6 climate trailblazers leading the fight against global warming

Repurposing music, science and cinematography to restore the Earth

23 September 2019
Ming Chun Tang

Weapons in the fight against climate change come in all forms, from the written word to hip-hop beats and from U.N. negotiation rhetoric to a camera and a pair of hiking boots; and there is no legal age minimum to join the fight. Or, at least that’s what these climate activists and practitioners are proving as they tap into their own potentials as artists, thinkers, explorers, scientists and political leaders – more often than not, all rolled into one, in one sense or another – as well as the power of nature to stave off a too-warm world.

As the Global Landscapes Forum meets in New York to discuss the critical nature of restoring ecosystems back to health, here are six of the speakers who will be bringing their relentless and resounding calls for climate action to the stage.

BILL MCKIBBEN

It’s been 30 years since Bill McKibben wrote The End of Nature – now regarded as the first book on climate change for a general audience. As the reality of global warming has hit home in the decades since, McKibben has fought relentlessly for climate action as co-founder of advocacy group 350.org, one of the organizers behind the current Global Climate Strike. His latest book Falter brings a sobering update on the state of the climate today and warns of the perils of a future society dominated by artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

XIUHTEZCATL MARTINEZ

Indigenous climate activist and musician Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a powerful voice of the global youth-led environmental movement. Despite being only 19 years old, he is an experienced campaigner – having begun speaking publicly at the age of 6 – and is currently part of a youth-led lawsuit against the U.S. federal government for failing to protect the Earth for future generations. A touring hip-hop artist with a growing profile, he seeks to connect his environmental and political activism with mainstream culture through his music.

WALTER WILLETT

It’s no mean feat to refute conventional wisdom around what makes a healthy diet – yet so revolutionary was Walter Willett in redesigning the ‘food pyramid’ that he’s now one of the five most cited scientists in the world. His revised diagram, showing how much of each food group should compose a daily diet, was the culmination of decades of research on the connection between diet and disease through the Nurses’ Health Study. Willett teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health and is the author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, a best-selling layman’s guide to healthy eating.

TAYLOR REES

When it comes to bringing the mountains to the masses, there are few storytellers with a keener eye for the planet’s natural wonders than Taylor Rees. A filmmaker and photojournalist driven by a passion for the Earth, Rees dived headlong into a wild expedition to the Hkakabo Razi peak of Myanmar to co-produce Down to Nothing alongside husband and fellow filmmaker Renan Ozturk (who will also feature at GLF New York through a video address). The bulk of her work, though, focuses on people and communities at the center of natural resource struggles.

ALEXANDRIA VILLASEÑOR

This 14-year-old New York City teenager’s routine of skipping school every Friday to sit outside the U.N. headquarters in protest, as she’s done since last December, is being kicked into high gear this Climate Week. Alexandria Villaseñor was at the head of the city’s climate strike on 20 September and stands as one of the week’s most celebrated young leaders, along with Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who inspired her to take action on climate change. (An asthma attack triggered by the California wildfires spurred her too.) She has since co-founded the international youth climate activist organization Earth Uprising and now serves as the U.S. representative for its Global Youth Council.

CHRISTIANA FIGUERES

After years of stalled negotiations, the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was a landmark moment for international climate policy – and presiding over it was none other than Christiana Figueres. A veteran of more than 20 years in climate negotiations, Figueres is one of the world’s most prominent leaders on climate change at the international level. Originally a diplomat for Costa Rica, she served as executive secretary for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010 to 2016. She is now the convener of Mission 2020, a global initiative that aims to stop the growth of global carbon emissions by 2020.


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