We got the Golden Ticket!
Technically, it was the Goldman ticket but just as good. At GSP, Simona and I were the lucky ones who got to attend this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize.
The Goldman Environmental Prize “honors grassroots environmental heroes” from the six inhabited continents. These champions are not the rich and powerful, with friends in high places. But they are remarkable for their courage and tenacity. They’re Davids taking on Goliaths to make their corner of the world a better place to live. Each recipient receives $175,000 to continue their work and “amplify their voice.”
The ceremony is held at the SF Opera House. Now, a few months ago I went to the opera and it was lovely, but I wouldn’t say the hall was abuzz with awe, energy and renewed faith in human potential. At the Goldman Prize, it was. The most boisterous enthusiasm came from the 500-plus students seated way up in the balcony.
And the winners are…
Phyllis Omido – Toxic Contamination in Kenya
Community Relations Officer Phyllis Omido was tasked with compiling an environmental impact report for a metal smelting plant. When she learned the factory was poisoning the local water supply and sickening her neighbors she recommended closing it down. She was promptly “reassigned”. But when tests showed that her very sick baby boy had lead poisoning, she went to battle.
Myint Zaw – Rivers & Dams in Myanmar
Activists rely on social media and peaceful assembly to spread the word but in Myanmar those weren’t safe options. But journalist Myint Zaw was resourceful. Knowing art galleries were less scrutinized, he arranged flash art exhibits that were put up and taken down before authorities got word. The art discreetly showed how the Irrawaddy River would fare if the Myitsone Dam was built. At great personal risk, word got out and spread – even to the highest levels of government, which, remarkably, responded (at least for now).
Jean Wiener – Marine Conservation in Haiti
Environmental stewardship doesn’t often go hand-in-hand with extreme poverty and political instability. In Haiti, desperation has led to overfishing, and destruction of mangroves and coral reefs. For over 20 years, marine biologist Jean Wiener worked with local communities and an ever-changing roster of government officials to teach the long-term value in sustainability. His vision and persistence are paying off in Haiti’s first Marine Protected Areas. Jean is determined to make these conservation areas a reality and not good ideas that exist only on paper.
Marilyn Baptiste – Oil & Mining in Canada
In 2010, a British Columbia regional government green-lighted Taseko Mining Ltd’s plan for a massive open pit gold and copper mine. The plan called for draining Fish Lake (so pristine you can drink from it) and using it to stockpile waste. Little Fish Lake would have been destroyed in the process. Marilyn Baptiste led her First Nation community in defeating the plan. Alone in the middle of a road, Marilyn faced down a line of massive trucks including a vehicle driving straight at her. She won that standoff.
Berta Cáceres – Rivers & Dams in Honduras
Following a 2009 coup, almost 30% of Honduran land was designated for mining concessions. All that mining would require lots of (cheap) energy, so the government approved hundreds of dam projects including one that “would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine for hundreds of Lenca people.” Berta Cáceres and her small community fought chicanery and extreme, indeed lethal, violence through peaceful protest (and another rudimentary but remarkable roadblock).
Howard Wood – Marine Conservation in Scotland
The once abundant fish, scallops and prawns of Scotland’s Firth of Clyde were nearly decimated by destructive commercial fishing practices that tore through the seabed’s coral and kelp forests. Industry called the shots and local citizens had no voice. But Howard Wood wasn’t having it. It took decades of “setbacks and progress” but in 2014 the Scottish government declared 30 Marine Protected Areas, including around Howard’s Isle of Arran.