My favorite English term for an environmentalist is, without doubt, treehugger. It sounds warm and cozy. Being slightly pejorative, it is also a warning against arrogance, that occupational hazard of all activists. This combination is hard to beat!

Given the existence of this excellent word, I decided to do some background research to find out how it came into being. AlterNet offers a fascinating article on the topic. And so I present to you, the original treehuggers:

“The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730,  died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape.”

Yet another innovation from India. The term was popularized by the Chipko Andolan in the 1970s in the Himalayas:

“Not only that, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement (which means “to cling”) that started in the 1970s, when a group of peasant women in Northeast India threw their arms around trees designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as tree satyagraha, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.”

So, that’s why they call us treehuggers.