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Goldman Environmental Prizes Honor Diverse Group of Activists

Picture of winners of Goldman Prize
Picture of winners of Goldman Prize
Deborah Block

A Catholic priest, a tribal leader and a mother were among the winners of this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.  The privately-sponsored award honors outstanding grassroots environmental activists from six different regions of the world. This year, the laureates are from the Philippines, Kenya, China, Russia, Argentina and the United States.

Kenyan Ikal Angelei is a hero to the people who live around Lake Turkana. She received a Goldman award for her efforts to halt construction of a dam on a river in neighboring Ethiopia that feeds the Kenyan lake.  Critics say the dam would harm the lake and prevent water access for people who live nearby.

“The biggest challenge was working with a community who are already having a lot of problems.  It’s hard when you’re talking about environmental rights,” Angelei said.

Angelei organized the Friends of Lake Turkana movement. Its campaign against the dam was successful, and the project has been halted - for now.

The Philippine island of Mindoro is home to tribes that live off of the land’s natural resources.  When a Norwegian company moved in to explore mining nickel, Edwin Gariguez said the mine's toxic waste would contaminate the island’s water and destroy the tropical forests. The Catholic priest began a movement to stop it.  

“Part of this mission, or calling, is really to be the voice of the voiceless.  So given the situation, we really need to take the challenge of leading the people against this destructive project,” Gariguez said.

His actions, including a hunger strike, spurred the government to revoke the company’s mining permit.

In China, Ma Jun is working with corporations to clean up their pollution.  The institute he founded has an online database and digital maps identifying factories that violate air and water regulations.

“And our idea is to give people access to this information on water quality, the amount of discharge, and also a whole list of companies that have been penalized for breaking the water standards,” Ma Jun said.

He hopes the public will use the information to try to stop violations.

Sofia Gatica is from a town in Argentina where the soybean fields are routinely sprayed with pesticides -- and the rate of cancer is high. Believing that exposure to pesticides led to her newborn's death, Gatica mobilized other mothers and obtained a ban on the use of agrochemicals near populated areas.

Evgenia Chirikova is demanding that a highway planned to cut through a protected forest in a Moscow suburb be re-routed. Although she and her followers have been arrested and detained, her campaign has gained widespread public support.

And Caroline Cannon, a community leader in Point Hope, Alaska, is fighting to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling.  She’s concerned an oil spill would endanger her coastal village and its abundant wildlife.

“There’s no technology on how to clean an oil spill out in the Arctic.  They have not done an actual cleanup in that kind of an environment,” Cannon said.

Cannon and the other Goldman Environmental Prize winners each received $150,000.  Cannon says some of the money will go to help her village.

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