6 awarded Goldman Environmental Prizes in SF

April 19, 2010 7:11:38 PM PDT
Some people call it the "Green Nobel Prize." It is one of the world's most prestigious awards for protecting the planet. Six people received the Goldman Environmental Prize at the San Francisco Opera House Monday and all of them are ordinary people who took extraordinary action.

The Goldman Environmental Prize winners come from all over the world, protecting animals, wilderness areas, and people who depend on a natural environment. The chance to spread the word is a big benefit, but it comes with the prize.

"I think the recognition and the credibility are really important because I think it does give them a voice, a much louder voice and a more respected voice," says Lorrae Rominger with the Goldman Foundation.

Tuy Sereivathana is working to stop the conflict between people and elephants in Cambodia. He has spent years teaching farmers how to stop elephants from raiding their crops without hurting the animals. He also helped bring schools to rural villages, where the curriculum includes the importance of wildlife.

"One day per week the teacher has to mention about elephant conservation," he says.

Humberto Rios Labrada is the first Goldman winner from Cuba. Cuban farms were in crisis because they depended on chemical fertilizer and pesticides from the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed, the chemicals stopped coming and there was a serious food shortage.

Labrada worked with a team to create sustainable organic agriculture. The farmers experimented and found a wide variety of crops that grow well without chemicals.

"To produce more food, for example, the yield has been multiplied sometimes two or three times," he says.

The prize in the United States also went to a farmer, Lynn Henning from Michigan. Henning is pushing for better regulation of large-scale animal feed lots like the ones that moved near her farm. The animals are kept in confined spaces with no natural vegetation.

Henning began monitoring water near the lots and was horrified by what she found.

"We have discharges of animal waste into the waterways, that we're getting blood worms," she said. "We're getting high E. coli readings. We're getting high phosphorous readings."

Michigan eventually issued hundreds of citations against the feed lots and now, with Henning leading the charge, a statewide committee is doing its first-ever environmental impact report on feed lots.

In Africa, the prize goes to a woman who is trying to make sure all people get a say in what happens to natural resources. Thuli Makama is Swaiziland's only public interest environmental attorney. She won a landmark case to try to balance the rights of the owners of big private game parks and the poverty-stricken villages that surround them.

She says, "The environmental resources are supposed to be for everyone's benefit."

The European winner is Malgorzahtuh Gorska, a Polish woman who led the fight to protect one of her country's last true wilderness areas. The government was clearing the land to build a major highway project. Gorska created a national campaign to save it. After years of court battles, the European Union finally forced the Polish government to choose an alternate route.

In Latin America, Randall Arauz is getting the Goldman Prize for his efforts to protect sharks. As many as 100 million sharks a year are killed to feed the demand for their fins. Conservationists say the fishing methods are cruel and wasteful.

"They cut the fins off then throw the bloody and sometimes still alive body back into the sea," Arauz said.

Costa Rica is one of the largest exporters of shark products. Arauz has led a hugely-successful campaign to ban shark-finning in that country.

"People started feeling sympathy for the sharks, and that something had to be done to stop this," he says.

Each of the Goldman Prize winners gets $150,000 to spend any way they want.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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