On April 22, 1970, millions of Americans participated in the first Earth Day – an environmental movement that has since mobilized activists in over 193 countries, led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and pushed for landmark legislation acts such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. According to Earth Day’s official website, it is “the largest secular observance in the world” as over a billion people use this day of awareness to tackle climate issues on a global, national, and local scale.
The need for awareness and meaningful change has only become more urgent, as the consequences of our climate crisis are now more apparent than ever. In 2020, Earth Day celebrated its 50th anniversary amid a global pandemic after a year of record heat, wildfires, and floods. The reality we’re all facing now is a grim one. COVID-19 has already laid bare the deeply rooted social injustices and inequality facing vulnerable communities – the same communities that have been disproportionately affected by climate change. But, as we now look forward to Earth Day 2021, we also look forward to a year of healing. This is reflected in this year’s Earth Day theme: “Restore Our Earth.” It’s a theme rooted in the idea of revival and hope, but not without decisive action.
Climate change and pandemics might define our future if we don’t adapt our impact on the environment and restore the planet’s ecosystems. The following environmental speakers are not only spreading awareness about the natural and technological solutions to climate change already within our grasp, but are also inspiring others to work toward making a better home for us all.
Consumer Advocate, Author, TV Host & Environmental Activist
Erin Brockovich is an American legal clerk, consumer advocate, and environmental activist, who, despite her lack of education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993. Her successful lawsuit was the subject of a 2000 film, Erin Brockovich, which starred Julia Roberts.
After uncovering a 30-year long history of poisoning the groundwater in California, Brockovich dug in and didn’t give up until she had exposed the truth – and had gotten justice for its victims. She truly is proof that one person can make a difference, and she believes that everyone – in their own way – can do the same. Seen by millions as a symbol of American justice and the importance of fighting for the truth, Brockovich continues to speak out on behalf of those who can’t.
Executive Director of Honor the Earth
Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned environmental activist and advocate for Indeginous communities working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy, and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota and is a two-time vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party.
As Program Director of Honor the Earth, she pursues environmental justice for Indigenous communities. In her own community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation-based nonprofit organizations in the country.
Atmospheric Scientist, Professor of Political Science & Director of Climate Science Center at Texas Tech
Katharine Hayhoe is an accomplished atmospheric scientist who studies climate change and why it matters to us here and now. She is also a remarkable communicator who has received the American Geophysical Union’s climate communication prize, the Stephen Schneider Climate Communication award, and been named to several lists including Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Thinkers, and FORTUNE magazine’s World’s Greatest Leaders.
Hayhoe has served as lead author on the Second, Third, and Fourth National Climate Assessments. She also hosts and produces the PBS Digital Series, Global Weirding, and serves on advisory committees for a broad range of organizations including the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the Earth Science Women’s Network, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic, Oceanographer & Former Chief Scientist of the NOAA
Dr. Sylvia A. Earle is National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence and formerly served as the Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She has been called “Her Deepness” by The New Yorker and The New York Times, “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, and “First Hero for the Planet” by TIME magazine.
Earle is the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc., founder of Mission Blue and SEAlliance, chair of the Advisory Council of the Harte Research Institute, the Ocean in Google Earth, a founding Ocean Elder, and leader of the NGS Sustainable Seas Expeditions. With SEAlliance and Mission Blue, she is committed to developing a global network of areas on the land and in the ocean, “Hope Spots,” to safeguard the living systems that provide stability and resiliency in response to accelerating climate change.
Indigenous Climate Activist, Hip-Hop Artist, Author & Youth Director of Earth Guardians
Earth Guardians’ Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is an Indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. In 2013, he received the United States Community Service Award from President Obama and was the youngest of 24 national change-makers chosen to serve on the President’s youth council.
At the early age of six, Martinez began speaking around the world, from the United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. He has worked locally to get pesticides out of parks, coal ash contained, moratoriums on fracking in his state, and is currently a plaintiff in a youth-led lawsuit against the federal government for their failure to protect the atmosphere for future generations. Martinez has traveled across the nation and to many parts of the world educating his generation about the state of the planet they are inheriting, and inspiring youth to take action to protect the planet.
6. Jack Hanna
Naturalist, Adventurer & Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo
Jack Hanna, popular host of the hit television series, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, is one of America’s most beloved naturalists and adventurers. Each week, Hanna takes millions of family viewers on exciting journeys to learn about animals and the places they live. Hanna began to receive national attention after he became Director of the rundown Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio in 1978. He not only transformed the zoo into a model facility, but through his media savvy, made the Columbus Zoo a household name.
Hanna is a Professional Fellow of the American Zoo & Aquarium Association and a member of the Explorer’s Club. He is also an active supporter of Easter Seals and the Leukemia Society, and serves on the boards of several educational institutions. While he takes all of his civic responsibilities seriously, he maintains that wildlife conservation is his true calling.
Everest Adventurer, Filmmaker & Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Leadership
Filmmaker, adventurer, and mountaineer David Breashears has combined his skills to become one of the world’s most revered adventure filmmakers, a bestselling author, and coveted speaker lecturing on a range of topics including leadership, motivation, and teamwork. Breashears has worked on more than 45 films and has reached the summit of Everest five times. He was also co-producer, co-director, and expedition leader of the most highly acclaimed IMAX film of all time, Everest.
Breashears is the founder, executive director, and principal photographer of the non-profit organization, GlacierWorks, whose mission is to globally inspire mitigation and adaptation through the power of images documenting the gradual disruption of the vital and relied upon flow of water from Asia’s glacier systems.
Co-Founder of the Climate Defense Project
Kelsey Skaggs is the co-founder and Executive Director of Climate Defense Project (CDP), a legal non-profit that provides support and strategy to the climate movement. CDP fills a gap in the legal landscape by representing front-line activists, developing legal strategies, and connecting attorneys with communities and campaigns.
Prior to attending Harvard Law School, Skaggscoordinated a program bringing legal services to survivors of gender-based violence in Alaska. She has worked on environmental issues at Crag Law Center in Oregon, on international environmental policy at Universal Rights Group in Geneva, and in defense of free speech activists at Media Legal Defence Initiative in London.
Chief Environmental Research Scientist at Environmental Health Research Associates, LLC
Dr. Sylvia Hood Washington is an environmental epidemiologist, environmental engineer, and environmental historian with 30 years of research experience working on the impact of industrial pollution on human health and ecosystems. She is currently the Chief Environmental Research Scientist at Environmental Health Research Associates, LLC. Dr. Washington successfully implemented the Research Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.
In November 2010 she was elected Co-Chair of the Illinois EPA’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board. The Board comprises leaders from Environmental Justice groups, private industry, non-governmental organizations, law firms, and municipal officials in Illinois. In 2012 she was appointed by Governor Patrick Quinn to sit on the first Environmental Justice Commission for the state of Illinois.
10. Jim Knox
Wildlife Expert & Beardsley Zoo Curator of Education
As the writer and host for PBS’ “Wild Zoofari,” Jim Knox has shared his knowledge and passion for wildlife with millions of Animal Planet viewers throughout the U.S., Russia, Thailand, the Middle East, and Europe. Knox currently serves as the Curator of Education at Connecticut’s AZA accredited Beardsley Zoo, where he directs Education and Wildlife Conservation programs. He is also co-creator of The Conservation Discovery Corps, which won first place honors with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as the Outstanding Education Program in the nation.
Knox uses his knowledge of nature and wildlife to share tales of animal inspiration and resilience. He invites his audiences to learn how nature combats its most deadly foes and how humans can model their behaviors to survive – and even thrive – amidst crisis.
These popular Earth Day speakers know a thing or two about our planet’s resilience and propensity for survival, but also how fragile our environment can be if we continue to ignore the severity of climate change. There is no better place to start taking action than to raise awareness, and these climate change activists, wildlife conservationists, and sustainability speakers are working hard to do just that.