It's not enough to just talk about the environment, because although raising awareness of environmental issues can be important, it's the folks with their feet on the ground that are doing the lion's share of the work to actually change things.
But all too often, the latest "earth-friendly" consumer goods get more exposure in the media than the people who devote their time and energy to building a better world, one project at a time.
To help recognize and support the efforts of these grassroots environmentalists, the Goldman Environmental Prize, founded in 1989 by San Francisco philanthropists Richard N. and Rhoda H. Goldman, is awarded each year to environmental heroes that are making a difference.
The recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize for this year are all engaged in inspiring projects across the globe, and will each receive $150,000 to continue to pursue their vision:
Azzam Alwash, Iraq: The Mesopotamian Marshlands (once thought of as the original Garden of Eden) had been drained, poisoned and set ablaze by Saddam Hussein and turned into dust bowls. But the work of Iraqi ex-patriot Alwash, who developed a master plan to restore the marshes, is changing that, and the marshlands are expected to become Iraq’s first-ever national park in the spring of 2013.
Kimberly Wasserman, U.S.A: For years, on Chicago’s southwest side, two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants (the Fisk and Crawford plants) sent pollution wafting over Little Village, a densely populated Latino neighborhood right nearby. After rushing her 3-month-old baby to the hospital when he started gasping for air, Wasserman found out that her son had suffered an asthma attack triggered by environmental pollution, and she spent the next 15 years working to get these power plants shut down. Both plants were retired ahead of schedule in 2012.
Rossano Ercolini, Italy: This elementary school teacher began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town, which led the recycling rate in Capannori to jump from just 11% to over 80%. Ercolini's efforts have led 121 other cities in Italy to embrace a Zero Waste strategy.
Aleta Baun, Western Timor, Indonesia: When mining operations threatened to destroy the way of life for villagers near Mutis Mountain, an area of rich biodiversity and the headwaters for all of West Timor’s major rivers, Aleta Baun organized hundreds of local village women to occupy the mining sites with "weaving protests". The four-year long "weaving occupation", in which they weaved their traditional cloth while occupying the sites, was successful in getting mining operations on Mutis Mountain to be discontinued.
Jonathan Deal, South Africa: This photographer led a successful campaign against fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region treasured for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife. Deal began organizing and educating residents on the dangers of fracking, countering the disinformation from oil companies, and eventualy convincing the South African government issue a moratorium. That moratorium has since been revoked, but Deal is campaigning again to fight oil companies proposing to use hydraulic fracturing in the region.
Nohra Padilla, Colombia: Padilla, a third generation waste-picker (recycler) in Colombia who organized other waste-pickers into cooperatives in order to provide safety, protection, dignity, and recognition. These cooperatives have now grown into large city-wide and national recycler associations and have succeeded in making recycling a legitimate, and even compensated, part of society in Colombia for the first time.
These women and men have taken on big projects, against all odds, and ended up making big changes in the world around them. Kudos to them, and may they continue to inspire and educate many more activists!