Environment Climate Crisis 8 Historic Climate Change Protests and Their Impact By Sharmon Lebby Sharmon Lebby LinkedIn Twitter Writer University of South Carolina Sharmon Lebby is a writer and sustainable fashion stylist who studies and reports on the intersections of environmentalism, fashion, and BIPOC communities. Learn about our editorial process Updated June 7, 2021 Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Environment Planet Earth Climate Crisis Pollution Recycling & Waste Natural Disasters Transportation Severe droughts, worsening storms, habitat destruction—it is the prevalent impacts of climate change that continue to spur people into action. While climate change protests have varied in numbers and impact, the demand of the people has remained the same: Prioritize the health of our planet. Below are eight major protests that shaped today's environmental movement. A Growing Global Concern Global concern for climate change began in 1972 when multiple scientists at the UN Conference on Human Development in Stockholm presented on the development of the climate over the century. By 1979, climate conferences were held and led to the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the United Nations in 1988. The IPCC is now one of the leading organizations that provide countries with scientific data to create informed policies. 1 of 8 Earth Day (1970) Santi Visalli / Getty Images Over five decades ago, the first major environmental protest took place on April 22, resulting in 50 years of Earth Days. After years of unsuccessfully appealing to fellow congressional representatives about environmental issues, Senator Gaylord Nelson rallied the people. He proposed a teach-in on college campuses to protest environmental issues and its effects, taking inspiration from the anti-war protests of the 1960s. Hoping to garner that same energy, a day was chosen that was most convenient for students. The call-to-action from Senator Nelson led to the participation of an estimated 20 million people and thousands of events. A national team of 85 people helped smaller groups organize events all over the country culminating in the largest protest to ever take place. The size and its decentralization showed lawmakers how important environmental causes were to the public, and this contributed to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, followed by multiple environmental protection laws including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and the Endangered Species Act. 2 of 8 Kyoto Rally (2001) Sion Touhig / Getty Images The first decade of the 21st century brought protests dedicated specifically to climate change. In 2001, then President George Bush opted to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. The purpose of the protocol was to get industrialized countries to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In response to the United States abandoning the international agreement, the U.K. based organization Campaign Against Climate Change organized a protest. This would be the biggest demonstration addressing President George Bush's decision. This event would be the first of many rallies organized by this group. Eventually, this would lead to the first National Climate March in 2005, an event that would bring out thousands of people to protest in conjunction with the annual United Nations climate talks. 3 of 8 Global Day of Action (2005) Getty Images / Getty Images While not the largest protest, the Global Day of Action of 2005 was the first of several annual protests that would take place. Also known as the Kyoto Climate March, the idea was to garner the collective energy of groups around the world. Started by the Campaign for Climate Action, it would use their National Climate March as the event for the U.K., while allowing other organizations to simultaneously take part in their respective countries. Each Global Day of Action takes place at a time that coincides with United Nation's Climate Summits. 4 of 8 Copenhagen (2009) Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images One of the first globally recognized protests took place in Copenhagen in 2009. Halfway through the UN's environmental summit on December 12, tens of thousands of climate activists lined the streets to demand effective environmental policy. This was part of the Campaign for Climate Action's annual Global Day of Action, and it ended up being the largest of the events to take place—estimates range from 25,000 to 100,000 people. What captured significant media attention was the violence incited by a few at the protest, and the arrests that followed. 5 of 8 People's Climate March (2014) Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images As time would go on, individual protests would grow larger. In September of 2014, around 400,000 demonstrators would gather in New York City for an event that would dramatically overtake Copenhagen's protest numbers. This event was significant because even though the environmental movement gained real ground with the inception of Earth Day, polls would show that the United States ranked second to last in public knowledge about climate change. The People's Climate March would be known for its diverse attendees, all of whom gathered under the slogan “To Change Everything, It Takes Everyone.” 6 of 8 People's Climate March (2017) Astrid Riecken / Getty Images While not as large as the march in 2014, the People's Climate March of 2017 would draw large numbers to Washington D.C. following the first 100 days of former President Donald Trump's first year. 200,000 people showed up on the nation's capital, and 370 events would take place across the country, bringing the participant number up to 300,000. After the former president's election campaign had been funded by climate deniers and fossil fuel executives, the march brought together impassioned people hoping for jobs, justice, and effective climate solutions. 7 of 8 School Strike for the Climate (2018) Barbara Alper / Getty Images Inspired by the school strikes done by the student survivors of the Parkland shooting, Greta Thurnberg started skipping school to protest the climate crisis in front of the Swedish parliament. Within three months she had sparked a movement and was speaking to world leaders at the United Nations climate summit. This protest would gain notice for the sheer number of youth that were involved in its organization. In response, several youth organizations have formed including Fridays for Future. Fridays for Future credits Thurnberg's group with creating the hashtag #FridaysForFuture that has now registered 98,000 corresponding events in 210 countries. 8 of 8 Global Climate Strike (2019) Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images After Earth Day, the only other climate event featuring events over a several-day period would be the Global Climate Strike in September of 2019. Over 8 days, 7.6 million people would join forces across the globe to demand action from global leaders. This would become one of the largest globally coordinated protest since the anti-war protests in 2003. Strikers called for fossil fuels to be phased out, the end of deforestation in the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests, and the transition to renewable energy. The voices of people in 185 countries were joined by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Hemsworth, Jaden Smith, Gisele Bündchen, and Willow Smith. The number of climate change organizations appears to be growing. From government organizations to nonprofits, more and more leaders are beginning to see the urgency in working to heal the planet at its source. Many organizations such as Extinction Rebellion, Campaign Against Climate Action, and Fridays For Future were created for the sole purpose of using civil disobedience and peaceful marches to push for climate action. How effective these will be remains to be seen, but it does seem that these methods increase public support. View Article Sources "The Kyoto Rally." Campaign Against Climate Change. Giacomini, Terran, and Terisa Turner. "The 2014 People's Climate March And Flood Wall Street Civil Disobedience: Making The Transition To A Post-Fossil Capitalist, Commoning Civilization." Capitalism Nature Socialism, vol. 26, no. 2, 2015, pp. 27-45., doi:10.1080/10455752.2014.1002804 Marris, Emma. "Why Young Climate Activists Have Captured The World’s Attention." Nature, vol. 573, no. 7775, 2019, pp. 471-472., doi:10.1038/d41586-019-02696-0 Holmberg, Arita, and Aida Alvinius. "Children’s Protest In Relation To The Climate Emergency: A Qualitative Study On A New Form Of Resistance Promoting Political And Social Change." Childhood, vol. 27, no. 1, 2019, pp. 78-92., doi:10.1177/0907568219879970 "7.6 Million People Demand Action After Week Of Climate Strikes." 350.Org, 2019. Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy. "How Americans See Climate Change And The Environment In 7 Charts." Pew Research Center, 2020.