There is only one Earth, and it’s the only home we have — a fact not lost on the untold number of people who have fought to protect the planet and the living creatures on its surface.
Today, the words of these influential figures, from philosophers to Presidents, call on us to make their fight our own. These 30 quotes from famous environmentalists explore the elemental force of nature — why its mountains, rivers, oceans, and animals speak to us so strongly, and why the Earth needs us now more than ever.
Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.
In nature, nothing exists alone.
Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it.
Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a giant in the environmentalism movement, in part thanks to her seminal work, 1962’s Silent Spring, which raised the alarm against the unchecked use of pesticides. With Silent Spring a New York Times bestseller, Carson became one of the first environmental activists to reach the public at large, and her voice provided undeniable strength to the growing chorus of environmentalism.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.
If men were to be destroyed and the books they have written were to be transmitted to a new race of creatures, in a new world, what kind of record would be found in them of so remarkable a phenomenon as the rainbow?
Few people are famously known for living in the woods, but Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is one of them. A founder of the 19th-century transcendentalist movement, which believed in the interconnectedness of all creation, Thoreau spent two years, two months, and two days living near Walden Pond northwest of Boston. His thoughts on the experience were collected in his 1854 book Walden, which remains one of history’s most important pieces of nature writing nearly 170 years after its publication.
There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.
The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.
A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.
The 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), was a Rough Rider, a Bull Moose, and a dedicated environmentalist. A lover of nature since he was young, Teddy Roosevelt established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 18 national monuments, five national parks, four game preserves, and a stunning 230 million acres of public land. No one person has had such an astounding affect on the preservation of wilderness in the entire history of the United States.
Our planet may be home to 30 million different kinds of animals and plants, each individual locked in its own lifelong fight for survival. Everywhere you look, on land or in the ocean, there are extraordinary examples of the lengths living things go to stay alive.
We moved from being a part of nature to being apart from nature.
Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique in the universe. It contains life. Even in its most barren stretches, there are animals. Around the equator, where those two essentials for life, sunshine and moisture, are most abundant, great forests grow. And here plants and animals proliferate in such numbers that we still have not even named all the different species.
Millions know the voice of David Attenborough, the compelling British narrator behind the BBC’s many awe-inspiring nature documentaries, including Life on Earth (1979), Planet Earth (2006), and Extinction (2020). Although his work has only recently directly tackled the challenge of human-induced climate change, Attenborough has inspired entire generations of people to learn about and wonder in the planet we call home.
Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.
The greatest danger to our future is apathy.
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.
Jane Goodall’s work with primates recentered humanity’s place among its ape ancestors. Her scientific work, as well as her ecological advocacy via her eponymous institute, has made Goodall one of the most influential environmentalists alive. Few people living have such an intimate understanding of nature and the role humans play in it.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same.
In the woods we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life — no disgrace, no calamity…which nature cannot repair.
A friend and mentor of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) believed in the inherent goodness of nature. In one of his most enduring essays, simply titled “Nature” (1836), Emerson intrinsically linked humanity with the natural world, forming the foundation of the transcendentalist philosophy.
The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.
A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles.
Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.
Author Edward Abbey (1927-1989) led a life of unwavering environmentalism, and wrote often about his experiences in the arid southwestern U.S., including his exploration of the Colorado plateau in 1968’s Desert Solitaire. The book was informed by his experience as a park ranger at Arches National Park in Utah, where Abbey experienced firsthand the deleterious effects of human activity and “industrial tourism” on the natural landscape.
Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order.
To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.
Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel.
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) earned many accolades throughout his life. He helped establish the first wilderness area in the U.S., served as director of the Audubon Society, and co-founded the Wilderness Society. In his posthumous work, 1949’s A Sand County Almanac, Leopold urged humans to adopt a new relationship with the wilderness he called “land ethic,” in which people become invested stewards of the land they inhabit. Today, the book is regarded as one of the igniting sparks of the environmentalism movement in the U.S.
Let us be the ancestors our descendants will thank.
Across the continent… common people with uncommon courage and the whispers of their ancestors in their ears continue their struggles to protect the land and water and trees on which their very existence is based. And like small tributaries joining together to form a mighty river, their force and power grows.
I would like to see as many people patriotic to a land as I have seen patriotic to a flag.
Winona LaDuke is a member of the Ojibwe tribe and a writer, activist, and two-time nominee for Vice President on the Green Party ticket. Although she’s fought for a variety of causes, the majority of her work addresses humanity’s use — and abuse — of nature and native land. In 1993, LaDuke founded the Honor the Earth advocacy group (alongside the folk rock duo Indigo Girls), which works in conjunction with native environmental organizations. Honor the Earth has raised $2 million for more than 200 native communities.
The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price.
You can make a lot of speeches, but the real thing is when you dig a hole, plant a tree, give it water, and make it survive.
In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.
Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) led a life of firsts. She was the first woman in either East Africa and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, the first female professor in Kenya, and the first Black African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This latter accolade was in part due to her tireless environmentalism, which involved planting more than 20 million trees through her grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement.
The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.
Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.
Every person has the inalienable right to a decent environment.
Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005) isn’t a household name, but one of his greatest environmental achievements certainly is. Nelson, a former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator, founded Earth Day in 1970. Held on April 22, the idea was to force environmentalism into the national agenda. Within the year, the U.S. government formed the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle environmental issues.
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