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17 Celebrities Who Actively Work to Protect the Environment

Celebrity activism often has a pejorative connotation– with Twitter crying “woke” whenever said awareness seems to have come out of nowhere– but some social activists theorize that celebrity endorsement is actually one of the most powerful ways to draw attention to social problems.

Whether you’re a Leonardo DiCaprio fangirl or just curious about whose movies you should support, below is a non-exhaustive list of celebrities who continue to stand up for the environment. Lights, camera, and most importantly: action.

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Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep’s move towards activism began in the 80’s, when the 17-time Academy Award nominated actress began advocating for the Natural Resource Defense Council to raise awareness for environmental issues. After NRDC published the ignominious Alar report, which detailed the dangers of toxic pesticides, she worked with Wendy Gordon to create Mothers & Others, a campaign to rally citizens in the fight for tougher pesticide standards. Speaking to Gordon about how she got into environmental health activism, she told OnEarth: “Humans are very self-interested. I became interested in all these things when I was consciously feeding a baby and had a sense that everything you do is going to have an outcome further down the road. So I was very conscious to try to do the right thing and do well by our kids. Being naturally sort of slovenly, I had to sit up and pay attention, because I really think about my work most of the time. When kids came into the picture, everything I read made me think “Yes, you are right, You are right.” Everything we now know about the developing brain and young children reminds us that the first things, even in utero, that you introduce into their little fragile developing systems bear an outcome later on.”

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most outspoken celebrity advocates for Climate Change Awareness. In 2016– the same year he denounced Climate Change deniers in his now infamous Academy Award acceptance speech– he partnered with National Geographic to produce Before The Flood, an incisive documentary that addresses the “calculated disinformation campaign orchestrated by powerful special interests working to confuse the public about the urgency of the growing climate crisis.” In addition to his work as a public advocate, the actor founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998, with the goal of “support[ing] projects around the world that build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.” So far they’ve awarded over $80 million in grants in over 50 countries, from mangrove conservation to promoting indigenous-led conservation and nationhood.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative with Whitney Williams in 2010, billing it as “the first U.S. based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo.”

Since that time the ECI has partnered with several Congolese CBOs (community based organizations) to increase agricultural productivity and improve the lives of small farmers, from coffee farmers in the eastern DRC to sustainable cacao growers looking to create an ethical means of production and infrastructure to supply international buyers like Lush Cosmetics. 

Shailene Woodley

Long an advocate for herbalism, clean eating, and a generally hippy lifestyle, Shailene Woodley is a hugely visible figurehead in the alternative living movement. Woodley has been known to discuss the benefits of drinking clay and tanning her vagina on live television, and she is also a big environmental advocate. She has been awarded by the Environmental Media Association for her involvement in environmental activism movements like protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline and lead poisoning cases like what happened in Flint, Michigan.

Channing Tatum

The Magic Mike 2’s most notable star has worked with PlantMed, an organization dedicated to working with indigenous peoples in the Amazon– the world’s epicenter for medicinal plants. PlantMed aims to draw attention to the fast encroaching destruction of the rainforest and the knowledge that indigenous people have with respect to herbal remedies and botanical medicine. “The Shipibo people of Peru and the Sápara people of Ecuador have joined forces with scientists and entrepreneurs from the U.S. to build the world’s first centers for the practice, research, and preservation of Amazonian plant medicine,” the organization writes on their website. “We’re in a race against time. The healing power of the Amazon could be lost to the world forever— unless we help protect it now.”

Mark Ruffalo

Like Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo has been wildly vocal about his concerns over environmental degradation, even going so far as to host a “Toxic Tour” of Los Angeles’ many hidden oil drill sites. Ruffalo is also an active voice for policy reform and advocacy, both of which he champions in real life and on his personal Twitter account.

Olivia Wilde

Both funny and introspective in her public commentary on women in hollywood and other social issues, Olivia Wilde is also a co-founder of Conscious Commerce, a creative incubator aimed at supporting sustainably created and ethically sourced products, brands, and ideas. “For me conscious just means ‘with awareness,'” she once told Mashable. “It’s having some knowledge of whatever it is you’re dealing with.  Now we are eating more consciously because we’re wondering where things are coming from. In terms of fashion, it’s wondering how something was made, what was used to make it, who made it and what can I do to be less wasteful when I get rid of it.”

Gisele Bunchen

Gisele Bunchen and her husband Tom Brady are known for their outrageously clean diets just as much as their professions as a model and athlete, respectively. Gisele, however, is also an environmental advocate, having worked as a United Nationals goodwill ambassador exploring deforestation in the Amazon as well as being a vocal advocate for environmental protection.

Notably, and perhaps most unconventionally, Bunchen helped promote environmentalist Paul Hawken’s book, Drawdown, which is a comprehensive look at 100 possible strategies to reverse global warming, as based on peer-reviewed science, cost, and overall carbon impact.

Edward Norton

Ed Norton might be known for Fight Club, but he has proven himself benevolent in supporting the work of sustainable food initiatives for youth, like Harlem Grown. As the son of a lifelong environmentalist, however, Norton’s advocacy runs much deeper. For the last 15 years he has worked closely with a Masaai warrior named Samson Parashina to develop the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust— an organization that encourages conservation efforts through the lens of economic prosperity, as Norton and Parashina believe that the key to bringing about effective and lasting environmental change is to point out the economic benefits of conservation, which often empowers native communities like this one through the idea of sustainable stewardship. (For what it’s worth, he also played the voice of the soil in Conservation International’s “Nature Is Speaking” campaign.)

Al Gore

Al Gore is, of course, the most visible environmental advocate on the planet, having won an Academy Award and a spate of other international awards for his incredible, culture-shifting documentary An Inconvenient Truth. While Gore also does a lot of fundraising, public advocacy, and other charitable work outside of filmmaking, his recent followup, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power gave an insiders look at the politics and coercion surrounding Climate Change and associated environmental debates. (With its surprisingly hopeful and often-inspiring arguments, An Inconvenient Sequel is well worth the watch, as this conversation is more important now than ever.)

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan is famously a lover of gardens, having attended programming through The Cultural Landscape Foundation in and around his home in Malibu. Brosnan’s love of plants extends beyond flora to fauna, however, as he’s been a vocal whistle blower with respect to Iceland’s illegal whaling industry– advocacy that got him inducted into the Environmental Hall of Fame in Chicago. Brosnan has also supposedly contributed over $1 million to various environmental organizations over the years (including the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he has served on the board, and Oceana’s Ocean Council).

Robert Redford

Robert Redford founded Sundance Film Festival as a way to get New Yorkers and Angelinos mired in urban sprawl to get out and experience natural while enjoying the kind of indie films that are often debuted in these two cities. As a proud Utah native, he fought to prevent development in the protected lands of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and he continues to advocate for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as well as various land preservation/global warming prevention initiatives. For the last 10 years the actor-turned-environmental advocate has also been narrating the Goldman Environment Prize recipient profile videos as well as partnering with the organization to champion conservation and political involvement with respect to the environment.

Adrian Grenier

While Andrian Grenier is something of a quiet celebrity, but he is hugely active behind the scenes when it comes to hard conservation issues. He has spoken at the Our Ocean Conference sponsored by the European Union and was designated as a UN Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador, having advocated for the drastic reduction of single-use plastic for the protection of marine species.

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin established what is now known as the Hilaria & Alec Baldwin Foundation in 2006, focusing on grant making in New York City and Long Island. Chief among the range of topics that grants can go towards are environmental agencies like the Central Park Conservancy and wellness initiatives like Bent on Learning, a nonprofit that teaches yoga in New York City public schools. (Baldwin’s wide, Hilaria, is a yoga teacher in NYC.)

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman might be the world’s most beautiful and famous vegan, and she was recently awarded an EMA Ongoing Commitment Award (alongside Michael Bloomberg and Russell Simmons) for her continued support of environmental issues. For 25 years, the EMA Awards have honored the most influential green leaders in entertainment, technology, and business, and Portman was added to the roster for her continued support for the ethical treatment of animals and other wildlife.

Bette Midler

In 1995, Bette Midler founded the New York Restoration Project, an nonprofit dedicated to beautifying the New York City landscape with trees, gardens, waste removal, and brownfield development across New York’s five boroughs. Since that time, NYRP has planted trees, renovated gardens, restored parks, and transformed open space for communities throughout New York City’s five boroughs. “As New York’s only citywide conservancy,” they write, “We bring private resources to spaces that lack adequate municipal support, fortifying the City’s aging infrastructure and creating a healthier environment for those who live in the most densely populated and least green neighborhoods.”

Russell Simmons

We take that back: Russell Simmons might be the world’s most famous vegan (Natalie Portman still wins for beauty, though). As part of the same crew of moguls who have been given an EMA Award, Simmons used the opportunity to openly encourage environmentalists to go vegan, as 51% of the world’s greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. While Simmons also advocates for veganism on mostly ethical grounds (he is a practicing Buddhist), he also sponsors “America’s Greenest Campus”— an opportunity for students to win up to $20,000 to green their respective university while inspiring institutions of higher learning to compete against one another to lower their carbon footprints.

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Things you can do to help the environment right now: Consider doing a plastic cleanse, donating to your favorite National Park, or supporting a local environmental non-profit.

 

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