May Boeve grew up in the ’90s, in a world where environmentalism was presented less as a social movement than as a personal lifestyle choice: buy a car that doesn’t use much gas, insulate your house, use energy-efficient lightbulbs, compost.

So when she was an undergraduate at Middlebury College, she and a group of friends set out to practice environmentalism differently, taking their cues from the social justice movements they were learning about in history class (civil rights) and seeing play out in the world around them (marriage equality).

“Clearly, a lot of people were concerned about climate change,” Boeve said in an interview earlier this year. “But it didn’t look like the movements we’d studied in school, with protests and songs and visual imagery and analyses of power and all these intricate things.”

May Boeve.
photo by Ryan HeffernanMay Boeve.

Today, Boeve is the executive director of 350.org, an environmental organization that she and that same group of friends cofounded specifically to work on climate change. The group is cut from a different cloth than its more mature green-activist siblings; a recent survey of movement groups described it as “the slightly strange kid” of the green class.

Despite (or because of) its unorthodoxy, and working with a budget and staff a fraction of the size of those of major environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, 350.org has sparked two of the highest-profile environmental campaigns in recent history: the effort to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the fossil fuel divestment movement. This Monday, 350.org, together with the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, Credo Mobile, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, organized hundreds of vigils across the country in protest of the State Department’s Environmental Impact Review of the Keystone XL pipeline.