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Blog: Mother Earth Heals
by Liora Leah

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Environmental Heros

The Goldman Prize is the world's largest prize honoring grassroots environmentalists. Here are profiles of the six 2012 winners from all over the world, environmental heroes all.

Date:   4/20/2012 2:43:41 AM   ( 29 mon ) ... viewed 1725 times

Africa/Kenya: Ikal Angelei

Risking her life, Ikal Angelei is fighting the construction of the massive Gibe 3 Dam that would block access to water for indigenous communities around Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake.

Outraged at the fact that plans were moving forward without any consultation from local communities, Angelei founded the group Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT) in 2008. Angelei brought together Lake Turkana’s indigenous communities and informed them about the project and its implications. Tribes issued a “Lake Turkana People’s Declaration” stating that they had given FoLT the mandate to communicate their grievances regarding the dam.

In response to Angelei’s advocacy, in August 2011, the Kenyan Parliament passed a unanimous resolution for the Kenyan government to demand an independent environmental assessment from Ethiopia. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee passed a resolution to halt dam construction until further investigation. Angelei successfully convinced major banks, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank, to withdraw their considerations for financing of the Gibe 3 Dam.

Read more about Ikal Angelei:

Asia/China: Ma Jun

Ma Jun is working with corporations to clean up their practices with an online database and digital map that show which factories are violating environmental regulations across China.

Ma Jun and his team discovered that multinational corporations, with manufacturing and sourcing operations in China, contributed a significant amount to China's severe pollution problems. While they all make promises of clean production, transparency and accountability at home, many multinationals, including Apple, often fall short on these claims overseas.

Ma Jun is now working collaboratively with major brands such as Wal-Mart, Nike, GE, Coca Cola, Siemens, Vodafone, H&M, Adidas, Sony, Unilever, Levi’s and Lenovo. Since September 2011, after Ma Jun’s “Poison Apple” campaign to bring public awareness to Apples’ refusal to come clean about their Chinese manufacturing sources polluting practices, Apples has agreed to to drive its suppliers to clean up their practices. Ma Jun and his partners continue to communicate with Apple representatives on a regular basis.

Read more about Ma Jun:

Europe/Russia:  Evgenia Chirikova

In the face of rampant political corruption, Evgenia Chirikova is mobilizing her fellow Russian citizens to reroute a highway that would bisect Moscow’s protected Khimki Forest.

Khimki Forest in Moscow is one of the region’s last old growth forests and comprises 2,500 acres of federally protected parkland. In 2007 the Russian government planned to construct a highway that would bisect the forest, ignoring alternatives that would have left the forest intact. Government corruption included altering the forest’s protected status to allow for “transport and infrastructure” and awarding an $8 billion construction contract to a company whose Russian investment partners included a long-time friend and supporter of Russia’s Prime Minister Putin.

Evgenia Chirikova formed the group Defend Khimki Forest and began organizing public opposition to the highway project. She succeeded in garnering widespread support from a diverse range of interest groups and convinced the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank to withdraw their funding, citing environmental, social and financial concerns about the project. Despite violent government repression, including beatings of supporters and a murder attempt on a colleague, multiple arrests, and false accusations of being an American spy and neglecting/mistreating her children, Chirikova and her colleagues continue to fight for an alternative route and a halt to the Khimki Forest destruction.

Read more about Evgenia Chirikova:



Islands/Phillipines: Edwin Gariguez

A Catholic priest, Father Edwin Gariguez is leading a grassroots movement against a large-scale nickel mine to protect Mindoro Island’s biodiversity and its indigenous people.

In the late 1990s, Norwegian mining company Intex proposed building an open-pit nickel mine on the ancestral lands of the indigenous Mangyan communities of Mindoro, an island in the Philippines. The acid leaching process would produce several million tons of toxic waste, contaminating the island’s water resources and destroying the tropical forests. Despite broad public opposition to the mine and extensive federal laws in place to protect against mining in watersheds and indigenous areas, the permit was granted by the Philippine government. Gariguez co-founded the Alliance Against Mining (ALAMIN), uniting thousands of indigenous peoples, farmers and local and provincial political leaders.

In 2002, the local government passed an island-wide moratorium that required Intex to stop any activities related to large-scale mining but Intex continued business as usual. Gariguez traveled to Norway and filed a complaint; Intex shareholders began asking questions about the mine while Gariguez put pressure on his own government. In 2009 the federal Department of Environment and Natural Resources conducted an investigation then indefinitely revoked Intex’s mining permit, halting the mine. Major funders divested their funding; Intex attempted to sell the $2.4 billion project in 2010 but were unsuccessful. The Philippines’ new president, who took office in June 2010, has stated that he will fight corruption and take a comprehensive look at mining. Father Gariguez sustains pressure on the government to follow through with its pledges.  

Read more about Edwin Gariguez:


North America/U.S.A: Caroline Cannon

Caroline Cannon is bringing the voice and perspective of her Inupiat community in Point Hope to the battle to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling.

The Inupiat people depend on Arctic marine life off Alaska’s north coast for the survival of their traditional culture as their ancestors have done for millennia. Over the last few years there has been a push to open up Arctic waters to oil and gas development. Caroline Cannon is the voice of the Inupiat community in a federal lawsuit that challenged the 2007-2012 federal plan for offshore oil and gas develoment. She attended hundreds of industry meetings and federal summits in Washington D.C. representing the Inupiat’s concerns and sharing her deep traditional knowledge of the Arctic marine environment.

In 2009 a federal court ruled that the proposed oil and gas leases failed to consider the significant impacts to the region’s marine environment. The court’s decision stopped all but one of the proposed major leases. Cannon is now challenging that lease in federal court. Cannon continues to stand up against both industry and government during this election year, amid growing pressure to support domestic energy development and create new jobs. She and her environmental partners are galvanizing public opposition to provisions in the 2012-2017 federal plan that will allow Shell Oil to drill several exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea.

Read more about Caroline Cannon:


South America/Argentina: Sofia Gatica

A mother whose infant died as a result of pesticide poisoning, Sofia Gatica is organizing local women to stop the indiscriminate spraying of toxic agrochemicals in neighboring soy fields.

Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of soybeans. Every year, the agricultural industry spreads over 50 million gallons of agro-toxins—glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, and endosulfan—through aerial spraying over farmland. Thirteen years ago, Sofía Gatica gave birth to a daughter who died three days later from kidney failure. Gatica began talking to her neighbors in Ituzaingó, a neighborhood in central Argentina surrounded by soy fields; they founded the Mothers of Ituzaingó and conducted the first epidemiological study of the area. The women discovered that pesticide spraying caused cancer rates that were 41 times the national average as well as high rates of neurological and respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infant mortality.  The Mothers of Ituzaingó brought together environmental groups in Argentina to launch a “Stop Spraying” campaign.

In 2008, the president of Argentina ordered an investigation of pesticide use in Ituzaingó; a resulting study conducted by the Department of Medicine at Buenos Aires University corroborated the mothers’ research on the ill health effects of pesticides. A municipal ordinance was passed prohibiting aerial spraying in Ituzaingó within 2,500 meters from residences. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling banned agrochemical spraying near populated areas, and reversed the burden of proof—instead of residents proving that spraying causes harm, the government and soy producers must now prove the chemicals are safe.  Argentina’s ban on endosulfan goes into effect July 2013; Gatica is now working towards a nationwide ban on glyphosate as well as a ban on all aerial agrochemical spraying in Argentina. 

Addendum: While Monsanto claims there is no risk to humans, a 2008 scientific study found that even at low concentrations, glyphosate causes the death of human embryonic, placental and umbilical cells. Endosulfan is a highly toxic pesticide that has been banned in 80 countries because of its threats to human health and the environment. In May 2011, it was added to the UN list of persistent organic pollutants to be eliminated worldwide.

Read more about Sofia Gatica:

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