YOU could be forgiven for thinking that the whole world is obsessed with Brexit and the Tory leadership contest, but in fact it is only the British (English) media and those for whom the minutiae of political competition are the stuff of life. In fact, millions of people here and around the world are focusing their concerns and their energies on a far more important and pressing problem – climate change, mass extinctions in the natural world, the degradation of soils that have been treated with chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides for 80 years and what we, as individuals can do (given the lack of interest of politicians and global corporations). Greta Thunberg is the spokesp;erson for a new generation of climate activists, and we should listen to her and be inspired by what she and other young people are doing.
Here are nine people who are making significant contributions. Through their writing, their speeches, their work and their lives these are people who make us think and who question the accepted corporate and international norms. You may not agree with some of what they say, but they challenge us all to make a difference – campaigning against single use plastics and reducing plastic use generally, valuing the provenance of our food and not wasting it, helping to save and protect any and every aspect of the natural world, from the smallest bug to the apex species including tigers, polar bears and elephants, or lobbying politicians with the message that this is a matter of life and death for future generations and for the planet.
Sir David Attenborough, the most high profile figure in the worldwide environmental movement, inspires people of all ages and backgrounds, One of the world’s most respected broadcasters, he is best known for the many documentaries and natural history series he has made for the BBC, including the Life series, Blue Planet and the hugely influential Blue Planet 2, earlier this year the Our Planet series for Netflix, and most recently the powerful Climate Change: The Facts, made for the BBC. Now, 93 years old, he has attained a unique position in both the affection and the respect of people around the world, and has a moral authority which makes him one of the world’s most influential conservationists.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only Westminster MP, is more than just a charismatic politician who represents a particularly liberal, informed and environmentally aware constituency, Brighton Pavilion. She has raised green issues up the national agenda by skilful campaigning, cogent argument, an unflappable public persona and an ability not to be bullied or silenced by louder opposing voices. She is known as a campaigner and writer on green economics, localisation, alternatives to globalisation, trade justice, animal welfare and food. The greens achieved their best ever proportion of the vote in the recent EU elections.
George Monbiot. an outspoken environmental and social justice campaigner, writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is the author of many books, including Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain (2000) and Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding (2013). He is the founder of The Land is Ours, a campaign for the right of access to the countryside and its resources in the United Kingdom. Never one to duck controversy, Monbiot has upset traditional farming communities with his fierce criticisms, including the impact of sheep on the upland areas, particularly in Wales.
Carlo Petrini, an Italian journalist and food campaigner, is the founder of the international Slow Food movement. Although he is criticised for the support he receives from “rich and leisured foodies,” his work has a serious purpose, promoting high quality small scale farming and artisan food production, encouraging consumers to buy this sometimes expensive food, and extolling the benefits of enjoying food which has been made slowly by traditional methods. The Slow Food movement has expanded across more than 100 countries and is a powerful voice against global fast food culture and the multinational food producers that have wrecked so much of the environment.
Professor Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London and former director of the Science Museum and the British Antarctic Survey, has taken to the stage to get the message across. Working with playwright Duncan Macmillan, Chris wrote 2071: The World We’ll Leave Our Grandchildren, premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2014. The play uses the age-old medium of storytelling to reveal the facts and threats of climate change and to offer some hope for what we can all do to mitigate and slow the process.
Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist and advocate for food sovereignty. She is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalisation and a significant figure in the global organisation known as the alter-globalisation movement. She has argued for the wisdom of many traditional practices. She has written and spoken extensively on issues including advances in agriculture and food, intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics and genetic engineering. She has assisted grassroots organisations of the Green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland and Austria with campaigns against agricultural development via genetic engineering.
David Suzuki is a Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist. He was a professor in the genetics department at the University of British Columbia from 1963 until his retirement in 2001. Since the mid-1970s, Suzuki has been known for his television and radio series, documentaries and books about nature and the environment. He is best known as host of the popular and long-running CBC Television science program The Nature of Things, seen in more than 40 countries. He is also well known for criticising governments for their lack of action to protect the environment. A longtime activist to reverse global climate change, he co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, to work “to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world”. The Foundation’s priorities are oceans and sustainable fishing, climate change and clean energy, sustainability, and Suzuki’s Nature Challenge.
Greta Thunberg is the Swedish schoolgirl who has become the face of a worldwide youth eco-revolution. Aged 15, she began protesting outside the Swedish parliament about the need for immediate action to combat climate change. From this small beginning she has become an outspoken climate activist, meeting world leaders and influencing a generation to take action. She initiated the school strike for climate movement that formed in November 2018 and surged globally after the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in December. On 15th March an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries joined her call to strike and protest. She has been nominated by three members of the Norwegian parliament for the Nobel Peace Prize and in May 2019, the 16 year old featured on the cover of Time magazine. She has also been subjected to unpleasant personal attacks by politicians and corporations fearful of the impact of her simple and direct campaigning.
Isabella Tree is a writer, most recently the author of Wilding, a gripping account of the way she and her husband Charlie Burrell have rewilded their Knepp estate in Sussex, converting a conventional, intensively farmed arable estate into a showcase for the ability of nature to regenerate, given a benign hands-off regime in which to revive. The process has often been controversial, particularly with neighbours who do not understand the value of scrub and thorn bushes or who fear the spread of weeds like ragwort. But overall, it is an inspiring and optimistic book, telling a story that offers real hope for nature in this time of mass extinction.