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.