Activism – How to Bring About Positive Environmental Change


APRIL, 2021

By Charlotte Mostert 

In the early 1900s, the first record of the word ‘activism’ was recorded, originating from the German word Aktivismus. The suffix -ism  indicates a practice or doctrine and the suffix -ist refers to a person who practices something, therefore activism, based on the definition of activism, it is the “efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society toward a perceived greater good.” 

Activist movements have been the backbone of dramatic change and awareness in situations that seemed to be hopeless at one point. The French Revolution in 1789 was an uprising of individuals who were discontent with the French monarchy and the poor economic policies, where their movement catalysed a revolution. Woodstock in 1969 made use of music to unify as the counter culture of America standing in opposition to the Vietnam War. The Silent River, where over 1000 chemicals were dumped into the river and transforming into a sewer, the movie follows a young woman and her family on their quest to save the Silent River rivers in Mexico.  Max Lucado said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” This is the core of activism, it is not trying to take the whole issue all by yourself, but to find a community of people to stand with you where you all play your part. 

Activism has two branches, firstly there is ‘death top’, which is paper-based support such as written petitions. Avaaz, meaning voice, launched in 2007, is an online community with the aim to take action on issues ranging from global to national. The members are the leaders and funders in the community, where they hold the responsibility to call attention to new issues and remain independent from governmental agendas. 

 Secondly is action-based, where citizen science is used to gather information and prove validity. Most people would be familiar with Mural Art by Banksy, where he takes a controversial topic and brings a new narrative or perspective to the story. 

 Here at Greenpop, we have spoken about many different ways to bring about a positive change in your daily actions. Here are some practical guides to take your activism to the next level. 

Behaviour change and nudges 

Choosing a department in life that you want to make a change in and then researching ways you can make that change is the first step in making a sustainable change. Having passion be your motivation will get you much further, and soon new things will follow. 

 When you learn about veganism (changing your food habits to a more earth-friendly way of eating), you learn about minimalism which helps reduce your consumption of materialistic belongings, it may trickle down to you learning about low/zero waste, and then you will understand the full extent of each decision you make every day. BBC has created a climate diet with a food calculator giving more insight into different diet’s carbon footprints. 

 Lifestyle choices and changes make a huge difference to the environment and economy. For example, by choosing to ride a bike you eliminate 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (source). When there is more of a demand for safe cycling roads city planners and architects become involved with policymakers to remove large highways and replace them with green spaces which also acts as pedestrian walkways to combat traffic and congestion., creating a natural carbon sink that cools down the temperature in the city. 


Toolkits are a one-stop resource containing key resources that address an issue or topic,  providing guidance and recommendations on how to address and act upon different concerns. This is a tool to help individuals and organisations not start from ground zero when wanting to take action. Toolkits normally include templates for petition letters or petition letters to sign onto. 

 For climate activism, you can look into the WHO toolkit on climate change and health or the Climate Witness Community Toolkit.

 For schools to be more environmentally conscious during the COVID sanitising process read the Green Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfection: A Toolkit for Early Care and Education

Hold your local leaders accountable. 

Local leaders have the power to implement action at a higher level and see more fundamental changes at a wider spread. 

 Based on the research done by UNDP, South Africa is reliant on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and forestry. Meaning that if there is no action done to stop the climate crisis, the temperature will continue to rise and the rainfall decreases it is a direct threat to the productivity of these sectors, in regards to job security and production. 

 South Africa’s tourism has been ranked 3r in the world in terms of biological diversity. With tourism being one of South Africa’s leading drivers of economic growth, it is at risk of desertification leading to the reduction of biodiversity and tourism. 

 The increase of sea temperatures is capable of altering migratory patterns of marine fisheries and increase the occurrence of harmful algal blooms causing mass mortality of fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. 

 This is why there is important to take action with one’s local government to implement the actions to bring about the changes for all of us. 

A way for an activist to raise funds 

Deciding on one cause that is in line with your passion and/or morals, makes it easier to narrow down the search and maintaining motivation while scouring the internet. Consider if you want to give your money or time to a big, international company such as Charity water, or a small locally run company, such as Greenpop. 

Understanding your leverage is also a key element to how much weight your actions will pull. For example, raising R10 000 for rhinos may not make any dent in the rhino fund. But raising R10 000 for your local frog who is endangered may make all the difference to the extent that you may have a chance of actually saving a species. 

Once a cause, such as tree planting, has been selected a good internet and social media hunt or conversations with the community members for companies that are in alignment with the cause and you are attracted towards could be shortlisted, with the final decider being based on what you are willing to sacrifice. If you are not in the area of the company you could donate money, but if you are in the area and you do not have spare money to donate, you can always offer your time by volunteering for them.

Big movements 

All around the world, there are organisations making amazing changes in the climate arena that have a political or climate agenda. 

The unique Youth Climate Strike was instigated by Greta Thunberg ‘Skolstrejk för Klimatet’ and was showcased with school climate stickers. The movement was so well adopted that it grew into Friday for the future which is a global climate strike movement, with the goal of placing moral pressure on policymakers to limit global warming by taking action.

The Sunrise movement is an American youth movement trying to stop climate change by making it an urgent priority while creating jobs. With the aim to make the main election issue be climate change and win governing power to ensure action occurs. 

The African climate alliance is a youth-led group that advocating for climate, ecological and social justice. They have the goal to hold leaders and big industries accountable for the environmental destruction, resource depletion, pollution, and climate breakdown are human rights issues that are caused. With the desire to create systemic change and address environmental and social issues. 

Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) is mostly a youth-run climate justice movement. The aim of the group is a people’s led climate action, where they nurture partnerships to strengthen constituencies across civil society organisations and join forces with the nation’s indigenous groups, who are already fighting large organisations for their forest lands. 

Even though many of us cannot replace the products we use which is made from burning fossil fuel, we can try our best every day to make small changes consistently and stay open to learning different techniques for constant improvement. 


Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.