Replay: Climate Crusader–Wangari Maathai, The Greenbelt Movement, Climate Artist–Shaq Koyok!

by | Mar 21, 2023 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Climate crusader–Wangari Maathai, and her book, “The Greenbelt Movement”, and climate artist–Shaq Koyok!



Climate change crusader Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya, in 1940. She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy.

The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Dr. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement. The Green Belt Movement (GBM) was formed in response to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. GBM strives for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement using tree-planting as an entry point.

Dr Maathai also authored four books: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth. Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, becoming the first African woman to achieve that honor. She also was the subject of a documentary, Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai (Marlboro Productions, 2008). 

In 2009, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General named Professor Maathai a UN Messenger of Peace, with a focus on the environment and climate change. In 2010, Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust. That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI). The WMI brings together academic research—e.g. in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource-based conflicts, and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organization. 

Professor Maathai died on 25 September 2011 at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer.

DEEPER DIVE: Wikipedia, Greenbelt Movement


In October 2004, environmental activist Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. That sparked the publication of this expanded edition of her slim treatise, The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience, first published in 1985 and then revised in 2003.

Maathai founded Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, a grassroots organization that encourages tree planting and other environmental initiatives. The Green Belt Movement tells the story of how an organization grew from one woman’s idea to a network of hundreds of thousands of men and women who have planted tens of millions of trees throughout Kenya. Professor Maathai explores the challenges of grassroots organizing and campaigning, and elucidates the key principles and practical concerns involved in running an environmental non-governmental organization.

Her book begins with a dry account of the Green Belt Movement’s 20-year history, including all its setbacks and successes. The second half of the book reads like an extended grant proposal, enumerating goals and projects, explaining why ideas are worthwhile and outlining step-by-step processes that similar groups can follow. Many sections are little more than laundry lists of activities and achievements that barely hint at the group’s struggles against countless obstacles, particularly corruption and indifference.

The material added to the 2003 edition includes the Nobel committee’s statement on Maathai, her acceptance speech, a new preface and an interview she did with the World Watch Institute. Many Westerners didn’t recognize Maathai’s name when she won the Nobel and, while this description of the Green Belt Movement’s admirable past is enlightening, it reads like a presentation Maathai might make to potential donors.

She often clashed with the former Kenyan government but, in 2002, she was elected to the country’s Parliament and became assistant minister for the environment. Part scholarly treatise, part laundry list for success, and part autobiography, The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience, matters to us because it’s a reminder of how one person can change a nation, for good.





Shaq Koyok, is a contemporary artist from Kampung Pulau Kempas, Malaysia. He is from the Temuan tribe, one of the tribes that makes up the aboriginal Malay community of Orang Asli. The Temuan artist started painting with oil pastels at five years old to express his feelings. Today he paints stirring portraits that reflect the trauma of watching land developers encroach onto the jungle around his village and plunder the forest in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Now in his mid-30s, Koyok says, “There are so many issues faced by the Orang Asli – logging, land grabs, highways, overdevelopment on native land, and oil palm plantations…. No dreamy pictures. I want people to be awake and I want to show them the real story.”

Koyok’s art displayed last year in the Richard Koh Fine Art gallery in Thailand. The works discuss the plight of an indigenous village threatened by deforestation due to the Malaysian government removing the forest’s status as a reserve. Koyok’s activism and art are inextricably linked as both stem from his fight to advance Orang Asli rights.

Why does Shaq Koyok’s art matter to us? Koyok’s art helps us see humanity’s essential relationship with nature. Without deepening that relationship, we won’t do the hard work of saving the climate.

DEEPER DIVE:  Shaq Koyok, Ek Sentrika, COTCA