Goldman Environmental Prizes awarded in SF


The Goldman prizewinners live all over the world, but they share a single idea: The more people know about environmental problems, the more likely they are to act.

In China, Ma Jun is exposing extreme air and water pollution from factories that supply multinational corporations. "Hundreds of millions of rural residents don't have access to safe drinking water," he said. Jun started an organization to draw attention to the worst offenders, then pressure big-name companies to force their suppliers to clean up. 500 companies including Walmart, Nike, and General Electric are now working with Jun's team and he says hey are making progress with Apple.

Ikal Angelei wants to protect the world's largest desert lake. It supports hundreds of thousands of people and a thriving ecosystem. Most of the lake is in Kenya, but Ethiopia wants to dam the river that feeds it. The dam would provide power, but dramatically lower the water level. "With that change, you are increasing its salinity to almost acidic levels. Therefore, humans cannot consume the water and the animals cannot use it," Angelei explained. She brought the local communities together and after years of struggle, they convinced major banks to withdraw financing, a huge victory although Ethiopia is not giving up yet.

Evgenia Chirikova is trying to save a Russian forest. It was protected by law, but the government planned to build a highway through it. Chirikova and others blamed corrupt officials, so the mother of two quit her job and helped stage one of the largest environmental protests in Russian history. When workers started clearing the forest, she and others lay down in front of bulldozers. The public outcry was so great that just like in Africa, major banks and investors are pulling out of the project.

A nickel mine has been proposed in the Philippines right near a critical watershed filled with bio-diversity. The mine would produce millions of tons of toxic waste and destroy tropical forests. Prize winner Father Edwin Gariguez led the fight against it. "This will really clearly do harm not only to the environment, but also to the lives and the livelihood of the people," he said. He turned local concerns into a national protest. The final straw was an 11-day hunger strike that ended when the government revoked the mining permit.

In Argentina, Sofia Gatica's crusade began with tragedy. When her 3-day-old daughter died of kidney failure, she and other mothers began documenting unexplained health problems in their neighborhood. They live near soybean fields that are constantly sprayed with chemicals. They convinced the government to investigate and research linked the pesticide to public health. Local laws now ban spraying near houses.

A native community in Alaska is trying to keep the arctic waters safe from oil drilling. Goldman prize winner Caroline Cannon says her people depend on the environment for their way of life and do not want a BP-type oil spill here. "There is no known technology how to clean an oil spill, especially in that harsh environment," she said. Caroline attended hundreds of industry meetings and was part of a lawsuit challenging oil and gas development. The court decision stopped all but one proposed lease. "It's not near over. It's still a struggle," she said.

That's a sentiment shared by all this year's winners: Fighting to protect the earth.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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