The prize recipients are dealing with issues surrounding factory livestock farming in the United States, shark finning in Costa Rica, the protection of wilderness in Poland, sustainable agriculture in Cuba, conservation that focuses on human rights in Swaziland and wild elephant conservation in Cambodia.
"I am motivated and inspired by the courage of these leaders," said Goldman Prize founder Richard Goldman. "Their commitment to fighting for a better future illustrates the perseverance of the grassroots environmental movement around the world."
Back row from left: Lynn Henning, USA; Humberto Rios Labrada, Cuba; Randall Arauz, Costa Rica. Front row: Thuli Makama, Swaziland; Tuy Sereivathana, Cambodia; Malgorzata Gorska, Poland. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize)
The Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 21st year, is awarded annually to grassroots environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions and is the largest award of its kind with an individual cash prize of $150,000.
The winners will be awarded the Prize at an invitation-only ceremony this evening at the San Francisco Opera House. They also will be honored at a smaller ceremony on Wednesday at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
Among them will be Michigan family farmer Lynn Henning, who has exposed the polluting practices of concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFOs, gaining the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations.
With her husband, Henning farms 300 acres of corn and soybeans in Lenawee County within 10 miles of 12 CAFO facilities. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law live within 1,000 feet of a CAFO operation, and have both been diagnosed with hydrogen sulfide poisoning.
In 2000, Henning and other concerned neighbors formed Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan to bring the CAFOs to justice. Henning gathered information about CAFO pollution spills, driving a 125-mile circuit several times a week to track CAFO operations and take water samples.
She joined forces with the Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter as a volunteer Water Sentinel in 2001, and became a staff member in 2005. Working with a volunteer pilot and a photographer, Henning used satellite imagery and GPS coordinates to document polluted areas and waterways.
Henning and ECCSCM developed a body of data on CAFO operations beyond that of Michigan's own regulatory agencies. She brought her data and tools to state regulators, sharing her monitoring techniques and aerial documentation, as well as her findings on CAFO pollution. As a result, the state Department of Environmental Quality levied hundreds of citations against Michigan CAFOs for environmental violations.
In 2008, for the first time, the state agency denied a permit to a proposed CAFO facility, based largely on Henning's findings and recommendations of the local citizens group fighting the proposal. While a new permit was later granted, the community is appealing with Henning's support. Region 5 of the EPA, which serves Midwestern states, has incorporated Henning's techniques into its own CAFO investigations.
Henning has helped form a statewide committee of representatives of the state departments of agriculture and health, the DEQ and Michigan citizens groups charged with conducting a first assessment of the environmental impacts of CAFOs on public health.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently said her agency will more strictly enforce the Clean Water Act rules regulating CAFO waste.
As a result of her activism, Henning and her family have been subjected to harassment and intimidation. Her mailbox has been blown up, dead animals have been left on her front porch and she has been followed and run off the road while doing water quality monitoring.
This year's other Goldman Prize winners are:
Thuli Brilliance Makama, Swaziland
Thuli Makama, Swaziland's only public interest environmental attorney, won a landmark case to include environmental NGO representation in conservation decisions and continues to challenge the forced evictions and violence perpetrated against poverty-stricken communities living on the edges of conservation areas.
In April 2009, three years into the lawsuit, the High Court of Swaziland agreed with Makama and ruled that the Management Board of the Swaziland Environment Authority, as appointed by the minister of environment, was illegally constituted. The court's ruling ensures that environmental groups will now have a place on the Management Board, where they will be able to monitor the actions of the Environment Authority and include the legitimate perspective of the environmental justice movement in their deliberations.
Currently, important game protection laws in Swaziland are administered not by a government ministry, but by a private company, Big Game Parks, BGP, which owns and operates several game reserves and manages one of Swaziland's national parks.
In 1997, Swaziland's king, who holds absolute power, took administrative control of the Game Act, and amended it to allow BGP and its employees to serve as game rangers with immunity from prosecution for their actions so long as they are "protecting game." Over time, BGP has gradually taken charge of all enforcement of the Game Act. The company is not accountable to any government entity, but claims to act with authorization from the king.
Many people lived off of the land for generations before being evicted without proper compensation when BGP took over management of the conservation areas.
When Makama first visited these communities in 2004, she was struck by their desperation and hopelessness. The people, mostly uneducated, had no political power to speak out against BGP, and many feared retribution if they came forward with any allegations of violence.
Now, Makama and her organization, Yonge Nawe Environmental Action Group, are representing local peoples in court against BGP. Makama is calling for investigations into the acts of violence committed by BGP rangers and is attempting to get the courts to examine and declare as unconstitutional the part of the Game Act that shelters staff of this private company from prosecution.
Although first papers were filed with the court more than four years ago, a hearing date has yet to be scheduled for this case.
Tuy Sereivathana, Cambodia
Tuy Sereivathana worked to mitigate human elephant conflict in Cambodia by introducing innovative low-cost solutions, empowering local communities to cooperatively participate in endangered Asian elephant conservation.
As a ranger with Cambodia's national parks, Tuy worked throughout the country, connecting with rural communities and studying elephant migration and ecosystems.
Affectionately known as "Uncle Elephant," in 2003 Tuy assumed the role of Human Elephant Conflict Team Leader for the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group, a project co-sponsored by Fauna & Flora International, the Cambodian government and community organizations. Tuy later became full-time manager of the project in 2006.
In 2008, Tuy helped set up schools and brought teachers to the isolated communities dealing with human-elephant conflict. Success is evidenced by live elephants. In 2000, elephant killings due to crop raids were not uncommon. As a result of Tuy's involvement, there has not been a single confirmed elephant death due to human-elephant conflict since 2005.
Malgorzata Gorska, Poland
Malgorzata Gorska led the fight to protect Poland's Rospuda Valley, one of Europe's last true wilderness areas, from a controversial highway project that would have destroyed the region's sensitive ecosystems.
In 1996, developers began plans to route the Via Baltica Expressway through the Rospuda Valley, linking Helsinki to Warsaw. Scientists and conservationists believed the highway would irreparably damage the valley but they were opposed by the government that prioritized economic expansion over environmental protection.
A conservationist with the Polish Society for Protection of Birds, Gorska co-led a national campaign urging thousands of people to wear green ribbons to show their support for saving the Rospuda Valley.
Gorska and her coalition initiated a series of meetings with the European Commission about taking steps to block the highway construction on the grounds that Poland would violate Natura 2000 network regulations.
She played a leading role in preparing a complaint to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament about the expressway and arranged a trip for members of the Parliament, other NGOs and scientists to visit the Rospuda Valley.
As a result, the Petitions Committee prepared a report that was adopted by the European Parliament and presented to the EU that called for changing the Via Baltica route. A case was presented to the European Court of Justice, which called for an immediate halt to part of the expressway project that threatened the Rospuda Valley.
While the European Court of Justice considered the legality of the Rospuda route under European law, the Polish courts found that the project violated national laws and should not continue.
In March 2009, the Polish government announced it would not build the Via Baltica Expressway through the Rospuda Valley.
Gorska continued the campaign to halt construction of the expressway through other protected sites - the Knyszyn Primeval Forest, the Biebrza Marshes and the Augustow Primeval Forest.
On October 20, 2009, the Polish government agreed to reroute the whole controversial section of the expressway, sparing all these natural areas from destruction.
Humberto Rios Labrada, Cuba
A scientist and biodiversity researcher, Humberto Rios Labrada promoted sustainable agriculture by working with farmers to increase crop diversity and develop low-input agricultural systems that greatly reduce the need for pesticide and fertilizer, encouraging Cuba's shift away from agricultural chemical dependence.
As coordinator of the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences's Program for Local Agricultural Innovation, Rios develops Cuba's sustainable agriculture sector and has engaged in similar farmer-led biodiversity projects throughout Mexico.
Rios uses his music to engage communities in biodiversity, performing songs that celebrate sustainable agriculture. Recently, the government has called on Cubans to increase their food production throughout the country as a means for economic revitalization. Rios sees this as an opportunity to further expand his work.
Randall Arauz, Costa Rica
Drawing international attention to the inhumane and environmentally catastrophic shark finning industry, Randall Arauz led the campaign to halt the practice in Costa Rica, making his country the new international model for shark protection.
Arauz, a conservationist who founded the Association for the Restoration of Sea Turtles, PRETOMA, in 1997, has emerged as one of the world's leading voices working to ban shark finning. In 2003, Arauz exposed a Taiwanese ship illegally landing 30 tons of shark fins, amounting to the deaths of 30,000 sharks, late at night at a private dock in Puntarenas, using a secretly filmed videotape.
Arauz filed suit against the Fisheries Institute and the Customs and Public Transportation Ministries at the Constitutional Court, Costa Rica's highest court, for failing to abide by current customs law. In 2006, the court ruled in PRETOMA's favor.
Arauz has worked closely with the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Congress to urge the United Nations to ban shark finning and to stop all long-line fishing in the eastern Pacific's international waters. In 2007, the UN General Assembly approved language calling on nations to mandate that all shark fins be landed attached to the body of the shark, marking a major shift in policy and a huge victory for Arauz and other activists working to protect sharks globally.
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman. It has been awarded to 139 people from 79 countries.
Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals.
Previous Goldman Prize winners have been at the center of some of the world's most pressing environmental challenges, including seeking justice for victims of environmental disasters at Love Canal and Bhopal, India; leading the fight for dolphin-safe tuna and fighting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Since receiving a Goldman Prize, eight winners have been appointed or elected to national office in their countries, including several who became ministers of the environment. The 1991 Goldman Prize winner for Africa, Wangari Maathai, won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.