Famous Female Environmental Activists That You Need to Know

Welcome to a growing list of famous female environmental activists. If there is not someone you currently see on this list, write about them and we will add this to this project.

The purpose of this project is to leave you feeling inspired by their stories and empowering you to take action.



(1934 - Present)

Jane Goodall is being handed a bana by a chimpanzee
Jane Gooddall with a Chimpanzee. Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute

When Jane came surfaced revolutionary research on chimpanzees she didn't have a degree in Biology -- in fact, she didn't have a degree at all.

"I didn't want to become a scientist when I was growing up... Women didn't become scientists, now they do." Jane said in a TED talk.

While growing up in England, Jane loved animals. She realized she was not like other kids and her dream was far from ordinary.

"When I was young girls were supposed to get married, look after your children, you were a good wife, you cooked for your husband, and you didn't become a scientist."

Jane shared none of their ambitions.

Jane was inspired by the story of Tarzan. If you ask her, she will tell you he picked the wrong Jane. It was her dream to live with animals in Africa.

An image of the cover of the book Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan, a series written by Edgar Rice Burroughs had 24 books in the series.

If you ask Jane what her qualifications were, she will draw a big 0.

What she did have was a supportive mother. The advice her mother gave her was... "If you really want this you are going to have to work extremely hard, take advantage of all opportunities, but don't give up."

Reflecting back, Jane doesn't believe she would have been able to accomplish any of what she has without her.

"If I didn't have that kind of mother, I might not have done what I have done. She supported my dream."

While working as the secretary for Louis Leakey, the famous paleoanthropologist and archaeologist whose work proved humans evolved in Africa, she got an offer to live her dream of going and studying chimpanzees.

After making personal sacrifices and working hard to save up the money, Jane was able to finally afford the opportunity to go study in in Tanzania. Let the adventure begin.

Couresy of the Jane Goodall Institute

While there, Dr. Goodall made several remarkable discovers.

The first was she saw the chimpanzees using and modifying tools. The definition that separated humans from other animals at the time was our ability to use and modify tools.

As you can imagine, this didn't make a lot of people very happy.

When Dr. Goodall brought her research forth to the world, she was ridiculed. She was disgraced because she had no formal qualifications, and was even discredited because she was a woman.

Dr. Goodall's research shook our understanding of what it means to be human. She documented her research in the book Shadow of Man which was to become a best-selling classic.

When she returned home, her future was not certain. She was able to get a grant from National Geographic to continue her research and have the famous videographer Hugo Van Lawick record her in the process.

A baby chimpanzee looks into Hugo Van Lawicks camera while Jane Goodall watches
Hugo Van Lawick with Jane Goodall

When Jane returned home, she skipped her bachelors and masters and went straight for her PhD from Cambridge.

While there, the professors criticized Jane for her research. They believed you are never supposed to name a test subject, you cannot study their emotions, and everything has to be objective. She was the first one to really say that chimpanzees have personalities and emotions.

She said she learned from her dog at a young age that animals have personalities and emotions and to ignore that would be to ignore reality.

Dr. Goodall redefined humanities placement to the world.

The fact that we share 99% of the same DNA as chimpanzees and that we are a 5th generation apes give humans both a moment of existential crisis and clarity.

Dr. Goodall is now in her 80s. She is at a stage in her life where she is traveling 300 days a year because she has a message to spread.

"Here we are this most intellectual species to ever walk the planet, and yet we are destroying our only home."

While we look at other species are realize they are much smarter than we think, it is time for us tor really look at ourselves and realize the same.

Now, Dr. Goodall runs the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education, and Conservation, a nonprofit inspired to protect the thing she has always loved so deeply, the animals.


December 10, 1997 and December 18, 1999

Julia Butterfly Hill in Luna the 180 foot tree
Gerard Burkhart/Hulton Archiv/Getty Images

After a car wreck, Julia was broken physically, emotionally, mentally, and spirituality. She says she had to be broken on every level for what she was about to do.

On December 10, 1997 when Julia ascended 180 feet into Luna, the 1,500 year old redwood tree in Humboldt County, she didn't know how long she would be up there.

What she did know was that only 3% of the redwood forest remained and she wanted to do everything in her power to protect it.

With no electricity and no power, she was being held up by two plywood platforms about six by eight feet.

Julia Butterfly Hill is laying in the top of Luna
Julia Butterfly Hill laying in the top of Luna

No one was listening to them when they were on the ground, so she climbed into the tree.

While she had no possessions at the time, she said the only thing she still was clinging onto was her life.

During a storm with winds reaching 90 MPH, Julia thought she was going to die that night.

She heard a voice that said "What do the trees do during a storm."

Julia realized that the trees that stood rigid were the ones that fell down. The trees that flow and move with the wind were the ones that survived.

This is the insight that gave her the strength to live without fear, and to have the courage to see this tree sitting out to the end.

Julia looking at camera while hanging onto a tree of Luna with redwoods in the back
Julia "Butterfly" Hill not looking very afraid of death

Even as Pacific Lumber, the company who owned Luna, would cut down neighboring trees, fly helicopters by her, and blocked supplies to go in for 10 days, she never gave up.

On December 18, 199 on day 728 of living in Luna, Julia Butterfly stepped on the ground after they agreed they would not cut down Luna.

“I was leaving the best teacher and friend I’ve ever had."

This is Julia's reflection on her experience while in Luna.

"... the person I’d been when I’d gone up and the person I was when I came down were so profoundly different that I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to live in the world again. I hadn’t touched the ground for two years and eight days. When I set foot on the earth, there was a lot of emotion. There was extreme joy, because we’d protected the tree and the grove around it, which a lot of people had said was impossible. But there was also sadness. I had become so much a part of that tree, and it had become so much a part of me, that I wasn’t sure I would fit in with other people. Though I left the tree, it’s still so much a part of who I am that I can just close my eyes and be in its branches all over again.”

To overcome her fear, put her life on the line, and show the world what was important, she will not be forgotten.

How Julia starts her day

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