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Goldman Prize winners fight and inspire

   
Asia: Myint Zaw (Image 1 of 12)

Ninety percent of electricity from the proposed Myitsone Dam on Myanmar’s treasured Irrawaddy River would go to China, but Myanmar government censors prevented discussion of the project. To fight it, photojournalist Myint Zaw organized art exhibits showcasing the river’s value and beauty and distributed scientific information. Writers and artists joined him, creating a national movement that compelled Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, to halt construction in 2011. However, a new president will be elected this year and could reverse the decision.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Asia: Myint Zaw (Image 2 of 12)

Art exhibits were among the few spaces where Zaw could engage activists, scholars, artists and citizens while avoiding government scrutiny.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Africa: Phyllis Omido (Image 3 of 12)

When Phyllis Omido’s infant son was hospitalized, she learned that her breast milk was tainted with lead. The source: a smelting factory in her neighborhood in Mombasa, Kenya, where workers harvested lead from old car batteries. She found other people were sick too and, through the use of research, testing, petitions and community demonstrations, campaigned successfully for the factory’s closure in January 2014. She is currently suing the Kenyan government to get it to clean up the contamination.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Africa: Phyllis Omido (Image 4 of 12)

Omido meets with community members and former factory workers in Mombasa’s Owino Uhuru district.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Islands and Island Nations: Jean Wiener (Image 5 of 12)

Mangroves store carbon, protect against storm surges and act as nurseries for food fish. But in Haiti, desperately poor people cut them for fuel. Marine biologist and director of the non-governmental organization FoProBiM, Jean Wiener is engaging his fellow Haitians to replant the trees and offering alternative sustainable livelihoods: beekeeping, fruit tree nurseries, coral restoration and ecotourism. At his urging, the country created its first two marine protected areas.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Islands and Island Nations: Jean Wiener (Image 6 of 12)

Wiener and FoProBiM staff show residents how to plant breadfruit tree seedlings at a nursery in Caracol, Haiti.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

 

   
North America: Marilyn Baptiste (Image 7 of 12)

Marilyn Baptiste led her Xeni Gwet’in First Nation in stopping an open-pit gold and copper mine in British Columbia, Canada, that would have drained their sacred Fish Lake and polluted their land. She convened experts for a federal environmental review and blocked company bulldozers. Now she’s working to create a tribal park to permanently protect the area.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
North America: Marilyn Baptiste (Image 8 of 12)

Baptiste visits with front desk staff at the Xeni Gwet’in government office.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
South and Central America: Berta Cáceres (Image 9 of 12)

Berta Cáceres — the general coordinator of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH — waged a multifaceted grassroots campaign on behalf of her Lenca people, protesting the Agua Zarca Dam that violated indigenous rights and threatened their homeland and livelihood. Undeterred by death threats, the death of another activist and military attacks, she organized a yearlong physical blockade. In 2013, the Chinese dam developer, Sinohydro, terminated its contract, citing community resistance. However, Cáceres continues to receive death threats.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
South and Central America: Berta Cáceres (Image 10 of 12)

Cáceres and COPINH and Rio Blanco community members honor colleagues killed during the struggle.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Europe: Howard Wood (Image 11 of 12)

Devastated to see commercial fishers destroying once-rich habitat in the Firth of Clyde off Scotland, Howard Wood fought for his community’s right to sustainably manage its sea, resulting in the first community-developed no-take zone in Scotland. In response to ongoing lobbying by Wood, the government created 30 new marine protected areas around Scotland last year.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

   
Europe: Howard Wood (Image 12 of 12)

Wood joins locals monitoring illegal activity in Lamlash Bay’s no-take zone.

Photo courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

 

Every April around Earth Day, six remarkable people from each of the world’s habitable continents travel to San Francisco to receive “the Nobel of grassroots environmental activism,” the Goldman Environmental Prize. Created by San Francisco philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman in 1989, the prize recognizes individuals who are overcoming strong corporate and government resistance — often including death threats or violent attacks — to win environmental and social victories for their communities. Their stories are inspiring — and hopefully motivational, especially for the balcony full of schoolchildren who attend the awards ceremony each year in San Francisco’s Opera House. 

Past prizewinners have secured numerous environmental achievements, including bans on driftnet fishing and waste incineration; the cancellation of numerous destructive projects, including dams, mines, highways and logging operations; cleanup of industrial operations that make low-income neighbors sick; protection for endangered species and national parks; commitments to greener energy; and public pressure on international corporations such as Apple to clean up supply chains. 

One of the most famous winners, Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria, who was fighting Royal Dutch Shell’s pollution of his homeland, was executed by the Nigerian government on a murder conviction that many feel was based on trumped up charges just months after receiving the prize. Another famous winner, Wangari Maathai, who engaged Kenyans in planting trees rather than cutting them down, was later elected to Kenya’s national parliament with 98 percent of the vote and won the Nobel Peace Prize. 

This year’s winners are now in the United States to claim their cash prize of US$175,000 (which most funnel back into their work), publicize their fights on the world stage, and meet with political, public policy and environmental leaders. 

You can watch the 2015 ceremony live on April 20 at 8:30pm EST. View Ensia homepage

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