These environmentalists have founded their own organizations, created movements, and authored some of the most important books on climate.
Each one of these advocates has inspired me at different points in my own work and I hope you’ll find someone here on this list that will inspire you, too.
In this post, I’ll be introducing you briefly to who each environmentalist is, where they’ve focused their efforts, and as well, how you can best start to sample, engage with, and support their work.
It’s thanks to the leadership that many of these people exhibit as to why the environmental movement not just has hope, but continues to gain it despite seemingly overwhelming opposition.
From leading protests, to authoring manifestos, to influencing public policy, here’s 19 environmentalists who inspire all of us to build a more sustainable and habitable future for all.
1. Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben is an American environmentalist, author, and founder of the organizations 350.org and Third Act.
350.org was founded in 2008 with an ambitious but simple goal: build a global grassroots climate movement to spur the end of the fossil fuel era.
Third Act is an organization founded to mobilize people over the age of 60 for action on climate and racial justice.
Bill is responsible for writing some of the earliest books on global warming for the general public, most notable perhaps, The End of Nature.
2. Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a marine biologist, author, and podcast host.
She co-founded the Urban Ocean Lab, which is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting coastal cities as leaders in climate and ocean policy.
She also co-founded the All We Can Save Project, which is dedicated to supporting women leading the climate movement.
And as well, she’s the co-creator and co-host of the How to Save a Planet podcast where her hopes are to leave listeners inspired in the mission to save our home planet.
→ Get to know Dr. Ayana’s work: Check out the How to Save a Planet podcast, or her recent opinion article she co-authored in The Guardian with film director, Adam McKay.
3. Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas is an environmentalist, writer, and founder of the nonprofit, Intersectional Environmentalist.
Leah’s work focuses on exploring and educating on the relationship between social justice and environmentalism, and she’s responsible for creating the term, “Intersectional Environmentalism.”
Leah firmly believes, “We can’t save the planet without uplifting the voices of its people, especially those most often unheard.”
This quote, from Leah’s recently published book, The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet.
4. Kate Williams
Since its founding in 2002, 1% has grown into a global movement of businesses, nonprofits, and individuals working together to address the world’s largest environmental problems.
Kate, previously an outdoor educator and nonprofit Executive Director, has been the CEO of the organization since 2015.
She’s also been a guest of the podcast, where she graciously shared with me how everyone has their own “1%” that we can give to the planet.
“Recognize we all have 1%. That may be financial, time, or energy, but if everyone thinks about how they can give their 1% every day, we are the most unstoppable force. You put all those 1%s together, and it makes a whole lot.”
→ Get to know Kate’s work: Listen to our podcast with Kate Williams about the mission of 1% for the Planet.
5. Yvon Chouinard
Yvon Chouinard is the Founder of the wildly successful outdoor retailer, Patagonia.
At heart an outdoorsman; a rock climber, surfer, fly fisher, and I’m sure many other things…Yvon has long been a champion for the environmental responsibility of business.
Although Yvon isn’t still at the helm of Patagonia, his personal credo has shaped the company into the environmental leader it is today.
Patagonia without a doubt was one of the first publicly-recognized “responsible companies,” and you could make the case Patagonia is responsible for birthing a whole new generation of sustainable businesses and business leaders.
→ Get to know Yvon’s work: Yvon’s book, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, is an excellent distillation of Yvon’s biography and philosophy that has become the seed of this incredibly successful and influential company.
6. Varshini Prakash
Varshini Prakash is the Executive Director and the Co-Founder of the Sunrise Movement. The Sunrise Movement is a youth-led organizing effort to call for political action on Climate Change.
Mobilize 3.5% of the U.S. population (roughly 11 million people) to actively participate in the movement to call on the American government to act aggressively on climate, curb emissions, and create millions of well-paying jobs in the process.
→ Get to know Varshini’s work: Check out this video on how she believes Sunrise can help win a “Green New Deal,” or the book she co-authored on the same topic: Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can.
7. Leah Penniman
Leah Penniman is a farmer, author, and food sovereignty activist. Food sovereignty is a system of food production where those who make and consume the food also control the system itself.
This, in contrast to a corporate-controlled food system, where multinational corporations hold this power.
Leah founded Soul Fire Farm in New York, which is an Afro-Indigenous-centered community farm committed to “uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system.”
Soul Fire Farm’s programming is now reaching over 160,000 people per year. They offer training for potential Black and Brown farmers, workshops, education for policy-makers, and much more.
8. Paul Hawken
Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author.
He most recently wrote the book, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation and founded an organization that in part shares the same name.
Before Regeneration, Paul edited Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming.
Paul is in the business of proposing climate solutions. He believes that while a challenging task, the task to regenerate and repair our planet should be an inspiring one.
Paul’s latest organization, Project Regeneration, is about providing the action plan for “all levels of society” to take part in ending the climate crisis and creating a future that prioritizes all life in any/all decisions and actions.
Paul joined me on the podcast to talk about this latest book, his vision for the future of the climate movement, and how we all can get involved.
9. Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg is an environmental activist I’m sure we all recognize by now. Even still, this list wouldn’t feel complete without her.
Greta’s public climate activism began with her school strikes for climate back in 2018 when she was just 15 years old. At the time, she hadn’t yet rallied support of classmates or peers, but she continued along herself.
But quickly enough (by late 2018), Greta’s demonstrations inspired others all over Europe. Apparently from that very first demonstration in August, by October of the same year, 20,000 students had likewise demonstrated in 270 towns and cities around the world (source).
Since then Greta has continued to advance the climate movement; she’s received dozens of awards, spoken at countless climate events and conferences, and continues to inspire people of all ages to join in the fight to save the planet.
10. Dr. Jonathan Foley
Dr. Jonathan Foley is the Executive Director of Project Drawdown, an environmental organization on a mission to help the world reach “drawdown.” Drawdown being the point in which the world’s emissions stop climbing and in fact start dropping.
Project Drawdown has established itself as the world’s leading resource on climate solutions (see the book, Drawdown).
Dr. Foley himself is an environmental and climate scientist, writer, and public speaker. His body of research has made him one of the top 1% most cited scientists, globally.
11. Elizabeth Whitlow
Elizabeth Whitlow is the Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA). ROA is behind the creation of the Regenerative Organic Certification or ROC label.
This, perhaps one of the latest and most robust certifications created, as a means to measure and verify the impacts of the food and agriculture industry.
Elizabeth Whitlow joined me for a recording of our podcast to talk about the future of agriculture and farming. She’s insistent, and for good reason, that the health of our soils represents the health of us.
“What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves.”
→ Get to know Elizabeth’s work: Check out our podcast recording with Elizabeth on the future of farming.
12. Mary Annaïse Heglar + Amy Westervelt
Mary Annaïse Heglar and Amy Westervelt are co-hosts and co-creators of the podcast, Hot Take. Mary a climate essayist, Amy a climate reporter, the two launched the podcast to add a “feminist, race-forward lens” to the discussion around the climate crisis.
Mary is a prominent storyteller in the climate movement, and Amy as a journalist has honed a skill set in taking scientific climate reporting and translating it into language the wider public can connect with.
Each has an impressive list of published works; in Rolling Stone, the Boston Globe, The Nation, and many more.
And now their podcast, Hot Take, has been picked up by one of the largest podcast networks today, Crooked Media.
13. Svanika Balasubramanian
Svanika Balasubramanian is the co-founder and CEO of rePurpose Global, a plastic action platform, committed to enabling the business community to measure the impact of their plastic waste and take action to reduce/mitigate it.
With her co-founders, Svanika first conceived of the idea for rePurpose as a thesis project during college.
Since officially launching the organization, rePurpose has now coordinated impact projects in 8 different countries, is actively removing over 14 million pounds of plastic waste each year, and helping to avoid over 700,000 kg of CO2 emissions annually.
Svanika and her team have set the ambitious goal of either preventing the creation of, or recycling and recovering 500 million pounds of plastic waste from nature by 2030.
14. Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is an author, activist, and Professor of Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and the co-director of the Center for Climate Justice at the same institution.
Klein is a staunch critic of capitalism, corporate globalization, and its effects on climate. She’s an award-winning journalist and her books have earned many ‘best-selling’ honors.
She’s responsible for co-founding the organization The Leap, which is a nonprofit organization on a mission to advance intersectional solutions to the various crises (climate, racism, poverty, etc.) that define our time.
→ Get to know Naomi’s work: Check out the first book Naomi published with a particular focus on climate, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
15. Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke is an environmentalist, indigenous rights activist, writer, and even a former Vice Presidential Candidate on the Green Party ticket with Ralph Nader.
LaDuke is also the co-founder of Honor the Earth, an advocacy organization committed to raising awareness and building support for Native environmental issues.
Through her work with Honor the Earth, LaDuke advocates for what she calls a “Just Transition,” a shift from the egregiously exploitative, unequal fossil fuel economy, to an economy that is environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and just for all.
16. Eric Holthaus
Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist and the founder of Currently, a service built to offer critical and timely weather information in this time of climate emergency.
As weather conditions change, become more unpredictable, and inevitably dangerous, Holthaus founded Currently to offer weather hit communities support and hopefully, safety.
Holthaus is also the founder and writer of the newsletter The Phoenix, where he hopes to offer a courageous vision forward for radically transforming society to respond to the climate crisis.
→ Get to know Eric’s work: Follow Eric on Twitter, or pick up Eric’s book, The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Warming.
17. Nivi Achanta
Nivi Achanta is the founder of the Soapbox Project—where she’s on a mission to make social impact and climate action easy for busy people.
She writes an excellent weekly newsletter, the Change Letter, which offers bite-sized climate action plans, organizes an online community so sustainability-minded people can convene to make meaningful change together.
Nivi joined me for a podcast recording to talk about building an online community around climate change, and how she turned her own climate anxiety into climate action.
18. Saul Griffith
Saul Griffith is an inventor and engineer, and perhaps one of the leading advocates for widespread electrification.
He’s the author of the books Electrify and The Big Switch, and the founder of the organization, Rewiring America.
Griffith received a Ph.D from MIT and works with government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and more in efforts to help others understand and act on building a new clean energy infrastructure and decarbonization plan.
19. Gregory Landua
Gregory Landua is one of the Founders of Regen Network. Regen Network is a platform built to reinvent the economics of agriculture.
Often, as it’s the farmer and the planet that suffer any/all consequences of fragility in the food and agricultural industries, Landua and Regen Network seek to change that.
They are on a mission to change incentives throughout the typical agricultural supply chain, putting ecological health and equity for those who most attentively care for it (like those farmers) at the forefront.
With the quantity of emissions created by the agricultural industry, Gregory and Regen Network see themselves as building the infrastructure to reverse climate change.
Environmentalists Who Inspire Us to ACT
Every single one of these environmentalists and advocates offers a unique reason to admire them.
But surely, admiration, or inspiration isn’t the end goal.
It’s courage. It’s boldness. It’s action.
Every one of us needs to be active if we’re to avert catastrophe and create a habitable and equitable planet for all of us, now and for generations to come.
It’s not about doing the one thing that addresses the climate crisis, it’s about doing something.
And doing something that feels like the right thing for you.
Yes, use the examples of climate leaders and environmental activists I shared here for inspiration.
But, specifically for the inspiration to find what gets and keeps you moving in the direction towards a sustainable, equitable, and just future for all.
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Co-Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble
I’m Cory Ames. I’m a writer, podcaster, social entrepreneur, and the Founder of Grow Ensemble.