The following sketches are but a tiny sampling of the countless ways people throughout the world push back against the socio-economic and political forces of destruction both of ecosystems and of the social fabric of society. Adopting Paul Hawken’s terminology and characterization of “blessed unrest” as a spontaneous, decentralized global social movement, we here present a diverse though far from representative series of vignettes of everyday heroes. May such stories light the fire for new heroes to perpetually emerge in defense of all life on Earth.
Minibigforest in Nantes
Hearing of plans underway for a four-lane highway near their home in Nantes, France, local residents Jim and Stephanie responded by planting a small forest. The idea was not only to block out the added sound and air pollution, but also to try to compensate for the assault on the planet of any road expansion. The couple was inspired by Shubhendhu Sharma, who spoke at the 2018 Nantes festival Aux Arbes. Sharma showed the audience how 300 trees of 30-some species could be planted in the space of six parking places. He described the Miyawaki Method, which mimics natural forests in terms of biodiversity and density, outperforms the growth rate of monoculture plantations tenfold, and works well in urban areas because it takes so little space. Within the following year, Jim and Stephanie, along with dozens of volunteers and school kids, planted more than 2000 trees on two sites. To encourage Miyawaki-style afforestation projects everywhere, the couple launched the initiative Minibigforest; this is only the beginning for them.
Greta Thunberg and a million international student strikers
At the age of 15, Greta Thunberg began sitting on the steps of the Swedish parliament with a handmade sign reading: “skolstrejk för klimatet” or “school strike for the climate.” The decision to act came about seven years after she first learned of climate change. The fact that adults didn’t seem bothered to do anything about the global crisis shocked her, and then sent her into a depression. Activism pulled her out of depression and thrust her onto the international stage. It didn’t take long for her solo picketing efforts to spark a global movement spanning 125 countries of more than a million kids striking from school for climate. Greta intends to continue striking outside the Swedish Parliament until it passes legislation that upholds commitments made in the Paris Climate Accord.
Excerpted from a Guardian guest editorial by climate strikers Greta Thunberg (Sweden), Anna Taylor (UK), Luisa Neubauer (Germany), Kyra Gantois, Anuna De Wever and Adélaïde Charlier (Belgium), Holly Gillibrand (Scotland), and Alexandria Villasenor (USA):
This movement had to happen, we didn’t have a choice. The vast majority of climate strikers taking action today aren’t allowed to vote. Imagine for a second what that feels like. Despite watching the climate crisis unfold, despite knowing the facts, we aren’t allowed to have a say in who makes the decisions about climate change. And then ask yourself this: wouldn’t you go on strike too, if you thought doing so could help protect your own future?
So today we walk out of school, we quit our college lessons, and we take to the streets to say enough is enough. Some adults say we shouldn’t be walking out of classes – that we should be “getting an education”. We think organising against an existential threat – and figuring out how to make our voices heard – is teaching us some important lessons.
The Waorani people stand up for their rainforest homeland
When the Waorani people of the Ecuadorian Amazon heard their government was planning to sell drilling rights to their land to international oil companies, they mobilized. They mapped the land to illustrate to the Western world its otherwise unseen cultural, historical and ecological richness. These maps include “historic battle sites, ancient cave-carvings, jaguar trails, medicinal plants, animal reproductive zones, important fishing holes, creek-crossings and sacred waterfalls,” according to an online petition they launched in partnership with the NGO Amazon Frontlines. Then the Waorani sued the government for not properly consulting them when the decision was made in 2012 to dice up the rainforest into auctionable blocks of land. In April 2019, the Ecuadorian court ruled in favor of the Waorani, immediately suspending any sale of the land and setting a precedent for other communities resisting oil extraction in their lands.
The government’s interests in oil is not more valuable than our rights, our forests, our lives.
– Nemonte Nenquimo, one of the Waorani plaintiffs and representative of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality Ecuador Pastaza (CONCONAWEP).
The Waorani win follows a win against mining operations last year by the indigenous Kofan community also in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Pondoland says no to mining
On the other side of the Amazon and across the South Atlantic Ocean, the small South African community of Xolobeni won a similar court case. Like the Waorani, the people of Xolobeni demanded that they be consulted rather than being forced to cede their land to mining interests – in this case to an Australian titanium mining company. Also like the Waorani, they were defending not only their lives, livelihoods, their health and wellbeing, but also an ecologically rich corner of the planet. Xolobeni is in Pondoland, a dune-covered stretch of the coast that is home to endemic species and frequented offshore by whales.
The law says we have a right to be consulted, but what we say doesn’t seem to matter. We have told the company many times that we don’t want their mine. How many times do we have to say no?
– Nonhle Mbuthuma, local resident
The court agreed that local communities must give their consent before mining is allowed on their land.
Methow Beaver Project:enlisting beavers to make wetlands in compensation for declining mountain snowpack
The deep winter snow falls on the mountains around the Methow Valley in the state of Washington are declining. To manage problems with drought, the Methow Beaver Project has been capturing, tagging, matching male and female beavers and releasing them in key valley areas. The project workers know beavers are master engineers that know how to preserve their homes and food supply, to the benefit of water quality and many other animals and plants in the area. Beaver reintroduction projects are also underway in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. In 2018, Scott Helker, a Libertarian candidate running to become governor of Colorado, was asked, “Would you support asking Coloradans to raise billions of tax dollars for projects that would increase water supplies and help prevent a projected water shortage mid-century?” He answered, “No. I can create the same results without raising billions of dollars. Ask me how.” Answer: with beaver reintroduction projects.
Kids fight for their future
iMatter is a tight-knit national group of passionate pre-college individuals who are making real impacts in their communities. They are showing up in city halls and state offices, demanding their elected officials at every level possible commit to bold and visionary climate action. Students from Brookline High School in Massachusetts submitted resolutions to their town legislators, saying they’re worried about their future and the future of the environment; their cities agreed and are supporting the Green New Deal. Alec Loorz started the organization Kids vs. Global Warming in California with his mom, Victoria Loorz in 2007, when he was 13 years old. The organization eventually changed its name to iMatter. Alec went on to spearhead the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit against federal and state governments of the United States to secure climate recovery plans that will restore the balance of Earth’s climate systems.
 Aux Arbes is French for “to the trees.” The name of this festival is perhaps a reference to a 2007 hit song in France: “Aux Arbes Citoyens,” which has an ecological message; see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aux_arbres_citoyens.