Goldman Environmental Prize winners announced

April 11, 2011 7:44:15 PM PDT
The Goldman Awards, often called the green Nobel Prize, were handed out in San Francisco Monday night. Every year, the Goldman Foundation honors six people from around the world for their grassroots efforts to protect the planet. Each winner gets $150,000. ABC7 takes a look at these ordinary people doing extraordinary work.

The Goldman Environmental Prize winners are protecting animals, natural resources, and the people who depend on them.

"They go above and beyond, they put their lives at risk and they do all they can to protect their communities," says Amy Lyons, Goldman Prize executive director.

Raoul du Toit is protecting rhinos in Zimbabwe from poachers. Du Toit and his team move rhinos to a safe area where the community is learning to protect them. His innovative program provides money to local schools if the nearby rhino population is healthy.

"Rhinos are big animals, they need big areas," says the Goldman Prize winner. "If you look after rhinos in their habitat, there's a huge amount of other wildlife that's protected at the same time."

In El Salvador, Francisco Pineda is a farmer leading a movement to stop gold mining from polluting his country's water.

"Ninety percent of our waters are already contaminated with chemicals and they are going to use cyanide," says Pineda.

Pineda educated the nation about what was happening and managed to stop the mining, at least for now. But three of his colleagues have been murdered as a result. He hopes that by receiving his Goldman Prize he will bring international attention to this fight.

"For us, water and land is life," he says.

Prigi Arisandi is trying to stop industrial water pollution in his country, too. He's fighting to save the river in Surabaya, Indonesia. Ninety-six percent of the city's drinking water comes from the river, but tests show the concentration of mercury in the water is a hundred times more than the healthy level.

"Industry free to dump the chemical waste to the river," says Arisandi.

Arisandi inspired thousands of people to become advocates for the river. He sued the government for failing to control pollution and forced improvement in regulations. The Goldman Prize may help him do more.

"It make me more stronger," he says.

Dmitry Lisitsyn lives on Sakahlin Island in Russia, filled with spectacular wildlife and critical marine habitat. It also has huge oil and gas reserves and fast-growing development. Lisitsyn has helped find compromise to protect the environment.

"We are not happy with oil development, but we consider it as kind of unavoidable," says Lisitsyn.

Over 15 years, Lisitsyn and his activist organization have emerged as the foremost defenders of the island, with a string of hard-fought victories, including creation of a wildlife refuge.

"When you see the results of your work, all difficulties are nothing," he says.

The North American prize winner is Hilton Kelley who is fighting oil companies that spew tons of emissions into the air of his hometown in Texas. Kelley led a long campaign for tougher regulation and more cooperation between industry and the community. He thinks others can do the same.

"You can win if you stand up, stand firm and persevere," says Kelley.

That's what Ursula Sladek did to bring renewable energy to Germany. After the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union, Sladek led a 10-year effort to take over her town's power grid.

"We supply all the consumers with clean energy, and more than that, we sell clean energy all over Germany now," says Sladek.

Now Sladek hopes Japan's nuclear disaster will push other countries to follow Germany's lead.

This is the first time the Goldman Prize has been given out since its co-creator, Richard Goldman, passed away last fall.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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