Celebrating Eco-warriors for Black History Month
13 October 2022
By RJ Heron
October is Black History Month and to celebrate we’re exploring the great achievements of black environmentalists from around the globe. From noble peace prize winners to a champion in active travel, there are so many amazing individuals that have improved environmental conditions in all corners of the world.
Time for Change: Action Not Words
Black History Month, celebrates black history, heritage, and culture. This year the theme is Time for Change: Action Not Words – we need to come together to reach a common goal where the world is a better place for everyone. To ensure this change is real and everlasting support is best in the form of allyship and actions, not just words.
The Green Belt Movement
First, we look to Kenya where Professor Wangari Maathai made history as the first African woman to win a noble peace prize for her efforts toward reducing social inequalities and building environmental resilience. She was also the first woman in East and Central Africa to become a Doctor of Philosophy. She founded the Green Belt Movement, which focused on planting trees, conservation and women’s rights and improving sustainable livelihoods. As a result, over 51 million trees have been planted in her name and this continues in her legacy.
The Father of Environmental Justice
Dr Robert Bullard campaigned passionately against harmful waste being dumped in predominantly black neighbourhoods in the United States. Throughout his life he fought against environmental racism and as a result is known as The Father of Environmental Justice. His work inspired the US government, which translated into the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, which has been recognised as US legislation since 1994.
Staying in the States, we look to Dr John Francis who after witnessing an oil spill vowed not to travel in a motorised vehicle for the next 22 years. On his 27th birthday, he vowed to be silent and ended up spending 17 years committed to silent reflection, allowing himself to peacefully listen to people and the world around him. Throughout this period Dr Francis walked everywhere he went and as such he is known as The Planetwalker, walking the length of South America. He says, ‘what started as a protest, became a lifestyle.’
A climate modelling innovator
Dr Warren Washington is an atmospheric scientist, the second African American to receive a doctorate in meteorology. He was instrumental in innovating imagery to allow scientists to estimate and model future atmospheric conditions and the development of climate change. In 2007 two of his climate models earned him and his colleagues a Nobel Peace Prize.
We celebrate all these people, and the many, many others who are doing things great and small every day to help protect our shared environment. We’d welcome your comments on people you know who have made a difference.