the richest people on the planet, has dedicated his life to the development of software and innovation. But after leaving the day-to-day operations of Microsoft, he has begun philanthropic work in various aspects of global health. In early 2020, Bill and Melinda, his wife and partner, added climate change to the global issues the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on. They announced that moving forward, their foundation will work with technologies to lower carbon emissions as well as help vulnerable populations to adapt to climate change, such as subsistence farmers being able to operate at competitive costs in low-income countries. “Tackling climate change is going to demand historic levels of global cooperation, unprecedented amounts of innovation in nearly every sector of the economy, widespread deployment of today’s clean-energy solutions like solar and wind, and a concerted effort to work with the people who are most vulnerable to a warmer world,” said Bill Gates in the announcement.

Photo: Avaaz

Mark Ruffalo

Actor and activist, Mark Ruffalo, is using the power of his spotlight as a platform to raise his voice about climate change. Aside from being part of the documentary In This Climate (2017), which addressed the environmental health of the world and how to combat climate change, Ruffalo created an organization called the Solutions Project in 2011. This organization shows people how they can shift to 100% renewable energy today, depending on the state they live in. Their plan is to introduce every state in the nation transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Photo: lewispugh.com

Lewis Pugh

Lewis Pugh is a British-South African endurance swimmer who is the first person to officially complete a long-distance swim in every one of the world’s five oceans. His decision to become an ocean advocate began with the stories of exploration he loved as a child. With time, he witnessed drastic changes in the oceans caused by people’s actions and soon realized that it would require a different kind of action to protect our vulnerable natural resources. He began doing what he calls “Speedo diplomacy” because, in his words, “I believe in protecting our fragile planet, in peace and in justice. I do it because it’s right. I do it because our souls need nature. And I do it as much for nature’s sake as for ours.”

Photo: Today.com

Jamie Margolin

At the age of 15, Jamie Margolin founded a youth-led climate action group called Zero Hour with the hope to stress urgency that the effects of climate change on communities across the world need to be observed and addressed. The group organizes marches, summits, and demonstrations in partnership with other youth organizations, including their July youth summit in Miami and September’s Global Climate Week of Action. In 2019, Margolin testified in front of Congress alongside other young climate change activists, including Greta Thunberg, and she hopes to be a voice for underrepresented people in the future. Nowadays, in a reality where gathering and marches are on hold until due to COVID-19, Margolin has turned to her social network to continue her mission as a climate activist.  

Photo: The New York Times

Céline Semaan

Céline Semaan is a sustainability strategist and designer from Lebanon who advocates for climate change and human rights. She’s also the founder and CEO of Slow Factory, a mission-driven independent fashion label based in Brooklyn that supports environmental and humanitarian causes. All of their work is fair-trade and manufactured with eco-friendly ink and fabrics. With her fashion activism, Semaan uses fashion as a medium for social, environmental and social change. 

Photo: India Today

Ridhima Pandey

When Ridhima Pandey was only nine years old, she filed a lawsuit against the Indian government over their failure to address climate change, which helped lead to the Kedarnath flood, the worst natural disaster in India since the 2014 tsunami and that presumably left about 5,700 people dead. Pandey’s argument was that the government failed to take the necessary steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which triggered the extreme climate conditions. While most children her age spent their time in more fun activities, Pandey chose to get involved in a movement driven by young people who see climate change as threatening their ability to access their basic human rights to basics such as food, water, and a safe place to live.

Photo: Entrepreneur.com

Jessica Alba

Although Jessica Alba is known for her roles in movies like Sin City (2005) and Fantastic Four (2015), in 2011, she founded Honest. Valued at over $1 billion in 2014, Honest is a mission-driven company that offers more than 100 safe and effective products. Honest sells organic and ethically made personal care products, as well as beauty products more recently, because according to Alba, “you shouldn’t have to choose between what works and what’s good for you”. Also an “angel” ambassador for charity Baby2Baby, Jessica Alba is passionate about family, female leadership, and environmental advocacy.

Photo: The Minnesota Sun

Isra Hirsi

Isra Hirsi is the eldest daughter of Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and is a climate change activist. In January 2019, Hirsi founded the US Youth Climate Strike group, an American chapter of a global climate activist movement. As executive director, Hirsi is a key part of activating the chapter to join approximately 1.6 million students across 120 countries to miss school to demand official action on climate change. She spoke at the Minneapolis march as part of the global climate strike in 2019.

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Photo: Martlet

Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, a 15-year-old Anishinabek climate activist, comes from the Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario, Canada and is on the frontlines of fighting for clean water, especially advocating for indigenous water rights in Canada. She spoke for the first time in front of the United Nations when she was thirteen at the UN’s launch of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development. Since then, she has received the Water Warrior Award, the Water Leader Award, spoken with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on protecting water from pipeline development, participated in the Indigenous March with the New York Global Climate Strike, and spoken two more times in front of the United Nations. In 2019, she was named the Anishinabek Nation’s Chief Water Commissioner, following in the footsteps of her great-aunt who was a water advocate and mentor to Peltier. The message she brought to the UN continues to be so powerful and she is just getting started. “Nothing can live without water,” she writes. “If we don’t act now there will come a time when we will be fighting for those last barrels of water, once that’s gone, we can’t eat or drink money or oil. Then what will you do?”

Photo: Orgsync

Mari Copeny

Also known as ‘Little Miss Flint’, Mari Copeny is a 12-year-old activist fighting for the children of Flint, Michigan. When she was 8 years old, she wrote a letter to then-president Barack Obama asking if they could meet on her trip to Washington D.C. to discuss the situation in Flint. Although they didn’t meet in that trip, the meeting took placed on another visit that Obama made to Flint. Since 2016, Copeny has fundraised over $500,000 that has impacted over 25,000 children in Flint and beyond. These funds have gone towards supporting students in getting school supplies, toys, bikes, clean water, and other resources needed to ensure a fulfilled and healthy life.

Elizabeth Farrell

Alias the Glacier Girl, Elizabeth Farrell was referred as an “eco-warrior hero” by i-D in one of their issues due to her work to raise awareness about the effects of climate change. With secondary school studies on glaciers, Farrell has become a social media hit that uses her Instagram platform to speak about climate change in a different way. Through the lens of images that allow people to see the subjects she cares and relate to, Farrell found a way to approach the topic of environment with the use of photos of her surrounded by glacial landscapes. She also works with photography and installations about the planet.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is part of the next generation of environmental activists and is also a hip-hop artist who fights against climate change and for the implementation of large-scale solutions to the climate emergency. Martinez served on President Obama’s youth council, and founded and served as Youth Director of Earth Guardian, an environmental rights group that aims to inspire, inform, engage and invest in its impactful community of over 300 youth activist crews across the world. Martinez is also one of 21 young people that sued the federal government and President Donald Trump for failing to act on climate change. The constitutional climate lawsuit, known as Juliana v. United States,sustains that the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change are a violation of the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as a failure to protect essential public trust resources.

Photo: Business Insider

Phil Torres

Phil Torres, also called “the jungle guy” or the “bug enthusiast,” is an American scientist, journalist, television host, photographer, and explorer. He’s a huge fan of butterflies and bees and documents his adventures on The Jungle Diaries on YouTube. Torres is often active on his Twitter @phil_torres and Instagram platforms serving as an ambassador of nature, advocating for sustainability in the food we consume, purchases that we make, and on the sources of our products. He grew up examining snakes and bugs behind his house in Colorado and later on pursued environmental science in the Amazon Rainforest.

Photo: Vogue UK

India Logan-Riley

India Logan-Riley is a young activist with a background in archaeology and anthropology that embarked on the pursuit of indigenous rights in the movement for climate justice. Hoping to ensure that indigenous peoples gain rights over their land, Logan-Riley has also focused on eco-feminism and the incorporation to the discussion of the native language of Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand. She took her message to the United Nations in talks that resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement and is currently working as an activist and a conservationist in her native Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand).

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Photo: Spiegel International; Berlin © 2019 Gene Glover / Agentur Focus

Luisa Neubauer

Often called the “German Greta Thunberg,” Luisa Neubauer is a climate activist as passionate as any of her peers in the climate change movement. Her first steps into activism included becoming a youth ambassador in 2015 for the non-governmental organization ONE.She has also been a member of the Foundation for the “Rights of Future Generations,” 350.org, the Right Livelihood Award foundation, the “Fossil Free” campaign, and The Hunger Project. In the beginning of 2019, she helped organize Germany’s massive Fridays for Future climate marches, and today she advocates on a regular basis for climate action at major global diplomatic events.

Photo: ISURA Canada, Twitter

Rachel Parent

Rachel Parent is the founder of KidsRightTonow.org and GenEarthEvent.org. She is known for her activism for food systems, awareness of the harmful impact of GMOs on our health and our environment, as well as food labeling and more. Based in Toronto, Canada, Parent has received much recognition for her work and passion in helping to motivate youth communities, and policy makers to take action and protect the environment so everyone can have a better future.  Planet in Focus, a Toronto-based environmental film festival, named Parent the Rob Stewart Youth Eco-Hero of 2018.

Shelby O’Neil

Shelby O’Neil is the founder of Junior Ocean Guardians and started the No Straw November movement, an effort that brought awareness about the pollution that straws cause in our oceans. O’Neil took on the commitment of picking up trash on random beaches with the goal of helping achieve long-lasting change worldwide. Nowadays, O’Neil is a freshman at UC-Berkeley and will naturally be dedicating more time to her studies, however she has continued advocating for those causes that are close to her heart like keeping the oceans clean, and it’s only a matter of time until we see more of her in the future.

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