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New Generation Revolutionizes Environmental Activism

Internet, social networking help build global movements more quickly

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Faiza Elmasry

Environmental activists have relied on public pressure, boycotts and confrontation to advance their cause over the past few decades. Now, a new generation of eco-warriors is revolutionizing environmental activism.

While traveling the globe campaigning against whaling, Emily Hunter met many innovative eco-warriors.

'The Next Eco-Warriors' shares the stories of a new generation of activists who tackle issues of climate change, marine conservation, the rainforest and other environmental concerns.
'The Next Eco-Warriors' shares the stories of a new generation of activists who tackle issues of climate change, marine conservation, the rainforest and other environmental concerns.

“There are people like Jamie Henn who used the Internet with 350.org, to mobilize and connect a global climate movement into being," says Hunter. "People like Tania Field, an African-American woman and single mother in the Bronx, New York, who used urban farming actually as a tool for change."

Field created a natural space for the community where neighbors could come together and build a project to get access to food.

"And a place where other women like herself could get training and workshops and really empower themselves,” says Hunter.

Hunter grew up with environmental activism. Her parents were co-founders of Greenpeace. Her father, Robert Hunter, led the first on-sea protest against whaling and campaigned against nuclear testing and climate change. Time magazine named him one of the Eco-Heroes of the 20th century. His daughter says the 21st century eco-movement is different.

“There is much more diversity going on than before. I feel like the faces and the voices are not just of white, rich people. It’s of people from all kinds of backgrounds and actually from all around the world.”

Emily Hunter, author of 'The Next Eco-Warriors'
Emily Hunter, author of 'The Next Eco-Warriors'

Hunter asked 22 of those people to write their own stories for a new book. In "The Next Eco-Warriors," Kenyan Kevin Ochieng, 24, tells of leading 5,000 young people in a march up Mt. Kenya to draw attention to the problem of climate change and demand government action against global warming.  

Chinese activist Wen Bo writes of raising awareness about protecting the environment.

“He gathered students on environmental issues. That was just after the Tiananmen Square had occurred. So this is a very risky thing to be doing around that time," says Hunter. "They just did a very peaceful tour to a wilderness area in Yunan that was an unprotected area. It was being hacked down and being logged to destruction, killing a lot of biodiversity in this region and destroying cultures that were there too. So by just...highlighting the issue, they were actually able to expose it enough that the Chinese government later put protection laws to protect the Yunan wilderness area.”

While women have always been part of the environmental movement, Hunter says, more are taking a leading role today. One example is Elizabeth Redmond, who uses innovation to create a flooring system that you can walk on to generate power.

“For a long time I was really putting the idea out there and getting a lot of traction in the press and seeking to inspire and educate people about this possibility as the future of energy,” Redmond says.

The surfaces created by Redmond’s company, PowerLeap, use piezoelectricity, which converts the vibrations from walking, dancing or running into energy that can be stored for future use.

In "The Next Eco-Warriors," Native American activist Enie Begaye shares the story behind the Black Mesa Coalition, an inter-tribal, inter-ethnic organization founded to end strip mining on the Navaho reservation’s land in Northern Arizona.

“It does have environmental effects on the land and that pollution of the land, air and water, but it also had really cultural and social effects for us in this area, Black Mesa,” says Begaye.

They won that battle, but immediately faced another - fossil fuel development was a major provider of jobs on the reservation. Their mission now, Begaye says, is to create “green jobs.”

“An example is using our traditional knowledge and combining it with maybe our western education. We take something like weaving. A lot of women do weave rugs from sheep wool. Taking that and maybe combining it with marketing structure and building a weavers’ co-op that can market those rugs through the Internet and we’ll be able to reach a whole new audience of customers.”

To explore those possibilities and spread their message, Hunter says, these new eco-warriors are using all the new technology at their disposal.

“I think the old tools are just not as effective as they used to be. Hanging a banner or lobbying government or signing a petition, while all that can still be effective, but it’s no longer as effective as it used to be 30 or 40 years ago. I think it’s more effective using a whole new assortment of tools including the Internet, social networking, using websites to connect people, being able to create a space where people from all over the world can connect, can learn about events and actions, take part and can really build a global kind of movement.”

That’s why Hunter believes this is an exciting time for the environmental movement. She challenges young people to become change makers in their communities and their world.

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