Some of these individuals died after long, full lives. Others had lives cut short in retaliation for working to protect their forests and communities. Take a look at some of the environmental activists we lost in 2014.
These activists changed the world by transforming our relationship with predators, raising the alarm about toxic chemicals, standing up to illegal loggers, and more.
By: Emily Gertz
1. Theodora ‘Theo’ Colborn
Theo Colborn (b. 1927) exposed the risks of exposure to even small amounts of endocrine disruptors, synthetic chemicals found in many common consumer products that can harm normal sexual development and reproduction. Our Stolen Future, which Colborn wrote with Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers in 1996, was the first book to bring together disparate sources of information about this threat. It was hailed as a new Silent Spring and launched a wave of research into these substances as well as activism to curb their use. “The many, many proposed BPA bans? Go back to the very beginning, and you’ll find Colborn,” wrote Heather Smith in Grist. “The concern over dwindling sperm counts? Same thing.”
2. Farley Mowat
(Photo: Vince Talotta/Getty Images)
Farley Mowat (b. 1921) wrote books that detailed humanity’s relationship with nature—stories in which nature often came out the loser. In 1963’s Never Cry Wolf, recounting his solo trek as a biologist to study Arctic wolves in northern Manitoba, Canada, Mowat took a compassionate view of wolves at a time when most people saw them only as dangerous predators to be wiped out. He was a staunch advocate for wilderness in Canada and was working on another book when he died just days ahead of his 93rd birthday.
3. Pete Seeger
(Photo: Ebet Roberts/Getty Images)
In the 1960s Pete Seeger (b. 1919) began advocating the cleanup of New York’s Hudson River, then a dumping ground for chemical waste and sewage. Wanting to rally people around a hopeful symbol, he raised money to build a boat: the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, which launched in 1969 and became the symbol of the Hudson’s remarkable revival over the subsequent decades. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that this represents only a thin slice of Seeger’s legacy as a singer, songwriter, folk music historian, and social change activist.
4. Martin Litton
Martin Litton (b. 1917), a river guide, writer, and photographer, was a vociferous participant in some of 20th century America’s biggest environmental battles. Litton helped establish Redwood National Park and keep a ski resort out of Mineral King Valley in the southern Sierra Nevada, and he was a central figure in stopping the construction of dams in the Grand Canyon.
5. Peter Matthiesen
(Photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)
The nonfiction books of Peter Matthiesen (b. 1927) stand out as some of the iconic American nature writings of the last century. In books such as 1979’s The Snow Leopard, he observes wild places, wildlife, and what they mean to humanity—with an intelligence and style that made literature about the natural world appealing to the postwar literary lions of the East Coast.
6, 7, 8, and 9. Edwin Chota Valera, Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Meléndez, and Francisco Pinedo
(Photo: Scott Wallace/Getty Images)
Edwin Chota Valero was shot to death on Sept. 1 in in Peru—allegedly by illegal loggers—along with fellow anti-logging activists Jorge Ríos Pérez, Leoncio Quinticima Meléndez, and Francisco Pinedo. National Geographic described Chota as “a charismatic activist who opposed drug traffickers and criminal timber syndicates that have come to operate with a sense of near-total impunity across broad swaths of Peru’s isolated borderlands.” All four men were leaders in Alto Tamaya–Saweto, a community of the Ashéninka indigenous Amazonian tribe. Although the Peruvian government has made three arrests in the case, other Ashéninka activists have told reporters of receiving death threats in the wake of the assassinations.
10. José Isidro Tendetza Antún
Ecuadorean activist José Isidro Tendetza Antún went missing in late November, shortly before he was to go to the international climate talks in Lima, Peru. The indigenous leader intended to speak there against El Mirador, a gold and copper mine sited on southern Amazon rainforest lands belonging to his people, the Shuar. Instead Tendetza was found dead in an unmarked grave on or around Dec. 6, The Guardian reported, with injuries suggesting he had been tortured. Establishing the mine would destroy around 450,000 acres of rainforest, but six Chinese banks backing the project have been unresponsive to protests by indigenous activists and conservation groups.