Top 10 Female Environmentalists Who Are Changing the World

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Kim Chwalek

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All over the world, women are leaders and agents of change in the environmental movement. As a collective, we have the capacity to create powerful and long-lasting change in our communities. Keep reading to learn more about eight phenomenal women who have taken action to improve environmental policy and address environmental issues such as water pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change.

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1. India Logan-Riley

India Logan-Riley is a young leader who is passionate about protecting Indigenous rights within the fight for climate justice. “It’s really important that the wider climate movement aligns itself with the aspirations of indigenous communities [and] amplifies the solutions that we advocate for. [We have to] address climate change in a way that leaves no one behind.” As a member of New Zealand’s indigenous youth group, Te Are Whatu, Logan-Riley has also attended multiple UN Climate Talks as a representative for young Indigenous people.

2. Nguy Thi Khanh

Nguy Thi Khanh is a pioneer leader of Vietnam’s environmental movement. Growing up near a coal plant in a small village in Vietnam, Nguy Thi Khanh witnessed the effect of mining on the environment and the health of her community.

To safeguard clean air and water for public health, Khanh founded the Green Innovation and Development Centre to encourage the government of Vietnam to shift away from unsustainable energy sources and include a bigger percentage of renewable energy from wind and solar power. She also set up the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance to bring together national and international environmental groups.

Her work earned her the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize.

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3. Vanessa Nakate

Vanessa Nakate is an Ugandan climate justice activist who grew up in Kampala. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, Nakate began a strike against inaction on the climate crisis in January 2019. In early 2020, she published a letter to the participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling for companies, banks, and government to end fossil fuel subsidies.

In October 2020, Nakate gave a speech at the Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture. “How can we eradicate poverty without looking at this crisis? How can we achieve zero hunger if climate change is leaving millions of people with nothing to eat?,” she stated. “This is a matter of life and death.” Today, Nakate is working on the Green Schools Project, which aims to transition schools in Uganda to solar energy.

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A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis

“A manifesto and memoir about climate justice and how we can—and must—build a livable future for all, inclusive to all, by a rising star of the global climate movement.”


4. Sunita Narain

Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and political activist. In 2016, she was named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People. Narain has extensively studied the relationship between environment and development, focusing specifically on India’s water supply and pollution crisis. Most recently, Narain appeared alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the documentary Before the Flood, where she spoke on the impact of climate change on the Monsoon in India.

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Conflicts of Interest: My journey through India’s green movement

“India’s foremost environmentalist Sunita Narain gives a personal account of her battles as part of the country’s green movement. While outlining the enormous environmental challenges that India faces today, Narain talks about how corporate lobbies and political interests often scuttle their effective resolution.”


5. Paula Kahumbu

National Geographic Explorer Dr. Paula Kahumbu has devoted her career to protecting elephants from environmental changes and poachers. Kahumbu works as a wildlife conservationist and Chief Executive Officer of WildLife Direct, which introduces young Kenyans into the wildlife movement and highlights Kenyans doing good work in the wildlife sphere. She also spearheaded the Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign, which was launched in 2014 with Kenyan First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, and Global March for Elephants, Rhinos, and Lions, a worldwide protest aimed at protecting these animals from extinction.

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6. Purnima Barman

Purina Barman is a wildlife biologist from Assam, India. In 2017, she received the Whitley Awards for her work in animal and bird conservation in India. She has also been awarded the UNDP India Biodiversity Award 2016 from the United Nations and the Earth Hero Award from the Royal Bank of Scotland. Most recently, Purnima hosted an International conference of women in nature network in January 2019. This meeting enabled female conservationist from over 13 countries to participate in managing and conserving natural resources.

7. Nakabuye Hilda F.

Hilda Flavia Nakabuye is a 22-year-old Ugandan climate activist. To influence policy, she has taken it upon herself to rally youth to take action. As a part of her awareness effort, Nakabuye founded Fridays for the Future, a student-led movement of 25,000 young climate activists who skip class every Friday to speak about climate change at different schools. “We have to raise our voices,” Nakabuye says. “We have to hold our leaders accountable until they get the message. Every one of us has a role to play. We have to remind governments in the Global North and everyone who is polluting our environment that enough is enough, that Mother Earth can’t take it anymore.”


8. Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTN), an organization dedicated to developing sustainable methods of agriculture. She has also worked on grassroots campaigns to prevent clear-cut logging, construction of large dams, and use of higher-yielding seed stocks that require pesticides and fertilizers.

Higher-yielding seed stock pose many problems. First, genetically engineered and patented monoculture crops force farmers into strict annual buying patterns. Second, the seeds are also not resilient to annual changes in climate. To address the loss of indigenous seed diversity and traditional agricultural knowledge in India, RFSTE created seed banks and began to retrain farmers in sustainable agricultural practices.

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Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply

“In Stolen Harvest, Vandana Shiva describes how industrial agriculture steals food from nature and poor people. She urges us to reclaim our right to protect the earth and her diverse species. Food democracy, she says, is the new agenda for ecological sustainability and social justice.”

9. Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist who experienced a sudden rise to world fame after organizing a school climate strike called Fridays for Future in August 2018. Since then, she’s addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference and received numerous honors and awards, including inclusion in Time’s 100 most influential people, the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (2019), and two consecutive nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and 2020.

Thunberg has inspired many of her peers to focus on climate change. She argues “that the future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money.” In December 2019, the New Scientist described the impact made by Thunberg with the headline: “The year the world woke up to climate change.”

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No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference

“A new expanded and illustrated edition of the history-making speeches of Greta Thunberg, the young activist who has become the voice of a generation.”

10. Isatou Ceesay

Isatou Ceesay is referred to as the Queen of Recycling on behalf of her recycling movement called One Plastic Bag in The Gambia. This movement focuses on educating women in The Gambia to recycle plastic waste into products to gain income. In 1997, she founded the Recycling Centre of N’Jau in Northern Gambia. This project has empowered many women over the years, providing the community with a source of income.


If you enjoyed this article, please check out Top 10 Environmental News Websites You Should Bookmark Now and Top 10 U.S. Environmental Journalists to Follow Today. You can also leave any questions in the comments section below!

XO, Kim

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