Goldman Prize winners honored in SF

April 20, 2009 6:34:26 PM PDT
The Goldman Prize is considered one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world. It recognizes people who have overcome great odds to make a difference. The awards are handed out in San Francisco.

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Former Vice President Al Gore and actor Robert Redford are among those celebrating Monday night.

It is the 20th anniversary of the Goldman Prize, and many call it the 'green' Nobel Prize. It honors those who are protecting the planet and their people.

It was started 20 years ago by Richard Goldman and his wife, and it has attracted environmental activists, movie stars and politicians.

Seven people who have done extraordinary things were honored on Monday night.

"They are stories of such courage and inspiration. And they are the most positive way, I think, to combat global warming is to go to the grass roots," said actor and activist Robert Redford.

Here are this year's Goldman Prize winners:

In Bali, a single woman and engineer has tackled Indonesia's most critical problem -- providing simple solutions to improve waste management for millions.

"I'm trying to work with people in the slums or urban communities to find solutions for them," said Bali waste management designer Yuyun Ismawati.

In Suriname, two Saramaka men won a lawsuit that stops logging to protect their rainforests.

"They destroy our farms, pollute our creeks from which we used to get clean drinking water," said Hugo Jabini.

In the Appalachian Mountains, death threats haven't stopped Maria Gunnoe in her battle against the coal industry.

"What they're doing now is literally blasting the mountain off of the coal to get the coal out. It's extremely destructive," said Gunnoe.

The EPA is investigating.

In Bangladesh, one woman has stopped contaminated ships from polluting the coastline, threatening workers' health.

"We are trying to make sure our coast is not taken as a dumping site by the developed countries," said Bangladeshi lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan.

A Russian physicist has exposed hazards of toxic chemical stockpiles in the former Soviet republics.

"How these toxins impact human life and what kind of side effects they cause, such as birth defects and neurological disorders and cancers," said physicist Olga Speranskaya.

And there is Marc Ona Essangui of Gabon who is fighting the government to protect rainforests against mining by Chinese companies.

The Goldman Prize winners get $150,000, but more than that, it is an opportunity for these activists to be heard while they tour the U.S.

"During that tour we set up meetings with other people that are interested in their work or hopefully will be able to help them continue in their work," said Director of Goldman Environmental Prize Lorrae Rominger.

Many of recipients start at grass roots, they network and their work has become an international force.

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