Ileana Lobkowicz / Gavel Media

Rob Nixon Talks Environmental Activism and Martyrdom

Princeton University Professor Rob Nixon gave a talk titled “Environmental Martyrs and Defenders of the Forest” at the Yawkey Athletics Center on Thursday.

The talk, which was the latest of the Park Street Corporation Speaker Series, focused on the importance of environmental activists and martyrs, as well as the relationship of the martyr to the larger movement.

Nixon, an author and frequent New York Times contributor, dedicated the talk to Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmentalist who was assassinated after she lead a coalition to block the construction of a dam.

Throughout the talk, Nixon discussed the work and legacies of several other environmental leaders and martyrs around the world, as well as the high risk of being targeted and killed as an environmental activist. He also explained the influence of local environmental activists in protecting tropical rain forests, which are suffering from increasing rates of deforestation.

Next, Nixon described the relationship between the martyr and the movement.

“What becomes more and more apparent with these movements is that removing the leader doesn’t remove the movement,” said Nixon. “It often actually galvanizes activists, and in a sense, spreads the insistence on the need to resist and the need to organize.”

He also emphasized that although in extreme situations death can have a major impact on a movement, it is important not to romanticize martyrdom.

Anna Goodman, MCAS ’21, said, “I thought it was really interesting—the point he made about the inter-connectedness between humans and nature. The reality is that deforestation is harming yourself too.”

The Park Street Corporation Speaker Series began in the spring of 2016 and hosts speakers on issues related to the intersection of health, humanities, and ethics. The next event in the series, titled "Ethics of Food and the Health of the Planet," will be held on Feb. 22.


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