Inspired to Act. A short history of youth environmentalism!
When did the Environmental Movement get started? Who started it? How do young people use their creativity to share their messages? What have been some major achievements? All these questions (and more) are explored below...
The modern environmental movement is usually traced back to 1962, when Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book - ‘Silent Spring’ - was published. But further investigation shows us that long before ‘Silent Spring’ got people talking about the need to protect our planet, people across the planet fought to save their homes and the habitats that surrounded them from the human thirst for resources (like timber from forests!) Organisations like Greenpeace are also very well-known for their efforts to save whales and raise awareness of key environmental issues – often by acting outside the law or risking their own lives in pursuit of an outcome (which we don’t recommend, by the way!)
But back to the days of ‘flower power’ and 'Silent Spring'. When the book was published, it brought attention to environmental problems faced by Americans and across the world – particularly focusing on the affect of pesticides, such as DDT on plant, animal and even human life. Rachel Carson’s work was so powerful that DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, after President John F. Kennedy had Carson’s claims researched and proven right. On the first ever Earth Day (April 22, 1970), founded by US Senator Nelson, over 20 million people worldwide got involved and the growing concern over the impact of pollution on our environment led to the creation of Environmental Protection Agencies in a number of countries. At this time of massive changes in many different aspects of society – from womens’ to civil rights, the environment was finally being recognised as both vulnerable and worth fighting for.
During the 70s and 80s, a number of individuals and groups got involved in the environmental movement. Many people were concerned about nuclear energy and its potential impacts, so during this period most of the action was around this global issue, which still exists today. From musicians to writers, from politicians to sportspeople, many well-known people had something to say about the environment, which again came into focus worldwide when the link between certain types of aerosol sprays (Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs) and the damage to the Ozone Layer became big news during the 1980s. But young people were also beginning to make their voices heard.
In 1992, Severn Suzuki, then age 12, attended the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. There she gave an incredibly powerful speech and has since reached millions more people thanks to social media. You can watch the video below to check out what she had to say on that day, 20 years ago. She could just as easily be speaking about the problems we face today! Severn was concerned that children of her generation would be inheriting the problems created by the generations before and she had the determination and courage to speak up. ‘I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future.’ Ever since Severn’s remarkable speech, youth activism has begun to rebuild itself across the globe. Everywhere, young people are being reminded that they do have a voice and there are more and more innovative and diverse ways of using it.
Many young members of the creative community have made their mark on the modern environmental movement – from the young John Denver’s passionate activism in the 1970s to Miley Cyrus’s call to action - ‘Wake up America’ - music has played a key role in the way we express our feelings about the challenges facing our planet. In 2010, eighth-grade artist Silvia Gong was announced the North American winner of the UN’s International Children’s Painting Competition, with her piece ‘Biodiversity: Connecting with Nature’. You can read more about this seriously cool event. Just click here
Leonardo DiCaprio is more than just a mega-movie star – his 2007 film ‘The 11th Hour’ won a number of awards for its in-depth (and at times confronting) look at how quickly we need to make the changes that will enable us to avoid dangerous climate change in the future. In Australia, Anna Rose (@annarose) is an emerging young leader on environmental issues. She founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, which has over 81,000 active members. Click here to check them out (including some very cool flashmobs!)
So, you can see that across the world, so many young people are finding ways to express their feelings about the big issues of our time. We think that the most powerful movement for change happens when energy and enthusiasm is combined with creativity and self-expression. Time and time again, we’ve seen this mix create magic in our world. So here’s the big question:
How are you using your individual gifts and talents to share your thoughts and feelings with others?
Let us know how you turn inspiration into ACTION here @ISFYouth1.