Six grassroots environmental activists are being honored on Monday with the prestigious Goldman Prize, raising the visibility of their efforts and helping to continue their quests to defend the natural world.
This year's recipients, chosen by an international jury, hail from Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, India, Slovenia, and the United States, and have defended land rights, prevented pollution, exposed corruption, and beaten back environmentally destructive extractive industries. Like other Goldman laureates, former child soldier Rodrigue Katembo from the DRC has put his own life at risk defending the environment.
As a ranger in the renowned Virunga National Park, Katembo went undercover to expose the bribes British oil company SOCO and its contractors offered to achieve their goal of extracting oil from the park. Ensuing media overage of the corruption ultimately led to the company withdrawing its license.
Another of this year's recipients is Australian farmer Wendy Bowman. The 83-year-old turned down millions from an Chinese-owned company that sought to expand a coal mine, much of which would have been under her property. With her refusal, she torpedoed the expansion, thereby saving her whole community from further ravages of coal pollution.
And this year's winner from North America is mark! Lopez, whose East Los Angeles community knows well the impacts of the environmental injustice. Lopez helped spearhead an effort to get homes tested for lead—a harmful neurotoxin—and get remediation for homes that suffered decades of pollution at the hands of a battery smelter.
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The Stakes Have Never Been Higher.
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The new prizes are announced as the planet itself reels from climate change, while those who seek to defend it are putting their lives on the line. The independent organization Global Witness, for example, said that 2015 went down as the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, and March 2016 was when Honduran Indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres—who was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2015—was assassinated.
"As demand for products like minerals, timber, and palm oil continues, governments, companies, and criminal gangs are seizing land in defiance of the people who live on it," Global Witness campaign leader Billy Kyte said at the time. "Communities that take a stand are increasingly finding themselves in the firing line of companies' private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers. For every killing we document, many others go unreported. Governments must urgently intervene to stop this spiraling violence."
Still, the Goldman Foundation, which awards the prize, hopes that by recognizing these grassroots leaders' struggles and victories, others too will be moved to act.
"Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world," it states.
Tune in to the Goldman Prize's Facebook page beginning at 5:30pm PDT, Monday to watch a live-stream of the award ceremony.