An environmentalist broadly supports the goals of the environmental movement, "a political and ethical movement that seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities". An environmentalist is engaged in or believes in the philosophy of environmentalism.
There are several internationally known environmental thinkers. Among those who have made landmarks, the names that are usually mentioned are Charles Darwin, Ralph Emerson, Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopald, Rache Carson and EO Wilson.
- Charles Darwin wrote the ‘Origin of Species’, which brought to light the close relationship between habitats and species. Alfred Wallace came to the same conclusions during his work.
- Ralph Emerson spoke of the dangers of commerce to our environment way back in the 1840s.
- Henry Thoreau in the 1860s wrote that the wilderness should be preserved after he lived in the wild for a year.
- John Muir is remembered a having saved the great ancient sequoia trees I California’s forests. In the 1890s he formed the Sierra club, which is a major conservation NG in the USA.
- Aldo Leopald was a forest official in the US in the 1920s. He designed the earl policies on wilderness conservation and wildlife management.
- In the 1960s Rachel Carson published several articles that caused immediate worldwide concern on the effects of pesticide on nature and mankind. She wrote a well-known book called ‘Silent Spring’ which eventually led to a change in Government policy a public awareness.
- EO Wilson is an entomologist who envisioned that biological diversity was a key to human survival on earth. He wrote ‘Diversity of Life’ in 1993, which was awarded a prize for the best book published on environmental issues.
- Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was an environmental and politicial activist in Kenya. After studying biology in the United States, she returned to Kenya to begin a career that combined environmental and social concerns. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in Africa and helped to plant over 30 million trees, providing jobs to the unemployed while also preventing soil erosion and securing firewood. She was appointed Assistant Minister in the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources, and in 2004 Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while continuing to fight for the rights of women, the politically oppressed and the natural environment.
- Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005). After returning from World War II, Nelson began a career as a politician and environmental activist that was to last the rest of his life. He is perhaps best known as the founder of Earth Day.
- Salim Ali’s name is synonymous with ornithology in India and with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). He also wrote several great books including the famous ‘Book of Indian Birds’. His autobiography, ‘Fall of a Sparrow’ should be read by every nature enthusiast. He was our country’s leading conservation scientist and influenced environmental policies in our country for over 50 years.
- Indira Gandhi as PM has played a highly significant role in the preservation of India’s wildlife. It was during her period as PM, that the network of PAs grew from 65 to 298! The Wildlife Protection Act was formulated during the period when she was PM and the Indian Board for Wildlife was extremely active as she personally chaired all its meetings. India gained a name for itself by being a major player in CITES and other International Environmental Treaties and Accords during her tenure.
- S P Godrej was one of India’s greatest supporters of wildlife conservation and nature awareness programs. Between 1975 and 1999, SP Godrej received 10 awards for his conservation activities. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1999. His friendship with people in power combined with his deep commitment for conservation led to his playing a major advocacy role for wildlife in India.
- M S Swaminathan is one of India’s foremost agricultural scientists and has also been concerned with various aspects of biodiversity conservation both of cultivars and wild biodiversity. He has founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, which does work on the conservation of biological diversity.
- Madhav Gadgil is a well-known ecologist in India. His interests range from broad ecological issues such as developing Community Biodiversity Registers and conserving sacred groves to studies on the behavior of mammals, birds and insects. He has written several articles, published papers in journals and is the author of 6 books.
- M C Mehta is undoubtedly India’s most famous environmental lawyer. Since 1984, he has filed several Public Interest Litigations for supporting the cause of environmental conservation. His most famous and long drawn battles supported by the Supreme Court include protecting the Taj Mahal, cleaning up the Ganges River, banning intensive shrimp farming on the coast, initiating Government to implement environmental education in schools and colleges, and a variety of other conservation issues.
- Anil Agarwal was a journalist who wrote the first report on the ‘State of India’s Environment’ in 1982. He founded the Center for Science and Environment which is an active NGO that supports various environmental issues.
- Medha Patkar is known as one of India’s champions who supported the cause of downtrodden tribal people whose environment is being affected by the dams on the Narmada River.
- Sunderlal Bahugna’s Chipko Movement has become an internationally well-known example of a highly successful conservation action program through the efforts of local people for guarding their forest resources. His fight to prevent the construction of the Tehri Dam in a fragile earthquake prone setting is a battle that he continues to wage. The Garhwal Hills will always remember his dedication to the cause for which he has walked over 20 thousand kilometers.