Introducing the Next Eco-Warriors

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Book Review: The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Women and Men Who are Saving the Planet. Edited by Emily Hunter. (Conari Press, 2011)

reviewed by Derrick O’Keefe, July 7, 2011

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s indigenous president, has said that the challenge of the 21st century is to respect and restore the rights of Mother Earth. And the stakes are high. Ultimately, the fate of our species — and millions of others — hangs in the balance.

Already, thousands of young people worldwide have woken up to their historic task, as the first decade of this century has seen the rise of the climate justice movement. For many among this new generation, the December 2009 UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen was a rude awakening.

Preceded by years of grassroots and civil society demands for the adoption of an ambitious, legally binding global plan to reduce fossil fuel emissions, legions of young activists arrived in Copenhagen full of hope that they could be part of making real change. But something was rotten in Denmark. Circumventing and ignoring not just global civil society, but most of the world’s governments, U.S. President Obama and a handful of the other biggest polluting nations met behind closed doors and declared the “Copenhagen Accord.”

For Emily Hunter, daughter of Greenpeace founder Robert Hunter and an experienced environmental activist in her own right, this was a moment when “hope was nothing more than a distant dream.” Hunter is the editor of new collection of essays, The Next Eco-Warriors: 22 Young Women and Men Who Are Saving the Planet.

In her introductory essay, she explains that after the shocking disappointment of the “Accord” forced through by the world’s most powerful politicians in Copenhagen, her hopes were rekindled by demonstrating in the streets with other young people:

“I came to realize that with the failure of Copenhagen came an opportunity. An opportunity to build a movement that was not just focused on events like this summit, but also on a generation’s actions. An opportunity for a movement that is more global, inclusive, and stronger than ever before.”

The activist testimonials collected in The Next Eco-Warriors provide a sketch of the breadth and dynamism of this incipient movement.

The book’s definition of youth, it must be said, stretches what is always a dubiously meaningful political category, including contributors in their late 30s. In some parts of the world, including many of the poorest countries facing the brunt of the impacts of climate change, that is middle-aged. In the climate justice movement it often is genuinely young activists taking the lead.

Take the story of Jamie Henn, one of the key young organizers behind While Bill McKibben is a brilliant scientist who can explain the science behind their campaign to reduce atmospheric carbon levels to below 350 parts per million, 350’s success would have been much more modest without their young web and social media savvy team. Henn’s chapter describes the travels and trials that went into making the massive 350 day of action in fall 2009.

I was delighted to find a chapter by Ben Powless explaining his experience providing reporting on a massacre of indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon. Powless just happened to be in Peru when the events took place, and within hours his photos and articles were being published by and other independent media. These are the essential stories — indigenous peoples fighting to defend their land and resources, often against Canadian mining companies and other rapacious corporations — that are too often simply never told.

Eco-Warriors helps break that silence.

Another chapter, by Diné activist Enei Begaye, tells the story of the successful campaign to shut down the Black Mesa coal mine on Navajo territory in Arizona. In the wake of the mine’s closing, Begaye explains, the struggle is now for jobs that respect the land:

“Green jobs mean good-paying jobs that don’t pollute. They also mean more than cloaking a broken capitalist system in a sexy green dress.” You would be hard pressed to find a more eloquent denunciation of greenwashing.

A few of the essays don’t seem particularly relevant, especially given Hunter’s introduction with its sharp focus on climate justice and the unprecedented urgency of the struggle to avert runaway climate change.

Overall, however, by highlighting the work of young activist-writers, The Next Eco-Warriors’ publishers have done us all a service. These are stories we need to read. But more importantly, these are the struggles we need to learn about, support and join in.

We all need to be warriors in the battle that will define this century and the future of life on Earth.

Derrick O’Keefe is a writer, editor and social justice activist in Vancouver, B.C. 


  • What example does McKibben give to his network of what would be a good climate bill? He’s silent about the Peoples Declaration which came out of Cochabamba and was the only other proposal (second track) in Copenhagen other than the USG’s Copenhagen Accord.
    He’s not teaching his network anything and misguides as to what an environmental movement needs to do: criticize the bad or ineffective and demand the necessary.

  • I agree. Ms. Salzman has raised important issues that Jenny hasn’t answered. I would like to see Mr. McKibben answer his cowardly stance as regards the Waxman-Markey climate bill which – filled with pork for the worst polluters and aiming for stabilization of carbon at 450-550 ppm – did not raise a peep from Mr. McKibben. McKibben seems determined not to demand anything of substantive from the Democratic Party and, despite or, perhaps, because of his blustery rhetoric, to be one of the worst elements of machine politics distracting environmentalists from the scientifically necessary goal of reducing carbon concentrations rapidly (to below 300 ppm).

    He doesn’t educate and rally members of to take any effective actions to avoid climate catastrophe.

  • I didn’t say I “approve” of or any other group mentioned in this article. My criticisms of the pale green NGOs are well know, and on the public record.

    But this article is a review of a book about young people who want to defend the earth. Most such people are first attracted to groups that are not socialist or even very radical. My reaction is to try to find ways to talk to them and work with them, to build an inclusive movement around the issues we do agree on.

    Your reaction, in contrast, is to erect barriers, to condemn these committed young people for not seeing how awful Bill McKibbon is.

    As I said when you denounced C&C for publishing an article by Vandana Shiva, “To demand ideological purity from every one of our allies is a road to certain defeat.”

  • Further more, by including the likes of RAN and Paul Watson, you’re leaving out the voices of indigenous people and minorities(Watson was on an anti immigration group as part of the Sierra club)
    And what of McKibben’s advocacy for Biochar?

  • It’s not holier than thou if the group in question embraces another group that has little respect for indigenous people(RAN and the sea shepards, for instance) or if their partner approves of something like Redd(Rockefeller) You yourself were angry about the Boreal forests,yes? Well,you can’t just backtrack and say you approve of one group when it associates with another whose actions you disapprove of. First Shiva and now this? Jesus.

  • Sadly, the remarks posted by Jenny, Lorna, and Tin reflect the “eco-purer than thou” attitude that has kept parts of the green left isolated and ineffective. The book reviewed here shows us the next generation of eco-warriors as they really are, not as we wish they were. As a result it is a valuable resource for people who want to build a movement, not just stand on the sidelines. has significant weaknesses, but it also has a substantial following. We will not influence such organizations, or win a hearing from their supporters, by denouncing them as “paleoliberals … arguably our biggest enemies.”

    Like it or not, they are a much bigger part of the movement as it actually exists than we are. If we can’t find ways to talk to them, work with them, and build common actions with them, then we are doomed to irrelevance.

  • But Jenny, you’ll have to give credit to Lorna’s valid comment on this article.

  • Bill McKibben is the enemy in green clothing, funded by Rockefeller, aligned with Big Business, and thus required to remain silent on a specific agenda for political action on global warming. With false modesty he claims not to be a leader and preaches for grassroots political organizing but refuses to lead or articulate actions for his followers. Because is in the pay of the elites, they preach that oxymoron of “green capitalism” and growth, known as Business as Usual. So McKibben et al join the legions of the “Bought-Off”, the silenced, the bribed, the complacent, the appeasers, otherwise known as liberals. I call them paleoliberals. They are arguably our biggest enemies. They must be called to account, challenged and rebutted. This movement is what we need, not the incremental marginal changes pushed by the Democrats and their flacks. A mass defection from the Democratic Party must occur first and then a regrouping of eco-radicals to recover
    democracy and promote an ecologically-based agenda.