Call it the green Nobels: Tonight in the San Francisco Opera House, six people will each receive a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for their efforts to protect sharks and elephants, to promote sustainable agriculture, and to fight for other green causes.
The awards go out by region. Here in North America, the winner was Michigan’s Lynn Henning, a self-described “redneck from Michigan” who investigated huge factory farms there. Henning, 52, began testing water herself to track discharges from the farms into local waters. She has been threatened and sued and had dead animals dumped on her porch. But her tireless detective work has contributed to the state closing one factory farm and fining others more than $400,000 for 1,077 violations since 2000 [Detroit Free Press]. As Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality suffered staff cuts, Henning’s determination kept regulators focused, former department head Steve Chester says.
South and Central America’s winner, Randall Arauz of Costa Rica, turned his attention to stopping the wasteful practice of shark finning. Arauz used a secretly recorded video to expose a ship illegally landing 30 tons of shark fins, which led to the death of an estimated 30,000 sharks. The video caused outrage in Costa Rica, which Arauz used to mobilize opposition [San Francisco Chronicle]. The Costa Rican government banned the practice, and its rules are now the model for those trying to work up international agreements against shark finning. (Worldwide restrictions were just shot down at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.)
The other winners:
In Europe, Malgorzata Gorska of Poland, who stopped a highway project that would have cut through a forest.
In Asia, Sereivathana Tuy of Cambodia, who taught farmers how to ward of wandering Asian elephants rather than kill them.
In Africa, Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland. This environmental lawyer won a fight for local residents to have more say in environmental decisions by the government, especially those regarding the expansions of game parks that would force people off the land.
And for island nations, Cuban Humberto Rios Labrada, who pushed for more crop diversity and less pesticide use in Cuban agriculture.
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Seven grassroots activists who fought powerful polluting industries and often stood up to intimidation are now receiving rewards and recognition: They’re winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, sometimes called the environmental Nobel Prize. Each year winners are chosen from the six inhabited continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America [USA Today]. Each winner receives a $150,000 purse.
The winner from North America, Maria Gunnoe, took her stand against coal mining companies in Appalachia, where companies commonly blast the tops of mountains apart to expose hard-to-reach coal seams, and dump the debris in the valleys. “I never even knew I was an environmentalist,” Gunnoe, who lives in southwestern West Virginia, said with a chuckle. Though raised to mind her own business, she was also taught to fight when attacked. That’s how she sees the destruction of her gardens and orchard…. Gunnoe’s home sits below a valley fill and has been flooded with coal waste seven times since 2000 [AP].
Gunroe says she has received numerous threats from miners angered by her opposition the coal industry; after she helped convince a judge in 2007 to shut down an operator working without a legal permit, a “wanted” poster printed with her face hung in local stores until the FBI demanded its removal [Mercury News].