In today’s world of popular media, there has been no shortage of coverage on the latest celebrity makeup lines, controversial tweetstorms, and trending YouTube challenges. Yet in the shadows of modern distractions, there have been decades of unsung heroes who have helped protect the well-being of our planet. Environmental leaders, heros, superstars, ballers, call them what you want. These important souls have paved the way for the rest of us and have dedicated (or even sacrificed) their lives to saving the only home we have.
Each month, we’ll be shining the spotlight on a different featured individual to celebrate the hard work that each of them has done in shaping environmental history. They are Urbanstrong’s Climate Baller of the Month. Check out our 2018 round-up of climate heroes/rock stars/legends who balled out in the environmental world.
(Hey!! Psst!!! Do you have a suggestion for someone our judges should consider for a potential future Climate Baller of the Month? Comment below, drop us a line, or put it out there on social using the hashtag #climateBaller. Do it.)
- August Climate Baller: Young Climate Leaders
- July Climate Baller: Naomi Klein
- June Climate Baller: Alexander von Humboldt
- May Climate Baller: Susan Freinkel
- April Climate Baller: E.O. Wilson
- March Climate Baller: Berta Cáceres
- February Climate Baller: Wangari Maathai
- January Climate Baller: Bill Mollison
The fact that we’re already seeing the effects of climate change is undeniable, from wildfires in California to flooding in Greece. But what about 50 years from now? Who will be dealing with the consequences of our negligence? The answer is our youth, and that’s why young people across the nation have stepped up to become vocal and ambitious activists, demanding that our government take action to mitigate climate change. This month, we’ve decided to give these climate heroes some credit, because they’re doing what the adults won’t.
Jamie Margolin is 16 years old, and she’s filing a constitutional climate action lawsuit against the state of Washington. She and 13 other young plaintiffs say that the state’s refusal to take sufficient action to address climate change violates their constitutional right to clean air and a safe, healthy environment. The lawsuit puts an emphasis on the damage that unregulated fossil fuel emissions would cause throughout the state, and sets a transition deadline of 2040.
Margolin is also the founder of Zero Hour, the movement behind the July 21st youth climate march in Washington D.C. Margolin started organizing the march last year after the Trump administration announced its plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Through Zero hour, Margolin works to promote climate justice, equity, racial justice, and economic justice.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (shoo-tez-cat) is only 18 years old, but he’s accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime. The indigenous climate leader is the youth director of Earth Guardians and the author of We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet. Earth Guardians is an organization that empowers young environmental and social leaders by providing education, tools and resources to become effective leaders in their communities.
In addition to his work with the organization, Martinez is at the forefront of two major lawsuits. He is a lead plaintiff in lawsuit against Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which the Colorado supreme court agreed to hear back in January. He’s also leading a lawsuit against the federal government. Similarly to Margolin’s case, Martinez is arguing that climate change threatens the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to life and liberty. If that isn’t enough, Martinez has addressed the UN three times about the urgency of climate change, and served on President Obama’s youth council.
Clara Nevins is an 18-year-old L.A. native and the founder of Change Climate Change. The organization started as a school club that oversaw letter writing campaigns to political leaders. Change Climate Change aims to make policy changes that would mitigate climate change by lobbying senators and city council, and they’ve been doing just that.
Since 2016, Nevins has been working with the Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDC) to pass an L.A. city ordinance that would help cut down on building emissions and speed up the transition to electricity generated by renewable energy sources. City Council adopted the amendment in this February. Nevins was also a delegate with the NRDC to the COP21 UN Paris climate conference.
After experiencing the devastation that hurricane Sandy wrought in New York City, 19-year-old Victoria Barrett knew she had to do something about the looming issue of climate change. Along with Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Barrett is one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit against the federal government. Our Children’s Trust, the non-profit that is representing the plaintiffs, is arguing that the government is infringing upon their Fifth Amendment right to life, liberty, and property. The case briefing talks about Barrett’s situation and how her home is vulnerable to flooding.
Barrett is also a member of Earth Guardians. She has addressed the UN several times, and most recently participated in a debate on achieving sustainable development goals. She spoke at the COP21 UN Paris climate conference on behalf of the Alliance for Climate Education, a non-profit that offers students education and action programs to empower youth and strengthen the environmental movement.
Our July climate baller isn’t exactly unsung, but she sure is impressive. You might know Naomi Klein as the author of No Logo, Shock Doctrine, or the writer/narrator of the film The Take. In this famous trilogy of work, the Canadian author, journalist, filmmaker and environmental activist exposes the ways that globalization allows corporations to profit off of natural disasters and upheaval, and exploit vulnerable populations. But her 2014 bestselling book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, is what really cemented Klein’s name as a prestigious environmental leader.
The New York Times has described This Changes Everything as, “a work of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable.” In it, Klein makes the case that it is impossible to subscribe to the pillars of neoliberalism and to mitigate climate change at the same time. The two are incompatible. Neoliberal market fundamentalism blocks any and all efforts to create policies that would protect the environment, because that would mean checking corporate power. Klein proposes a major transformation of our economic and political system, highlighting divestment from fossil fuels.
In 2016, Klein won the Sydney peace prize for using her platform to demand change. In addition to her books and films, she sits on the board of Bill McKibben’s international environmental organization, 350.org. Klein attended the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, and has been a vocal critic of the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta and the Keystone XL pipeline, participating in numerous demonstrations and even getting arrested. She has also done TED talks about how our addiction to risk is preventing us from getting to the root of climate change and implementing successful solutions. With her far-reaching, hard-hitting arguments, Klein has truly “changed everything.”
Our June Climate Baller is one of the earlier environmentalists in history. Alexander von Humboldt (September 14, 1769 – May 6, 1859) was a Prussian naturalist and explorer. He uncovered a handful of scientific discoveries during his expeditions especially around South and Central America. Humboldt was naturally curious about the environment, which encouraged him to explore the unknown. Along the way, he helped establish and greatly contributed to the subjects of geography, earth science and ecology.
One of Humboldt’s major accomplishments happened while he was investigating why the interior of Peru was so dry. He came across a cold, low-salinity ocean current that flowed off the west coast of South America. Humboldt was the first to extensively study this flow, where he measured its water temperature and the speed. This current, called Humboldt Current, was named after Humboldt because of his unprecedented scientific research.
Other accomplishments include his multi-volume series publication, Kosmos. The series comprehensively united the subjects of geography and natural sciences, and was considered an influential contribution to the popularization of science. He discovered the importance of preserving the malaria-treating cinchona plant and natural fertilizer guano. He also contributed to mapping the Casiquiare Canal. Because of Humboldt’s influential environmental discoveries, many landmarks are named in his honor. These include a mountain range, counties, towns, and a sea on the moon.
If you’re not all that familiar with environmental literature, you may not have heard of science writer and journalist Susan Freinkel. That’s why she’s our climate baller for the month of May. Through her work, Freinkel has brought some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time into the mainstream consciousness. While her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Discover, and Smithsonian, she is best known for her books. She has received high praise for American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree and Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.
In her most recent book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, Freinkel chronicles the history of our complicated relationship with plastics, and how this miracle substance that was meant to liberate us actually contains chemicals (like phthalates) that are detrimental to our health. A big proponent of the cradle to cradle design model, Freinkel also points out how plastics seduce us into relying on cheap, disposable products that end up polluting marine ecosystems. Freinkel’s knack for explaining complicated processes and concepts in a clear, engaging way has drawn more people into the conversation about our planet. Right now, that’s exactly what we need.
Ever notice how the most popular photos used for office computer desktops and screensavers are of beaches, mountains, sunsets, flowers and forests? Similarly, the demand for greenery (like living walls) in drab office environments is on the rise. And everyone knows that homes with a view of the park or ocean are a hot commodity. Our need and desire to connect with nature is widely known and felt across all people. However, few know it by its technical name, ‘biophilia.’ Even fewer know name of the brilliant mind who coined the term in the first place.
Edward Osborne Wilson (also known as E. O. Wilson) is a distinguished biologist and naturalist, and world leading expert on the study of ants. E.O. Wilson, born June 10, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Alabama and his doctoral degree in biology at Harvard. His research on ants has led to an applied scientific perspective to all social creatures and has become one of the leading figures in sociobiology. He is even considered “the father of sociobiology.”
E.O. Wilson established a life-long mission to educate the public about the importance of conserving the world’s biodiversity. He published Biophilia in 1984, which argues that our innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike process is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living things. This work introduced the word “biophilia” which means “the love of all living things.” E.O. Wilson’s research and hard work has won him two Pulitzer Prizes.
Last month, E.O. Wilson wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled, “The 8 Million Species We Don’t Know.” The piece explains how understanding our planet may help us to better protect it:
“To effectively manage protected habitats, we must also learn more about all the species of our planet and their interactions within ecosystems. By accelerating the effort to discover, describe and conduct natural history studies for every one of the eight million species estimated to exist but still unknown to science, we can continue to add to and refine the Half-Earth Project map, providing effective guidance for conservation to achieve our goal.”
This month’s climate baller is Berta Cáceres, an award-winning environmental and indigenous activist who fought for the rights of the Lenca people in Honduras. Two years ago on March 3, Cáceres was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza in retaliation for her work defending the indigenous community. She was forty-four.
In 1993, Cáceres co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh). The aim of the grassroots organization is to protect the Lenca’s ancestral lands, which are constantly at risk of being destroyed. The government wants to replace them with mega-projects such as logging, mining, and dams. Before she died, Cáceres had been voicing her opposition to the construction of four hydroelectric dams, collectively called Agua Zarca. The dams threatened to disrupt Lenca irrigation and pollute drinking water in Western Honduras.
In 2015, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental prize for her work, having caused several major corporations to back out of the dam construction because of human rights conflicts. Her murderers have ties to military intelligence, and the main firm that was to build the dam. For years, Cáceres stood her ground in the face of a violent government, and constant rape and death threats. Today, we remember her as a hero.
The remarkable Kenyan environmentalist Dr. Wangari Maathai is our February climate baller. She established a grass-roots movement in 1977 to fight deforestation in her country by empowering women with resources to plant trees across Kenya. Her Green Belt Movement created jobs for women and encouraged them to think ecologically. The campaign spread to other African countries, and helped nearly 900,000 women. Under her leadership, more than 30 million trees were planted.
Born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940, Mathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She then became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. After passing away in 2011, she is remembered for her persistent fight for democracy, women’s rights and environmental conservation.
Former Vice President Al Gore, a fellow Peace Prize recipient for his environmental work, praised Mathai’s work. “Wangari overcame incredible obstacles to devote her life to service — service to her children, to her constituents, to the women, and indeed all the people of Kenya — and to the world as a whole,” he said.
Bruce Charles “Bill” Mollison is known as the “father of permaculture.” Permaculture is a system that advocates self-sufficient, sustainable agricultural ecosystems. It is based on the idea of “working with, rather than against nature” when producing food, cultivating species suited for local conditions.
Mollison was born in Stanley in 1928 in Tasmania’s north-west. He left school aged 15 to work in a number of jobs, including as a shark fisherman, seaman, forester and mill worker. He was one of the co-creators of permaculture and co-published “Permaculture One” with David Holmgren in 1974. After founding the Permaculture Institute in 1978, his ideas directly impacted hundreds of thousands of students worldwide. Educators today still use his permaculture training.
Mollison passed away in 2016. His obituary in The Guardian rightfully honors our climate hero: “Mollison had a brilliant mind. He observed, he catalogued, and his systematic approach helped him to weave seemingly disparate ideas into the most detailed tapestry. In this sense he was a true visionary.”