Environmentalism has been a huge issue in the 21st century as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly felt. ‘Environmentalism’ can be characterized as a concern about and action aimed at protecting the environment. While this topic is broad and complex the challenges of environmentalism can be best narrated within the sub-themes; Climate Change, Pollution, Activism and Policy and Food Habits. Awareness of environmentalism is increasing in the 21st century, as many people are now opting to buy second-hand clothes, zero-waste food stores are on the rise, and as the vegan food market is rapidly growing. ‘The global vegan food market value is estimated to reach around USD 24.3 billion by 2026’ (Acumen Research and Consulting, 2019). Consequences of global warming: Water level drops in Argentina’s Paraná river because of a long period of extremely warm and dry weather in one year.  


Source: NASA’s Earth Observatory. Images taken by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite.


climate change

Global warming is caused by the increase of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere. It is one of the biggest threats to humankind in the 21st century.


Plastic pollution causes toxic and harmful particles to circulate in our environment, leading to a threat to our well-being and ecosystem. 

activism and policy

The 21st century has seen many climate change protests and global movements fighting for regulation of the effects of climate change at government level. 

food habits

If everyone changed their diets to eat less animal products and more plant-based food, it would reduce CO2 production and negative environmental impact. 

climate change

The global climate, which describes the average weather over many years, has changed repeatedly throughout history. Going from cycles of glacial advances to retreats, the abrupt end of the last glacial period marks the beginning of the present climate age (NASA, 2022). Natural drivers such as variations in the solar system can cause shifts in the global climate.

However, since industrialisation in the 19th century, human activities like burning fossil fuels have increased global temperature (BBC News, 2021). Burning these fossil fuels to generate energy releases greenhouse gasses — mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. These gasses act as a blanket over the earth, trapping the sun’s radiation and rising temperatures. Fossil fuels are, among others, needed for heating buildings, burning gasoline for transportation, or even the destruction of land and forests for farming. In summary, “energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use are among the main emitters” (United Nations, 2022). If you are interested in how many planets we would need if everybody lives like you, check out the ecological footprint calculator.

BBC News, 2021

The earth is now about one degree warmer than one century ago. The decade of 2011 – 2020 was the warmest ever recorded. Scientists hereby agree on the unequivocal evidence of man-made global warming (IPCC, 2021). This means more than warmer temperatures. Everything crucial to human life, including ecological systems, water and food supplies, etc. is sensitive to climate fluctuations (Saikia, 2009). The implications of the increase in global temperature differ from droughts, water scarcity and fires to flooding, catastrophic storms and declining biodiversity (United Nations, 2022).  

Climate change has become an extremely visible and undeniable threat in the 21st century. Although there are already established renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy sources, most countries are still dependent on fossils (Quaschning, 2019). Immediate actions like financial investments of governments and businesses are needed to prevent worse consequences. “We can pay the bill now or pay dearly in the future” (United Nations, 2022). 

What we can do to fix climate change

The amazon box represents not only the boom of online shopping in the 21st century but also the global trade chains linked to it. The required transports contribute strongly to CO2 emissions.

The car toy is representative of real fuel cars, which are among the most obvious CO2 producers. 


The hoya plant represents how despite the green exterior, ornamental plants are a silent contributor to gas emissions resulting in pollution.



As you can see in the video below, the pollution caused by plastic is a rather complex problem that is hard to be broken down. The solutions we have presented, with the reduce – reuse – recycle approach, are still not used on the scale that we would wish for. Drastic actions like a change in politics and a change in our lifestyle need to be considered for an effective solution. The graph beneath shows how much plastic waste has been generated per person in the year 2010 in the world. The export countries China (59.08 million tonnes), the United States of America (37.83 million tonnes) and Germany (14.48 million tonnes) are at the top of the list.

Visualisation of plastic waste in 2010


“In 2015, 407 million tonnes of plastic was produced, of which 164 Mt was consumed by packaging (36% of the total)” (Rodhes, 2018). This shows that packaging contributes a very large part, more than one third, of the overall pollution and by looking at the presented objects in this category it becomes clear that we are aware of that. Most of the environmentally friendly objects in this collection focus on generating less plastic packaging.

Additionally, many single-use plastic products like cups or straws were prominent in the media. The reason for their popularity is simple: “Plastics are typically cheap to manufacture, and hence are used on a very large scale for many essential purposes of modern civilization” (Rodhes, 2018). But, as we all know, “those materials are typically also chemically resistant, meaning that they degrade only slowly” and consequently pile up over the years (Rodhes, 2018). Reading about this issue can feel frustrating, but we as individuals can contribute to a solution. Look at the objects and their narratives below to find inspiration and ideas on how. 

A short video about the story of plastic

The reusable coffee cup symbolizes a change in thinking: A time when people realized that single-use plastic cups harm the environment and started to look for more sustainable alternatives. 

The user can crush these toothpaste tablets with their teeth before they start brushing, which enables a more sustainable product, as there is no plastic required to package the product.

The rechargeable lithium battery embodies the significance of digital products and electric vehicles in the 21st century. However, discarded lithium batteries will cause serious pollution problems.

The bamboo straw is a popular alternative to the single-use plastic straw. Attempts to environmental conservation seem to better work if they do not present restrictions to a comfortable lifestyle.

activism and policy

Climate change activism has been ongoing since before the 21st century, however, movements urging government and policy-makers to make legislation preventing climate change have intensified in recent years. As there are conflicts between capitalistic profit and climate change regulation it is vital for the public to advocate for effective climate change policy as current institutions and regulations aren’t slowing down the tragic effects of climate change that are coming our way.

In 2015 the Paris Agreement, sometimes referred to as the Paris Accords or the Paris Climate Accords was adopted. It is an international treaty on climate change that aims to cover climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance. G20 stands for ‘group of twenty’, it is an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 countries and the EU. It aims to address major issues related to the global economy. This includes issues such as international financial stability, climate change mitigation and sustainable development. In 2021 the 16th G20 summit was hosted in Rome where world leaders agreed that countries must take meaningful action to keep the world from warming by no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels (France-Presse, 2021).

However, they provided little concrete examples as to how they effectively plan on reaching this goal. ‘U.N. experts say that even if current national plans are fully implemented, the world is headed for global warming of 2.7C, with catastrophic consequences’ (Joans et al. 2021).

While these initiatives are important for addressing the threat of climate change they continuously fail to produce meaningful results. The threat of climate change is felt most prominently by young people today as they are attempting to protect their futures. In 2018 Greta Thunberg, a sixteen year old Swedish girl, came up with the idea of ‘Fridays for Future’. A school strike that would take place every Friday as young people chose to advocate for their future rather than fully complete their education. ‘The symbolism of the school strike is that: since you adults don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either. Why should we care for our future when we might not even have one’ (Great Big Story, 2019)?

Below, there is a timeline of some influential policies implemented in the 21st century:



These socks are made out of plastic. It is a product that aims to reduce toxic plastic waste in the environment and allows for it to be recycled to create a new product.

Lush soap bars are made from natural ingredients and are packaging-free. This reduces the need for single-use plastic, and it is also a long-lasting product meaning it reduces waste.

food habits

The specifics of how food is grown in different places determine its greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and land use. Consider, for example, that growing tomatoes in a warm climate far away and shipping them to your door may produce fewer emissions than growing them locally in greenhouses that require electricity for heating. Similarly for livestock, using rocky land for grazing cows may take a lot of space, but it makes use of an area where crops would not be able to be grown anyway. Producing meat in a “factory farm” may take much less land, but still may not be the most humane or environmentally sustainable way to grow food (Aleksandrowicz, L, et al., 2016). According to Herrero M, et al. (2013), scientists estimate that food production around the world causes up to 30% of all the greenhouse gases people release to the atmosphere each year.

Reducing meat intake generally results in less greenhouse gas emissions, less land use, and less water use. The water use measured includes rainfall, groundwater extractions, and surface water diversions for agriculture. However, in terms of sustainability, using rainwater to grow crops has much less environmental impact than depleting underground aquifers or diverting water from rivers. There are other trade-offs between environment and health as well. For example, sugar and oil have lower greenhouse gas emissions than many types of meat but eating these in large amounts is unhealthy (Herrero M, Havlık P, et al., 2013).

What sustainable diets might look like specifically may change across different cities and countries. However, for most developed countries it is safe to say a more sustainable diet is one in which meat and dairy are eaten in moderation and contains lots of fruits and vegetables.


A burger made from plants that looks and taste like a real beef burger. It uses 96% less land, 87% less water, and generates 89% less GHG emissions than beef from a cow.

Oat milk is an environmentally friendly alternative as a substitute for cow’s milk since dairy products require the farming of a large number of cows that produce methane. 

Aleksandrowicz, L, et al. (2016) The impacts of dietary change on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and health: a systematic review. PLOS One http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165797
How does your diet affect the environment? (2019, April 25). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rufgoy9R2U&ab_channel=UNClimateChange%3ALearn


Acumen Research and Consulting. (2019, June 11) Globe Newswire by notified. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/06/11/1867025/0/en/Vegan-Food-Market-Size-Worth-Around-US-24-3-Billion-by-2026.html 

Aleksandrowicz, L, et al. (2016) The impacts of dietary change on greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and health: a systematic review. PLOS One http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165797

BBC News. (2021, October 13). What is climate change? A really simple guide. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24021772

Can YOU Fix Climate Change? (2021, September 22). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiw6_JakZFc&ab_channel=Kurzgesagt%E2%80%93InaNutshell

Climate Policy. (2019) Government of the Netherlands. https://www.government.nl/topics/climate-change/climate-policy

France-Presse, A, (2021, November 1) G2O: What did the world leaders agree at the summit in Rome? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/01/g20-what-did-world-leaders-agree-at-the-summit-in-rome  

Great Big Story, (2019, April 15) Greta Thunberg is leading a Global Climate Movement, Youtube,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRgJ-22S_Rs&list=FLtVi-_8u5tfpF67Ev2lkiTw&index=1

Herrero M, Havlik P, Valin H, Notenbaert A, Rufino M, Thornton P, et al. (2013) Biomass use, production, feed efficiencies, and greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock systems. PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/content/110/52/20888.abstract

How many planets does it take to sustain your lifestyle? (n.d.). Footprint Calculator. https://www.footprintcalculator.org/home/en

IPCC. (2021). Sixth Assessment Report. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#SPM

Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., … & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771.

Jay, A. (2014, September 30). What will it take to spark the climate-smart revolution? CCAFS: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. https://ccafs.cgiar.org/news/what-will-it-take-spark-climate-smart-revolution

Joans G, Balmer C and Mason J, (2021, November 1) G20 offers little new on climate, leaving uphill task for COP26. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/g20-leaders-face-tough-climate-talks-second-day-summit-2021-10-30/ 

NASA. (2022). Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know? Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

Rhodes, C. J. (2018). Plastic Pollution and Potential Solutions. Science Progress, 101(3), 207–260. 

Ritchie, H. (2018, September 1). Plastic Pollution. Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution?utm_source=newsletter#citation

Quaschning, V. (2019). Renewable Energy and Climate Change, 2nd Edition (Wiley – IEEE) (2nd ed.). Wiley.

UN Climate Talks. (2021) Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/timeline/un-climate-talks?fbclid=IwAR3xWKaKRrD3ONAUdAYS14SL_Ar7Ve07mO3rsMPbnbuQOVcsfm4WKnp5g3I

United Nations. (n.d.). What Is Climate Change? https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change

What is the Kyoto Protocol? (2022) United Nations Climate Change. https://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol 

Saikia, R. (2009). Making Sense of Climate Change: A Beginner’s Guide to Global Warming. The Energy and Resources Institute, TERI.The Story of Plastic (Animated Short). (2021, April 21). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO3SA4YyEYU&ab_channel=TheStoryofStuffProject