Meet the Social Media Activists Changing the Narrative on Climate Change
These inspiring activists are taking to TikTok to bring awareness to the world’s biggest environmental issues—and showing the simple ways we can make a difference
Climate change is a sticky subject—and something you may even avoid discussing because it can get so contentious. For instance, three in four Americans agree that climate change is real and that humans at least partly contribute to it, yet only 40% say that fighting climate change should be a top priority, according to a recent Pew Research survey. This may be partly due to the fact that well over half of respondents said that they do not believe the world will be able to do enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. There’s a word for this climate anxiety: eco-despair.
But one group remains remarkably optimistic and motivated: people under 30 years old. They are the ones with the biggest investment in cleaning up and protecting the earth, and some of these motivated, eco-minded people are using the megaphone of social media to raise awareness about why we need to be kinder to the planet—and telling us exactly how to do it. By helping others live more sustainably by upcycling, recycling and so much more, these social media activists are changing the world, one tweet and TikTok video at a time.
Alaina Wood, aka The Garbage Queen
courtesy Alaina Wood
Fights climate despair with newsy, inspiring TikTok videos
Making TikTok videos started as a way for Wood to pass time during the pandemic, but when she saw numerous videos insinuating that you can’t be a climate activist if you drive a car, aren’t vegan or don’t live a zero-waste lifestyle, she wanted to share her expertise as an environmental scientist. “I chose the title Garbage Queen because it was actually my nickname at work,” she says. “My primary area of work as a scientist is landfills, and I know far too much about them.”
She provides her 325,000 followers with simple, actionable ways to be more eco-friendly, proving that every little bit helps … especially when all those little bits start adding up. Her videos are some of the most “stitched” (TikTok-speak for sharing someone’s video along with your own response to it), as her viewers share how they are using and building on her tips.
Claim to fame
Seth Thomas, aka Zethdafer
courtesy Seth Thomas
Highlights ways to help wildlife survive climate change
When Thomas first joined TikTok, he simply planned to share his comedy skits. But when he started sharing his expertise on environmental issues, things really took off. As a biodiversity researcher and student at Oxford, he spotlights various animals, past and present, and talks about what makes them interesting and what extinction risks they face (or what likely made them go extinct). In his funny, chatty videos, he mixes gossip, life updates and memes with great information for preventing biodiversity loss, one of the most catastrophic consequences of global climate change.
“My favorite thing is when people say they had never heard of an issue before I highlighted it,” Thomas says. “We live in an era of information overload, so highlighting some more obscure elements of the climate crisis and getting those traction is really rewarding.”
“Healthy and diverse ecosystems are some of our best defenses against climate change,” says Thomas, “and planting native plants in your backyard and supporting local wildlife are things everyone can do.”
Aliya and Alyssa, founders of Banking on a Better Future
Courtesy Joshua Best, Courtesy Alyssa
Promote “sustainable finance” with investigative TikToks
Banking on a Better Future is a youth-led nonprofit that shows how the world’s biggest banks are directly funding fossil fuel companies, some of the biggest environmental offenders. Their goal? To bring awareness to this issue, educate the public and put pressure on these banks, through protests and boycotts, to change their ways.
“Our online community has become a place where everyone’s contributions are valued, whether they can move their money, make phone calls and send emails, educate their friends and family or protest in front of a big bank,” says Aliya. “We have tangible proof the big banks are starting to feel the heat.” She cites one instance when the Royal Bank of Canada moved an important meeting online, likely to prevent indigenous land defenders and allies from attending. “And when we get young folks direct messaging our TikTok, telling us how they’ve closed their account and got their friends to do the same, we feel so proud!”
Inspired thousands to move their money out of the big five banks and pledge that they will not bank with them until they stop financing fossil fuels.
Umberto Greco, founder of OpenTabs
Saves trees and conserves rainforests through a free web app
In college, Greco became passionate about climate change but was frustrated with the “green tax” that makes sustainable goods expensive. He wanted to create a free and easy way for anyone to help effect environmental change, and thus, OpenTabs was born. It’s a nonprofit that funds rainforest conservation through a free web browser extension. How, exactly? Once users install the extension, it places a small ad in the corner of each tab, and every time they open a new tab, that ad revenue is donated to save trees. Opening five tabs is all it takes to save one tree! “We all open hundreds of tabs when browsing online, and now they can all be put to good use,” Greco says.
Greco also shares forest conservation tips, news and updates on his TikTok, along with ways young people can be politically active in conservation. What could our government do to help? Check out these innovative ideas from the most sustainable countries.
Saved more than 8 million trees to date and raised more than $30,000 for the Climate Change Fund.
Anna Sacks, aka The Trash Walker
Shows how to reduce waste with videos of what she finds in trash
Walking around her New York City neighborhood, Sacks noticed how many perfectly good items were tossed to the curb every day, both in people’s personal trash and in what corporations throw out. She began to take “trash walks” and posted videos of her greatest finds—everything from designer clothing to rare artwork to tons of fresh food. In a time when rising prices make you question every purchase, it’s exhilarating and a little scary to realize how much great stuff actually goes to waste. Sacks inspires thousands of people to take a fresh look at “garbage,” helping them to save both the planet and some money.
At first, her TikToks were simply her own adventures, but they grew in popularity, starting huge political, social and corporate campaigns to keep people accountable for their waste.
Convinced corporations, including luxury purse brand Coach, to change how they deal with waste and is lobbying Congress to change the way tax laws are written to encourage sustainability.
Sabrina Pare, founder of Sustainable Life
Shares how to make small sustainable swaps
In 2017 Pare, an environmentalist and popular social media content creator, decided to switch to a plant-based diet after learning about how harmful animal agriculture is for the environment. But she didn’t want to stop there and began looking at other aspects of her life, including what she wore and purchased for her home, for ways to make her life more sustainable. Now, she focuses on sharing simple tips for living a low-waste lifestyle, like how to garden in an eco-friendly way and why (and how) to avoid buying fast fashion. She’s particularly well known for highlighting areas of concern you might not otherwise think about—like how setting off personal fireworks on holidays pollutes the air and water, creates tons of litter and harms local animal ecosystems.
What not to throw away
Some of Pare’s most popular videos share which common household items—including fluorescent lightbulbs, smoke detectors, batteries and prescription medications—actually shouldn’t be thrown away in the garbage.
Alyssa Barber, founder of New Life Style
Offers fun tips and tricks to live a more sustainable lifestyle
From properly using the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator to using a $2 “product spatula” to get every last drop out of tubes of makeup and toothpaste, Barber makes everyday sustainability feel fun and totally doable. But her real genius is creating an online community of young people who are constantly looking for small ways to reuse, repair and reduce waste. Her 350,000-plus followers on New Life Style take her creativity and build on it, stitching and sharing their ingenious eco-hacks, like how to make reusable heating pads.
Instead of buying boxes of tissues, opt for “reusable tissues”—aka old-school handkerchiefs.
Skylar Saba, founder of Happy Earth Habits
Designs the opposite of fast fashion
Saba, whose motto is “habits to make Mama Earth happy,” started out studying product development, ethics and sustainability at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. But she became disillusioned with the unsustainable practices often used in fashion and decided to start her own social media channels sharing how to make clothing and other lifestyle choices more eco-friendly. She highlights cute items made by sustainable clothing companies and also shows how to make them into a complete outfit with accessories—busting the myth that sustainable dressing means you’re limited to clunky sandals with wool socks and drab earth tones.
Claim to fame
Popularized the Conscious Outfit of the Day trend on TikTok and Instagram, a twist on the social media trend Outfit of the Day but featuring sustainable clothing.
Gabrielle, aka Eco OG
Highlights how capitalism encourages overconsumption
Whether she’s filming rows upon rows of pillows in a store or demonstrating how to make cheap cleaning products at home, Gabrielle’s goal is to help people become more conscious of their desire to buy more—and then help them fight that urge. One powerful way she did this recently was by sharing videos of historic flooding in Bangladesh, a country that produces many of the cheap goods Americans overconsume. She highlighted the unfairness of how poorer countries disproportionately deal with the impacts of climate change, as well as how buying fast fashion and single-use goods indirectly contributes to the problem.
Don’t forget furniture in your quest to live a more sustainable life. If you invest in high-quality, sustainably manufactured items, they’ll last longer, create less pollution and, because they can be used for generations, reduce consumption.
Emma, aka The Simple Environmentalist
Suggests simple solutions to decrease plastic use
Microplastics—toxins that end up in the environment from plastic products—are one of the biggest and most harmful contaminants on the planet. Using a method she calls “lazy zero waste,” Emma explains how to reduce your use of plastic and keep existing plastics from contaminating the environment. Her most popular tips include saving the extra paper napkins from restaurants to use as tissues and preserving food in reusable glass jars instead of disposable plastic. What about other materials? Here’s what you need to know about recycling Styrofoam.
Claim to fame
“Eco bricks“—her clever way of packaging plastic by shoving as much as possible into a two-liter bottle to ensure it can be properly recycled.
Karishma Porwal, aka Climate Girl
Explores the relationship between race and climate change
From fast fashion made in third-world sweat shops (that then ends up in landfills) to calling out celebrity culture that promotes wastefulness, Porwal shares deep and intellectual takes on the items we walk past every day without thinking about them. Her most recent viral video highlights how Kylie Jenner’s private jet not only pollutes the environment but is also a powerful example of how wealth and privilege insulate some people from the effects of climate change. This is a problem in the United States too, with environmental racism disproportionately affecting communities of color.
Claim to fame
Made international news for showing how modern marketing propaganda contributed to the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger.
Morgan Cook, aka Mostly Eco Morgan
Shows how sustainable living doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Environmental initiatives are often presented as black-and-white concepts: You either eat animals or you don’t. You recycle everything or nothing. You care about the planet or you don’t. Cook, who describes herself as a perfectly imperfect pro-planet protector, shows how this extreme thinking leads to inaction and shares tips for making changes without having to commit 100%. For instance, her rant about liquid soap sums up everyone’s frustration with the slippery bottles that never seem to allow you to get the last bit out … and her viral video shows how to cheaply make your own frustration-free liquid soap.
“We need to stop judging people for not ‘doing enough.’ Being mostly ‘eco’ is about trying to be better, not the best. It is not realistic to be perfectly sustainable in every part of your life, and that’s OK.”
Chelsy Christina, founder of Mindful Goods
Highlights the problem with single-use plastics
One day, when taking out her recycling, Christina realized how much waste she produced—and that she had no idea what happened to it. What she discovered changed her life, putting her on a mission to live a low-waste, low-plastic lifestyle and teach others how to do the same. “The truth is that while it may leave our lives, single-use plastic stays on the planet for up to 1,000 years, and 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean each year,” she says. One of her most popular TikToks shares simple ways to DIY a plastic-free kitchen—and her replacements are so effective that you won’t even miss your disposable plastic water bottles, food containers or grocery bags.
Curates plastic-free and low-waste products on her website to give people eco-friendly alternatives to common single-use plastic products. “The goal is always progress over perfection,” she says.
Akil Kofi, aka Tofu n’ Tempeh
Shares big ideas to achieve a sustainable lifestyle
Ever wondered if you could compost? Live in a smaller house or even off the grid? Plant a garden? Become a farmer? Eat less meat? Vegan TikToker and master gardener Kofi shares all these things in her journey to living sustainably—and does it in a way that feels like an inspiring adventure. Her projects are bigger than most on this list (building composting chicken coops and irrigation systems, for example), and her videos go beyond simple tips, for people who are ready to commit to more. Her TikToks are educational and entertaining, with a dose of tough love and realism.
To everyone who says it’s too hard to be an environmentalist, Kofi has a simple truth: “It isn’t hard—you just lack self discipline.”
- Pew Research: “For Earth Day, key facts about Americans’ views of climate change and renewable energy”