'We Are at a Tipping Point': Celebrities Who Are Saving the Earth (and How They're Doing It)
Jaden Smith, Robert Redford and BTS prove that age and geography don't matter — climate change is a problem we all need to fix together
One of Hollywood's most prominent and outspoken climate change activists, DiCaprio launched a namesake foundation in 1998 to "bring together the best minds in science, conservation and philanthropy to urgently respond to a growing climate crisis and the staggering loss of biodiversity threatening the stability of life on Earth," the organization's website reads. Donations fund projects that help wildlife, marine life, climate change initiatives, indigenous rights, Environment Now and changes in media, science and technology.
In 2015, Prince Harry spent three months during the summer on a tour through four southern African countries as he worked alongside rangers and veterinarians and took part in expeditions to de-horn rhinos in the fight against poaching.
He spoke about the statistics behind the graphic killings and animal trade, saying, "the numbers of rhinos poached in South Africa has grown by nearly 500 percent in just five years, with most of these occurring in Kruger [Nationa Park]. Already this year, 1,500 rhinos have been killed in this country.”
He added, “If current poaching rates continue there will be no wild African elephants or rhinos left by the time children born this year, like my niece, Charlotte, turn 25. If we let this happen, the impact on the long-term prosperity of this country and on the natural heritage of the planet will be enormous and irreversible.”
Thunberg actually became famous for her work on climate change — all at the age of about 14.
In 2019, she spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit, challenging world leaders to do more.
“People are suffering,” she said. “People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”
“How dare you!” the Nobel Prize nominee thundered.
She has since organized numerous climate strikes, encouraging teens and adults to walk out of school and work to demand that world leaders take immediate action to lower carbon emissions.
Woodley has always been open about her best practices for saving Earth: foraging for food, sourcing her own water and making her own cheese and soaps, for starters. In 2016, she put her activism to work publicly, getting arrested at a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
In an essay for TIME, she spoke more about her choice to travel to North Dakota to stand with indigenous people fighting to keep their water clean.
"When the Dakota Access Pipeline breaks (and we know that too many pipelines do), millions of people will have crude-oil-contaminated water. I know it is easy to be apathetic or detached from the reality that fossil fuel contamination could actually affect you and the ones you love… But hear me loud and clear: If you are a human who requires water to survive, then this issue directly involves you," she wrote.
"Don’t let the automatic sink faucets in your homes fool you — that water comes from somewhere, and the second its source is contaminated, so is your bathtub, and your sink, and your drinking liquid," she added. "We must not take for granted the severity of this truth."
In a 2020 chat with PEOPLE, Smith recalled how at 12 years old he learned that the ocean is alive — but also dying due to pollution and rising temperatures. So in 2015 he created JUST Water, a company that strives to make an alternative to petroleum-based products that require plastic and emit CO2 in production.
"It can't just be one group of people who are in charge of making a difference because they're going to be left with this world," he said of his generation's work. "We all have to do our part in helping the environment and giving back to the world."
When her then-husband Colin Firth was making the red carpet rounds in 2010, Livia decided that anytime she joined him, she'd wear something that was "fashioned within the remit of environmental and social justice," she told Vogue UK. And her Green Carpet Challenge was born.
In the years since, she and writer pal Lucy Siegle have challenged other celebrities to strive to wear sustainable clothing on red carpets, and brought to light the inhumane conditions garment workers face in places like Bangladesh. In 2012 alone, Firth and Siegle got Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Cameron Diaz (at the Met Gala, no less!) to participate in the movement.
A UN Environment Programme Global Goodwill Ambassador, the actor has been particularly passionate about eliminating the use of plastic straws.
"Look, just do one thing; try it on; see how it feels, and see how easy it can be," he told National Geographic of taking that small first step toward eliminating single-use plastics. "I think the straw is not only symbolically a great first step, a gateway if you will, but also significant because it is the smaller plastics in particular that we want to prevent."
Before COVID-19 hit, Fonda was just getting started with her "Fire Drill Fridays," bringing famous friends, scientists and civilians together in Washington, D.C., to rally for climate change.
"This pandemic is causing terrible suffering and changing what we can do in this time of social distancing. But it's also an important teachable moment for the other pandemic that confronts us: the climate crisis. COVID-19 is teaching us how dangerous denial is and how important science and preparedness is," Fonda wrote in a 2020 essay for PEOPLE. "It's also proving that we are able to take massive collective action when the stakes are high. Clearly we are capable of fundamentally changing our behavior to protect the health and safety of our families. We're also seeing how nature can heal when we take action."
She continued, "It's clear that our behavior—individually and collectively—is not, as we once thought, impossible to change. We can take drastic steps to protect our planet like we have for our health. In fact, our health depends on the planet's health."
Prince William has a big idea that will govern much of his public work for the next decade: To find and champion ways to tackle threats to the natural world.
William’s ambitious program will see five awards of $1.3 million given each year, promoting at least 50 solutions to the world’s greatest environmental issues before 2030.
Ellen DeGeneres & Portia de Rossi
For DeGeneres' 60th birthday, her wife launched the Ellen Fund, which in part works to save mountain gorillas in Rwanda. "People may not realize that gorillas actually help save our planet every day. Just by existing, they help maintain the second-largest forest on earth, which keeps the air clean and helps fight climate change," de Rossi told PEOPLE in 2020. "We absolutely need them."
In 2019, the actress dropped The Need to GROW, a documentary about saving the Earth's topsoil, which is on pace to disappear in 60 years.
"To say that we care about the future of this planet, to say that we care about the survival of our species, and not take action, is simply no longer an option," Dawson said in the film, which she narrated and executive produced. She detailed her conservation work in a 2020 interview with ELLE, saying she still drives a 2006 Prius and dreams of someday living off the grid and growing her own food.
A longtime conservationist, the prince stepped up again in 2021, enlisting top companies, including Bank of America and BP, to support a new charter for the environment, which he is calling Terra Carta. The initiative aims to ensure big businesses are including green initiatives in their future plans.
In an introductory essay to his charter, the royal grandfather, who made his first environmental speech in 1970, said we are at a "historic tipping point" in the lives and livelihoods of current and future generations and today "must be the decisive moment that we make sustainability the growth story of our time while positioning nature as the engine of our economy."
In 2006, Damon founded H20 Africa Foundation, which later merged with Water Partners to create water.org, an organization that provides people around the world with necessary access to clean water.
“Access to water is access to education, access to work, access above all to the kind of future we want for our own families and all the members of our human family," Damon wrote on the organization's website.
Several years ago, the actor began work with The Solutions Project, which aims to transition Americans to renewable energy by 2050.
"We are in a race against climate change," he wrote in an essay for grist.org. "If we don’t make dramatic changes — soon — it won’t matter what political faction we align ourselves with or how much wealth we amass. We need more grassroots activism and a commitment to live our American values. We don’t need a superhero, but maybe we do need more people to get angry and turn that into action."
Cheadle is a UN Environment Programme Global Goodwill Ambassador, and as a correspondent on Years of Living Dangerously, he traveled to California's Central Valley region to report on climate change and its impact on droughts in the area.
"I am surprised environment is not at the top of the agenda," reads his quote on his UN page. "What is more important than food and clean air? We need a big push."
The former vice president was one of the more notable public figures to sound the alarm about climate change, and brought it to an even bigger stage with his award-winning 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Ten years later in a chat with Wired, he spoke of how seeing the impact of global warming firsthand can make an individual finally want to act.
"I went to Tacloban in the Philippines and talked with survivors there who endured the ravages of Super Typhoon Haiyan," he shared. "When you see how their lives were utterly transformed and feel the painful losses they suffered, it certainly will stick with you."
A longtime supporter of conservation and climate change efforts, Redford penned a piece for PEOPLE in 2020 challenging Americans of all generations to step up and help.
"While we are at a tipping point and have watched sadly as we've passed milestone after milestone, I am constantly inspired by others who have taken on the fight even as those in power ignore — or worse, deny — the reality of what we're facing," he wrote. "Most recently the youth climate movement has risen up to lead, and I've been rooting them on and hoping they succeed as many in my generation have not."
The Veep star covered PEOPLE's 2020 Earth Day issue, speaking about how she first got involved with Heal the Bay, a nonprofit devoted to protecting California's coastline and waterway, before stepping into a bigger role with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"It sort of speaks to activism in general," she shared. "If you can begin locally in your own backyard, you'll find a connection to a global effort."
In 2019, the seven members of the hit band became Formula E ambassadors, promoting the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, the only race in the world that uses solely electric cars. One year later they became the faces of Hyundai's IONIQ electric car, and to celebrate the partnership, released a video full of beautiful earthy imagery.