Rachel Carson is often credited with launching modern environmentalism in the U.S. after releasing the famed book Silent Spring, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
Carson was an avid marine biologist and conservationist-turned-author. After releasing a series of popular environmental books, Silent Spring was serialized in The New Yorker and then published, surprising millions with its claims.
The book attacked the widespread use of DDT that decimated natural animal populations, including songbirds (hence the title). She was also among the first to correlate the chemical with cancer and pest resistance.
She died two years after the book was published, but her work eventually led to the banning of DDT use in 1972, according to the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
Jane Goodall’s first encounter with a chimpanzee was in 1960 when she ventured to Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park as part of a research project to study their ties to human evolution.
In the five decades that followed, Goodall has become one of the most recognized and prolific advocates for chimp research and conservation.
Her work was the first to reveal the commonalities between humans and chimps.
She established the Jane Goodall Institute in 1977 and has spearheaded many conservation efforts, but told The Huffington Post last year that chimps need our help “desperately,” as populations are still in decline.
Sylvia Earle, often called “Her Deepness” by The New Yorker, has been exploring the oceans firsthand for decades and has spent more than 7,000 hours underwater. She was NOAA’s first female chief scientist, Time magazine’s first Hero of the Planet and she helped Google add the oceans to Google Earth. She’s now a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
Her exploration and research have led to greater understanding of oceanic ecosystems and the impact of humans and climate change.
She also won the TED Prize in 2009 and has since launched Mission Blue, an effort to increase public awareness of marine protected areas.
Actress Daryl Hannah was taken away in handcuffs in February for the second time in less than six months while protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline outside the White House.
She’s been an active environmentalist, running her off-the-grid home on solar power and touting the benefits of biodiesel to Fox’s Sean Hannity.
She’s been arrested while protesting on several other occasions, including efforts to protect urban farming in Los Angeles and to stopmountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia.
Lady Bird Johnson
The former First Lady of the U.S. was responsible for many environmental efforts during her husband’s presidency, most notably the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 that led to the wildflowers and greenery now planted on the side of American roadways. The act’s still known as Lady Bird’s bill.
In 1968, Lyndon Johnson presented her with a plaque which said she “has inspired me and millions of Americans to try to preserve our land and beautify our nation,” according to NBC News.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal and is remembered as one of the most influential First Ladies in history.
Dian Fossey spent 18 years studying gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, living among them while observing their behavior, according to PBS. Her work led to international conservation efforts and an Oscar-nominated biographical film featuring Sigourney Weaver, “Gorillas in the Mist.”
Along with Jane Goodall (chimpanzees) and Birutė Galdikas (orangutans), Fossey was called one of the leading primatologists of her time. She formed relationships with individual gorillas and founded the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund after her favorite primate, Digit, was killed by poachers.
She was murdered in 1985 in a still unsolved case, possibly in retribution for her fight against poaching, according to a People magazine report.
Lisa Jackson led the Environmental Protection Agency for the entirety of President Obama’s first term before she announced her resignation shortly after his reelection.
Under her tenure, the EPA led the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, created new fuel efficiency standards for cars, and limited carbon emissions from power plants.
Loftier attempts at fighting climate change and energy policy (like the Keystone XL pipeline) often faced fierce condemnation from a Republican-controlled House, and Jackson frequently found herself defending EPA policies in strongly worded debates.
President Obama nominated Gina McCarthy to take over for Jackson in March. Upon her departure, Jackson did say she was “confident the ship [was] sailing in the right direction.”
Lucy Lawless was arrested during a Greenpeace protest after spending four days aboard an oil-drilling ship in New Zealand last year.
The actress was protesting drilling in the Arctic and was later arrested and charged with trespassing. She was sentenced in February and given 120 hours of community service and ordered to pay a fine of $547, far less than the $545,000 sought by Shell Todd Oil Services.
She called the judgment “a great victory” for environmentalists.
Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize after decades of environmental work in her native Kenya. She launched the Green Belt Movement, an NGO that organizes Kenyan women to replant trees, combat deforestation and create jobs.
The organization wrote that members have planted more than 51 million trees since 1977.
Maathai regularly fought against the Kenyan government, including a major effort to prevent the construction of a skyscraper in the middle of a Nairobi park. She put herself in harm’s way, and was beaten unconscious by police while protesting, according to a New York Times obituary.
The real-life subject of the Oscar-winning 2000 biopic, Erin Brockovich is best known for defending the people of Hinkley, Calif. after local groundwater was contaminated with chromium, which resulted in a $333 million settlement in 1996.
More recently, she’s launched a project to map disease clusters around the world in partnership with Google, telling The Huffington Post that it will be one of her “life projects.”
She’s also raised her concerns about the environmental impacts of fracking.
Julia ‘Butterfly’ Hill
After living in a 600-year-old redwood tree for 738 days, Julia “Butterfly” Hill managed to save both the tree, named Luna, and a 3-acre swath of forest from logging.
Hill bathed in a bucket and lived on an 8×8-foot plywood platform for more than two years in protest of a Pacific Lumber logging project in northern Calif., according to The New York Times.
She’s since become a motivational speaker post-tree-sit and released a book about the protest.
In an effort to convince New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject fracking in the state, Yoko Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, launched a coalition of more than 180 artists and musicians who oppose the practice.
“It is a direct public health threat to families and communities,” the group wrote in a letter. The group, called Artists Against Fracking, have sent letters condemning the removal of natural gas from shale deposits. Other members of the group include Lady Gaga and Susan Sarandon.
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