This was a year of tug-of-war for the environment. With Donald Trump becoming president of the U.S. at a time when wildfires, hurricanes, and floods were devastating the country, it was challenging for scientists, activists and concerned citizens to get their voices heard. But several stood out as global leaders on climate and helped give rise to those who were silenced. Below are 14 of the most notable influencers of 2017 and how they fought for a cleaner, safer environment for all.
1. Emmanuel Macron
After his inauguration as president of France, just a few months after U.S. President Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron made immediate waves. He started off by addressing Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement with a "Make Earth Great Again" slogan and welcoming American climate scientists to France to continue their research. He forged on, offering multi-year grants totaling $70 million. Macron also hosted the One Planet Summit where 20 international companies announced they would phase out coal. With his continued criticism of Trump's decisions regarding the planet, Macron has proven himself a global leader on climate change and has set the stage for progress in 2018.
2. Elon Musk
Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of several companies including SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, began 2017 with a seat on President Trump's economic advisory council. Musk made multiple attempts to reverse Trump's stance on climate change, but after Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, Musk left the council on June 1, causing a huge media storm. Then in October, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and left the islands without power, Musk swooped in and began building a solar grid. He started with restoring a children's hospital in San Juan and has continued delivering and installing Tesla battery systems since. Musk has also made huge strides in green technology with his push for electric vehicles and renewable energy in the U.S., despite the Trump administration's favoritism towards the fossil fuel industry.
3. Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped up to the plate as one of 2017's female leaders on climate in a multitude of ways. Nicknamed the "Climate Chancellor," Merkel has outwardly expressed her differences with Trump, calling his stance on climate change "regrettable." She reassured the UN that Germany would uphold its targets for the Paris agreement, despite the U.S. change of heart. She has also made significant progress in ensuring sustainable growth in Germany with the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. Then, in November at the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Merkel sent a strong message to all global leaders, saying "we will not be able to adhere to the 2°C or 1.5°C target with the current national commitments. That is why each and every contribution is incredibly important."
4. Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders didn't let his loss in the 2016 presidential race stop him from speaking out on climate. In 2017, Sanders relentlessly criticized Trump's rejection of the Paris agreement and his outright denial of climate science. He is one of the few politicians who has spoke out about the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, which aims to expand the fossil fuel industry. He also introduced a $146 billion recovery package for Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit and Trump neglected to provide relief. The package would rebuild Puerto Rico's infrastructure with sustainable resources. He also helped to introduce the 100 by 50 Act, which would support workers in the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.
5. Pope Francis
Pope Francis has openly condemned climate change deniers for years, but 2017 might have been the most radical year yet for the sovereign. In February, the Pope spoke up for indigenous peoples and their right to consent when it comes to government activities on their sacred lands. The strong words came shortly after President Trump signed two executive orders calling for the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines in January, though the Vatican said the timing was coincidental. On World Food Day in October, the Pope urged governments to mitigate climate change, as it is a lead driver of the increase in world hunger. And in November at COP23, he outlined four "perverse attitudes" that are preventing climate action. To top it off, he also acquired an electric car.
6. Michelle Rodriguez
Actress and climate activist Michelle Rodriguez is one of the newer voices of the climate movement. In March, Rodriguez joined an all-woman survey team known as Operation Ice Watch on an expedition to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada where the seal population is under siege by hunting and ice loss caused by climate change. Led by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Animal Justice, the crew surveyed the ice, or lack thereof, while filming a documentary to raise awareness about the "ecological catastrophe." Rodriguez also partnered with Operation Taino Spirit Promise and Sea Shepherd to provide relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck and start a campaign for a sustainable rebuild.
7. Michael Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also a notable influencer of 2017, representing the U.S. at COP23 where he, alongside Governors Jerry Brown of California and Jay Inslee of Washington introduced the We Are Still In coalition, a network of U.S. politicians who support climate action despite Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement. In October, Bloomberg also announced that his charity would donate $64 million to the retirement of U.S. coal plants, greatly impeding Trump's efforts to revive the American coal industry.
8. Patricia Espinosa
Mexican politician and current executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa made significant progress on shifting the dialogue surrounding climate action in 2017. In February, she said getting fossil fuel companies "on board" is a critical factor in combating climate change. She also used her position to direct the climate conversation away from technology and toward security, arguing that security officials "understand that our current crisis pales in comparison to what is coming if climate change is left unchecked." She also spoke about women's involvement at COP23 and introduced the Gender Action Plan to promote meaningful participation by women in the climate movement.
9. Al Gore
Former vice president and environment activist Al Gore is known for his stance on climate change. But in 2017, with the release of his newest documentary "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," Gore found another big spotlight. In July, he boldly predicted that the U.S. would still meet the targets of the Paris agreement, despite Trump's about-face in June. On Dec. 4-5, Gore also hosted the Climate Reality Project's "24 Hours of Reality," where he highlighted citizens taking action all across the globe to inspire others to do the same. The program reached more than half a billion viewers on TV and 32 million online, making it the world's largest social broadcast on climate to date.
10. Jerry Brown
At almost every turn for the past 365 days, California Governor Jerry Brown has undermined President Trump. In June, almost immediately after Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement, Brown partnered with Chinese President Xi Jinping to continue expanding green technology and trade. In July, Brown extended California's climate legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. And as wildfires have raged through the state and region, Brown said he was "linking with other similar-minded people all over the world" and "pushing forward even as Trump blusters."
11. Noam Chomsky
Well known linguist and scientist Noam Chomsky spoke out numerous times in 2017 for the sake of the environment. In an interview with Truthout in March, Chomsky called out the Trump administration for cutting federal spending to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, stating that his actions are an "attack against future generations." In May he spoke out again, telling BBC Newsnight that the Republican Party's denial of climate change has made them the most dangerous organization "in human history." Chomsky's criticisms opened up an intellectual dialogue for conservative voters and encouraged the scientific community to weigh in.
12. Leonardo DiCaprio
Actor and philanthropist Leonardo DiCaprio made impressive strides on climate action in 2017, including investing in the entirely plant-based food company Beyond Meat and a farm-raised seafood company LoveTheWild. In June, DiCaprio also partnered with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to conserve the Gulf of California for the vaquita porpoise, classified as the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Most recently, at the Yale Climate Change Conference in September, DiCaprio announced that his foundation will be awarding $20 million in grants to more than 100 environmental organizations.
13. Stephen Hawking
World-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking represented the majority of the scientific community in 2017 on several occasions, urging Trump to stop denying evidence of climate change. In June, Hawking had a few choice words about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, warning that "we are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible." And in November, Hawking once again pushed Trump to stop denying climate change and take action. Hawking nearly gave up on Earth altogether, telling WIRED UK that "our Earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing."
14. David Attenborough
English documentary filmmaker and naturalist David Attenborough, whose series Blue Planet II began in October, spoke out several times on plastic pollution in 2017. In September, Attenborough told Greenpeace of the "heartbreaking" footage he recorded of mother birds feeding their babies plastic, an iconic moment for him that pushed him to speak up about plastic pollution in oceans., and tell Trump to reconsider his withdrawal from the Paris agreement. He emphasized that "never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet—and never before have we had such power to do something about it."
According to a campaign press release provided to EcoWatch, organizers will team up with Puerto Rican NGOs to help deliver life-saving supplies to residents. A vessel will also retrieve plastics and raw materials off the island to alleviate Puerto Rico's overflowing landfills.
"Our mission is to help Puerto Rico help itself by partnering with local boots on the ground who are focusing on issues such as the environment, ecological farming, education, mental health," said Rodriguez in the short feature above.
As highlighted in the video, Puerto Rican non-profits have been intrinsic in providing relief to residents across the island. Such groups include Visit Rico, an organization dedicated to strengthening Puerto Rico's agricultural economy through sustainable agri-tourism.
Maria had wiped away around 80 percent of Puerto Rico's agricultural industry, explained Camille Callazo of Visit Rico in the clip. "That's why we created a fund for ecological farmers to keep motivated, feel hope," she says.
Another featured organization is Unidos Por Utuado, which provides water filters, portable solar panels with batteries and LED lights.
"[We are] empowering people but doing it in a way that is renewable" said C.P. Smith of Unidos Por Utuado.
The Category 4 hurricane was so devastating that parts of the island are still in the dark after the Sept. 20 storm struck. As of Monday, the island has reached 68 percent electric capacity
Portable solar panelsOperation Taino Spirit Promise
Public health officials have warned of a mental health crisis on the island, with many residents showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Mayra Santos-Febres of Festival de la Palabra also noted in the video how her group provides books, creates workshops and uses art "to get people out of their post-traumatic disorders so they can move [on] and get what they need."
"We are in this for the long haul, looking at the long game, seeing what kind of opportunities there are to rebuild the way Puerto Rico functions," Rodriguez said. The cause is near-and-dear to the Fast and the Furious star, who has a Puerto Rican father and resided on the island during her youth.
"In this era of climate change, Sea Shepherd stands ready to assist the good and resilient people of Puerto Rico in their recovery from these destructive events," said Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd founder, president and CEO.
“The indelible Taino spirit that lives in every Puerto Rican on the island and in the diaspora commands us to come together to help rebuild Puerto Rico" said Puerto Rican-born Ivette Rodriguez, the founder of Hollywood-based Taino Warriors. “We want to empower the younger generations and remind them of the greatness of their origins. We are thrilled that Michelle Rodriguez (no relation) and Captain Paul Watson are joining us on this mission."
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
A Sea Shepherd team flew over the Gulf of St. Lawrence last week documenting an ecological disaster that very few people want to talk about—especially those in the Canadian government.
It has been 40 years to the month that French actress Brigitte Bardot first went to the ice floes in Canada to focus attention on the slaughter of baby seals at the behest of Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson.
This year, actress Michelle Rodriguez—best known for her role as Letty Ortiz in the blockbuster franchise The Fast and the Furious—joined the all-woman survey team known as Operation Ice Watch. The group was led by Sea Shepherd Toronto coordinator Brigitte Breau and also included Yana Watson, the wife of Sea Shepherd leader Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd advisory board member Clementine Pallanca and Canadian animal rights lawyer Camille Labchuk of Animal Justice.
The group was accompanied by a three-person documentary crew: French photojournalist Bernard Sidler, Australian videographer Jasmine Lord and Toronto-based Czech photographer Marketa Schusterova.
Since Captain Watson first founded Sea Shepherd 40 years ago in 1977, much has changed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Not all whitecoat seals are clubbed to death on the ice (shotguns are also permitted now), the kill quota is almost twice what it was then. Since 2011, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been allowing the slaughter of 400,000 seals they define as "adult" although many are no more than six weeks old.
Canadian seal products are banned in Europe and in the U.S. Regardless of the quota that has allowed sealers to kill 2.4 million seals over the last six years, only around 350,000 have actually been slaughtered in total because of a scarcity of markets.
However, there is one very significant change that the world needs to know.
Where is the Ice?
Harp seals cannot give birth to pups unless there is ice for them to be born upon. The team of Operation Ice Watch had trouble finding any substantial ice during its investigation.
Earlier in the week, the Operation Ice Watch crew found a couple of small patches along the coast of Cape Breton containing a few hundred seals and their pups. Two days later that patch was gone, broken up by high winds. It was found again two days later, more broken up and with fewer seals. Most likely the seal pups drowned.
There should be more than 200,000 seal pups in the Gulf yet no one seems to know where they are.
What the Operation Ice Watch team witnessed is something that Sea Shepherd has never witnessed before—a completely ice-free and seal-free Gulf. This alarming sight means that without ice, seal pups cannot be born. They are being birthed into the sea, only to drown or forced up on land where they have little chance of survival.
Despite the lack of ice, the Canadian government has issued a kill quota once again of 400,000 seals for the year 2017. This is an astounding figure when tens of thousands of seals may have already perished in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year due for lack of ice.
Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd feel this should be declared a national emergency and a clear warning that climate change is accelerating faster than authorities anticipate.
Brigitte Bardot and Michelle Rodriguez: Posing With Seals Then and Now
Captain Paul Watson sent the all-female crew to the ice to commemorate the courage of Brigitte Bardot when she went to the ice in 1977 to focus international attention of the slaughter of seals. A photo of Bardot posting with a seal brought world attention to the cause and the need to protect harp seals. It became a pivotal point in the fight to stop this annual Canadian obscenity of cruelty and mass slaughter.
Bardot and Seal, 1977.
In recognition of Bardot's famous picture, taken 40 years ago this March, Rodriguez posed with a whitecoat baby seal in her own 21st Century version of the iconic photo.
"People listen to celebrities," said Captain Watson. "Michelle has over 13 million friends on her Facebook page along with an international following. This helps to get the message out that now the seals are not just threatened by human hunting, but even more threatened by climate change and the loss of ice. Not content to kill the babies, mankind has now wiped out the nurseries."
However, unlike the ice conditions of 1977 which made Bardot's photoshoot a relatively safe one, it was not so easy to recreate the shot in 2017. The ice was so broken up and thin that Sea Shepherd's helicopter could not land. Rodriguez, along with Yana Watson, Sidler and Lord had to hop from one small pan of ice to another just to reach the seals.
Despite the challenges, Rodriguez was thrilled to meet the seals on the small patch of ice.
"Seeing these beautiful creatures and understanding their place in the ecosystem, I'm saddened the Canadian government has been so short sighted in failing to prevent a massive ecological catastrophe," said Rodriguez. "It's sad to know the truth and watch the world turn a blind eye."