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The Chronicle of Climate Activism

Activism around climate change isn’t restricted to Millenials and Gen- Z but rather goes back to the beginning of civilisation. Be it religious texts or philosophers' works, they echo the laments of degrading environment as a result of human actions and warn us against it. The history of the venture towards safeguarding our planet is important to know the present. It started with nature worshipping and is going on with youth protests. The interesting part is how pop culture incorporated it all, from Michael Jackson to Lorde to Leonardo Di Caprio, Earth being their muse and the sentiment of environmentalism bind them all together. Here’s more on this by Perspectoverse’s Saachi Singh.


Human beings are indelibly intertwined with nature, they destroy it, they fear it and they have always been in a quest to overcome it with their wit and intelligence, results of which we are noticing today as we fight to curb global warming, preferably below the threshold of 1.5 degrees celsius. It’s also the reason our world leaders have gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the COP26 summit, in pursuit of decisions that might undo effects of circumstances fabricated due to their previous hollow promises and inactivity.

The activism towards climate change isn’t the multiplier effect of Greta Thunberg giving expressive speeches or the hashtags that surrounds every social media site while people keep on destroying the Earth, it's much more than that, it’s a culmination of historical movements aided by different mediums which also includes the pop culture, because a part of human beings have always been woke and took the responsibility to speak up. And to view this topic from a historic lens is both evocative, because of the historical manoeuvre carried out throughout centuries, and repentant of how ignorant the generations before us have been.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been nature-fearing and worshipping citizens. Ecological awareness was first recorded at least 5,000 years ago. Vedic sages, Taoists, and Buddhists and their teachings were based on nature’s patterns and laid down directives for humans to coexist with it. Islamic Koran and Hindu texts also have tenets of environmentalism. Epic of Gilgamesh and some texts of Greek mythology, amongst many, portray apprehensions about deforestation and advocate animal rights. Early civilizations such as Mohenjodaro and their architecture were nature based rather than defying. While these are some examples from early historic periods, a magnificent and conscious take on environmentalism started around the 16th century.

The 16th century Dutch painter David Bruegel, or, Eco-Bruegel, as we shall call him today, painted vivid natural scenery as being inhabited by humans along with raw sewage and polluting elements discarded into rivers by major cities. In the 18th century, the first environmental activists, the Bishnoi Hindus were slaughtered for protecting the forest area that the Maharaja of Jodhpur decided to build himself a palace upon which sounds familiar to contemporary practices of expanding urbanised civilization and ventures, depleting green areas. America saw some of the first activists around the same time and it was no later than the 1830s that authors and philosophers did their takes on environmentalism and climate change and thus, incorporating it in the pop culture. Thomas Malthus published the final edition of his famous essay on overpopulation in 1826 and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote Nature in 1835, both revolutionary texts.

“By avarice and selfishness, and a grovelling habit, from which none of us is free, of regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber.”

These are the words that David Henry Thoreau wrote in his seminal ecological treatise Walden while living in a hutment that he built for himself near the lake Walden, Massachusetts, retreating from the urban world. A scenery that is, today, a mere romantic idea in our minds. This book inspired generations of environmentalists.

Global warming first came in the purview of the world as an alarming issue in 1950s which led to more popular movements and birth of greenpeace corporations, that put up billboards signs around vancouver that read:


Look it up

You’re involved.

The people in 1969 actually had to look up this word due to the lack of awareness. On the contrary, the 1970s were one of the most proactive decades in terms of climate activism. These were the years of the Chipko movement taking a global hold, people gaining awareness about Ozone layer depletion, “Blue Marble” shot of Earth from outer space rousing people, different treaties signed to contaminate the arms and nuclear race, and most importantly first Earth Day being celebrated. Fast forward to the UN launching the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(1PCC) in 1988, followed by the Rio Earth summit, Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, all of which have yielded no great results yet.

Recent decades have seen this movement confluencing with pop culture. Leonardo Di Caprio is known to be the proponent of environmentalism, representing hollywood. From Michael Jackson’s Earth Song to Lil Dicky’s song Earth that features many famous artists, and more recently Lorde’s new album Solar Power that has nature as its muse and features a song called Fallen Fruit, whose video shows a beach, symbolic of the earth, deteriorating and human beings’ last resort of leaving in their cars at the hour of destruction, speaks a lot. Movies, plays and public performance art, such as giant hands pulling down buildings at the 2017 Venice Biennale and ice sculpture melting outside London Tate Modern in 2018, are fueling climate activism. Students and youth today make up the forefront of the global movement, social media open up platforms to all people and a more daring society speaks up in favor of preserving nature and the world, defying the capitalist audacity to deplete it.

Today, as we observe the decisions made at the COP26 summit, the promises that are yet to attest to their fulfillment by world leaders and major industrialists, we also commemorate the years of protest through different media, that has opened up a conversation around the topic in the world and a legacy of art and culture surrounding the environment.

Written by Saachi Singh

Illustrated by Rishita Banerjee


1.Weyler, Rex. "A Brief History Of Environmentalism - Greenpeace International". Greenpeace International, 2018,

2.Yeo, Sophie. "How The Largest Environmental Movement In History Was Born". Bbc.Com, 2021,

3."12 Important Moments In The History Of Climate Action: In Photos". Global Citizen, 2020,

4. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, Macmillan Collector's Library, 6 October 2016.

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