In Memorium: Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Laureate

Wangari Maathai, Nobel peace laureate, Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”

The Green Belt Movement announced last week that their founder, Wangari Maathai, died last Sunday night after a struggle with cancer.  She was a fierce environmental and social activist who recognized that social and environmental issues are inextricably linked. Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which she did in 2004.  She said at the time:

“I believe the Nobel committee was sending a message that protecting and restoring the environment contributes to peace; it is peace work. That was gratifying. I always felt that our work was not simply about planting trees. It was about inspiring people to take charge of their environment, the system that governed them, their lives and their future.”

Maathai organized a movement of individuals, mostly women, who planted more than 30 million trees across Africa, and encouraged people to require their elected officials protect the environment as a public good.

“We have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species, that cannot speak for themselves today. The global challenge of climate change requires that we ask no less of our leaders, or ourselves.”