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"Great Collection of #KeepItInTheGround Leaders" Awarded This Year's Goldman Prize

The six recipients of the annual environmental award are from Chile, the Cook Islands, Liberia, Mongolia, North Macedonia, and the United States

The six recipients of this year's Goldman Environmental Prize were revealed Monday. (Photos: Goldman Environmental Foundation.)

From preserving marine biodiversity to protecting tropical forests from palm oil developers, the six recipients of a prestigious environmental award are "extraordinary individuals who have moved mountains to protect our planet."

"Each of them has selflessly stood up to stop injustice, become a leader when leadership was critical, and vanquished powerful adversaries who would desecrate our planet."
—Susie Gelman, Goldman Environmental Foundation

That's according to the Goldman Environmental Foundation, which for the past 30 years has honored grassroots activists from across the globe. This year's winners, described on Twitter by fellow activist Bill McKibben as "a great collection of #KeepItInTheGround leaders," were announced Monday.

Each of the six recipients hails from one of the world's inhabited continents.

Environmental lawyer Alfred Brownell is being recognized for his successful efforts to stop palm oil plantation developers from destroying forests vital to biodiversity in his home country of Liberia. For safety reasons—and after his government threatened to arrest Brownell for his activism—he now lives in exile in the United States.

Brownell told The Guardian about an encounter with private security guards in 2016.

"They threatened to cut off my head, to eat my heart, and drink out of my skull," Brownell said. "They began a war dance around the car. They were drinking and said they would cannibalize me."

Brownell added that receiving the honor has made him optimist about returning to Liberia in the future: "I hope this award will help change the minds of people in Liberia so we find more allies to speak to the government and the company. We need to find a way to engage with them so I can go home."

Bayarjargal Agvaantseren, of Mongolia, was selected for her work to establish the Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve in the South Gobi Desert—which is home to the snow leopard, a vulnerable species threatened by mining in the area. Due in part to pressure from Agvaantseren, the Mongolian government has canceled all mining licenses in the reserve.

Alberto Curamil—a Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous group—organized the people of Araucanía to block the construction of two hydroelectric projects that could have diverted more than 500 million gallons of water daily from the Cautín River, with dire consequences for the regional ecosystem. Curamil was arrested for his activism last year and remains in jail.

The first-ever recipient from North Macedonia, Ana Čolović Lešoska, campaigned against a pair of hydropower plants. The campaign she led convinced key international backers to pull their funding for the projects in the Mavrovo National Park, one of the last habitats for the endangered Balkan linx. She, too, has faced consequences for her activism.

"I've received death threats and warnings that I will be imprisoned," she told the The Guardian. "Newspaper articles have suggested we are aiding foreign governments just because the rivers we are protecting run to Albania."

Jacqueline Evans, of the Cook Islands, is also the first person from her country to receive the Goldman prize. Evans fought for legislation to restrict large-scale commercial fishing and seabed mining around her nation's 15 islands to safeguard south Pacific marine biodiversity—including whales, sea turtles, manta rays, seabirds, and sharks.

The North American recipient, Linda Garcia, was among the activists who blocked the construction of the continent's largest oil terminal, which was set to be built in Vancouver, Washington. Garcia organized residents of Fruit Valley, a racially diverse, low-income neighborhood whose air would have been impacted by the project.

"Each of them has selflessly stood up to stop injustice, become a leader when leadership was critical, and vanquished powerful adversaries who would desecrate our planet," Susie Gelman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement. "These are six ordinary, yet extraordinary, human beings who remind us that we all have a role in protecting the Earth."

The foundation planned an award ceremony in San Francisco for Monday evening featuring a speech from former Vice President Al Gore, a vocal environmental activist. The event will be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, with updates posted on social media using the hashtag #GoldmanPrize30. A second ceremony is scheduled for May 1 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

"Thirty years ago, when Richard and Rhoda Goldman started the Goldman Environmental Prize, the idea of celebrating grassroots environmentalists was a novel one," said Gore, a friend of the founders. "Today, thanks in large part to the Goldmans, the world recognizes just how important it is to honor and illuminate those who have shown courage in the face of environmental destruction."

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