After having trained over 12,000 Climate Reality Leaders in the years since An Inconvenient Truth premiered, we know that great activists defy stereotypes of who does and doesn’t care about the planet and can come from any background.
What’s more, we’ve got the numbers – and people – to prove it. To show just how diverse the climate movement is today, we’re featuring 10 inspiring activists who don’t fit any mold and come from unexpected places.
1. Debbie Dooley
Dooley seated with Al Gore and other panelists at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Miami. (Photo: Juli Schulz)
Debbie Dooley is a steadfast conservative – in fact, she’s a co-founder of the Tea Party, and an ardent supporter of President Trump.
She’s also a trained Climate Reality Leader.
Dooley’s main passion is advocating for the use of clean energy, namely solar. In 2012, she noticed that her local utility in Georgia stood to make massive profits off of taxpayers by exploiting a guaranteed profit of between 10.5 and 11 percent of cost overruns on newly constructed power plants – meaning that the more expensive construction was, the more the company stood to earn.
Dooley also saw that solar panels could give Georgia residents a more cost-effective – and empowering alternative – and she got to work to spread the word. By installing solar panels, people would be able to generate their own electricity rather than be forced to solely rely on energy giants that monopolized local markets. In addition, solar panel users would be able to sell their excess energy back to the grid during times of peak demand – a practice known as “net metering” – making every one in effect a small business owner generating revenue.
2. David Katoatau
David Katoatau is a champion weightlifter who hails from Kiribati, a nation made up of tiny islands spread across over a million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the islands are so small that they’re at risk of being wiped out entirely because of climate change.
More specifically, scientists have predicted that intense and unfavorable weather conditions, coupled with rising sea levels, might create an inhospitable landscape unsuited for human life on Kiribati. People have even begun fleeing the nation as a result, and in 2012, New Zealand rejected the application for refugee status submitted by a Kiribati citizen, who claimed to be fleeing from the gradually worsening conditions on the islands.
Katoatau rose to international prominence as an Olympic athlete representing Kiribati in the 2016 Rio games, and his captivating post-competition ritual: dancing.
When asked about his dancing in interviews, Katoatau told reporters that it was to bring awareness to the peril his home is in due to the climate crisis. And it worked – even after placing sixth overall and out of medal contention, Katoatau made headlines across the world and brought Kiribati’s struggle against climate change to global attention.
3. Wei-tai Kwok
In his career as a solar power industry executive, Wei-Tai Kwok grew frustrated at the apathetic attitude toward the climate crisis he was seeing from more and more politicians.
So he decided to do something about it.
In the summer of 2013, he joined hundreds of other inspired activists to become a trained Climate Reality Leader. Since then, he has gone on to be one of our most prolific leaders, having spoken to thousands of people and given dozens of presentations. While his day job is still within the solar industry, he now engages with even more people on a grassroots level to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis on an individual level.
4. Simran Vedvyas
Simran Vedvyas of Dubai is best known as founder of SynergY, a company that enables and inspires young people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India to take action to solve the climate crisis and create a cleaner future. For her work as an environmentalist, Vedvyas has earned numerous awards and global recognition, and represented the UAE as a torchbearer for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Oh, and she’s only 17 years old.
Despite her youth, Vedvyas proves that a person of any age can make a difference. In 2013, she travelled to Chicago to attend our Climate Reality Leadership Corps training and connect with other activists. Thanks in part to the skills and network she gained at the training, SynergY now has over 300 youth members who work to spread awareness and take action – showing that even kids can make a huge difference.
5. Billy Barr
Of all the climate activists on this list, Billy Barr is perhaps the most unique. In the early 1970s, he abandoned modern society and went off to live as a hermit in the mountains of Colorado. Isolated and bored during long winters, he began keeping detailed records of local nature and environmental conditions to keep occupied – and as the years passed, the information he kept became invaluable to climate scientists.
After striking up a relationship with a climate research laboratory near to his home, Barr provided scientists with a treasure trove of detailed historical data that had not previously been available. Because the study of climate change is still relatively new within academia as a whole, historic data on environmental and weather statistics is both sparse and highly sought after. After providing a local scientist with access to his notebooks in the 1990s, Barr’s records have since been used in many landmark papers on the changing climate.
6. Dr. Susan Pacheco
When An Inconvenient Truth opened in theaters over ten years ago, it took the world by storm and inspired thousands of people to take action – and one of those people was Dr. Susan Pacheco.
Dr. Pacheco is a pediatric allergist and immunologist, as well as a university professor. After seeing the documentary with her family, she realized that she could use her medical background and her position as an educator to spread the word about the climate crisis. Her particular focus is on the intersection between health and the climate, which numerous studies have now connected – especially in regards to her specialties, pediatric asthma and allergies.
Since becoming a Climate Reality Leader at our second-ever training, she’s pushed for recognition and action on the climate crisis within the health care industry. She also teaches her medical students about the link between the changing environment and health, so that new generations of doctors begin their careers already prepared to handle the medical issues that will inevitably arise as our planet’s climate changes.
7. Mayor Dale Ross
Dale Ross, mayor of the small town of Georgetown, Texas, is another renewable energy advocate who falls on the far right of the political spectrum. Georgetown, located in the middle of a county that has been reliably red since President Reagan was elected into the White House, recently converted to 100 percent renewable energy under Mayor Ross’s leadership.
The decision was not so much out of environmental concern as it was of financial considerations, according to Mayor Ross. In an interview with National Public Radio, he described how the city reviewed its options for power in 2012 and realized that the price for renewable energy was significantly more stable than the price for fossil fuels. No surprise either, as the cost for renewable energy is consistently on the decline, with solar panel generation in particular having fallen an astounding 80 percent between 2011 and 2015 – making it an appealing option regardless of environmental benefits.
Mayor Ross was even featured briefly in Climate Reality chairman and former Vice President Al Gore’s new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, out in theaters early next month.
8. Huang Ming
The story of Huang Ming, a Chinese citizen and former engineer for the oil industry, demonstrates that anyone can see the light.
As countless people have experienced for themselves, Huang Ming’s entire worldview changed when his daughter was born. Immediately, he became concerned for her future, worrying that fossil fuels would both run out and cause irreversible damage to the environment. Just under a decade after she was born, Ming founded Himin Solar Energy in Dezhou. The company quickly revolutionized the energy industry in China; in the years since, China has become the leading global consumer of solar energy.
Not only has his company completely changed the game for energy production, it has had significant other benefits as well – Dezhou itself has shifted increasingly to green energy, and 800,000 residents are employed by the solar industry. China has been dramatically altered by the solar industry boom in the past 20 years – and there’s no doubt that Huang Ming had much to do with that.
9. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
We’ve written about Dr. Katharine Hayhoe before. Dr. Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist as well as a university professor, and works across the country to spread awareness of the climate crisis and motivate people to act.
However, her story is particularly interesting because she also happens to be a devout Evangelical Christian – and those two attributes, intense Christian faith and environmental activism, haven’t always gone hand in hand in the popular view.
Dr. Hayhoe is a living contradiction of that misconception, and proves that faith and science can coexist. She uses her position as both a Christian and as a scientist to reach out to individuals and faith groups about the climate crisis. Rather than choose one over the other, Dr. Hayhoe shows that uncommon overlaps such as her own can be a tool used to communicate and inspire, rather than an obstacle.
10. Mayalú Txucarramãe
Mayalú Txucarramãe is a member of the indigenous Kayapó tribe, based near the Xingu river that splits off from the Amazon and cuts through the northern half of Brazil. Txucarramãe, who was raised on a park near the river in the heart of Brazil, has seen the effects of climate change first hand – as environmental patterns shift at an unprecedented rate, cultural traditions that have depended on consistency for hundreds of years are disrupted. Deforestation in her state has increased dramatically, temperatures have climbed, and it has become increasingly difficult to tell when crops should be planted.
To bring attention to the plight of her people—as well as the situation the rest of the world will eventually have to confront—Txucarramãe spoke to a crowd of hundreds at our Rio de Janiero training about an often-overlooked people, whose incredible history and culture risks being lost or permanently changed by the climate crisis.
So what does this all mean?
This list goes to show that any person can join the fight, no matter where they might come from or who they are. The diverse individuals on this list – far-right conservatives, reformed energy executives, members of small communities, kids, scholars, and even a hermit – are living contradictions to harmful misconceptions about who can and cannot fight for our planet.
Everyone can join the fight – including you.
Click the buttons below to begin your own journey to becoming a more engaged climate activist and be sure to tell your friends.