The Goldman Foundation Recognizes Environmental Activists
"Some well-respected scientists are worried. They cite studies which show injecting cows with BGH changes the milk we drink and that it contains a higher level of another hormone believed to promote cancer in humans."
This sentence never made it into the Fox news broadcast that investigative journalist team Jane Akre and Steve Wilson prepared for WTVT television in Tampa, Florida. Also left out were details of exactly how artificial bovine growth hormone (rBGH) works to increase the milk production of dairy cows, potentially imperiling human and animal health. Fox pulled the original story—which examined the use of rBGH by Florida dairy farms—after receiving a threatening letter from the hormone’s manufacturer, Monsanto.
Several months and some 70 edited versions of the still-unbroadcast story later, Akre and Wilson were offered $250,000 to leave the station quietly. They declined, were fired and promptly filed suit. In August, a Tampa court awarded Akre $425,000 for being terminated in her attempt to blow the whistle. (Fox is appealing.) In April, the Goldman Environmental Foundation awarded them both the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Each year, the Prize is bestowed on six people—one from each of the six continental regions—who have truly championed an environmental cause. Recipients are nominated by a network of environmental organizations for their inspiring acts, which frequently involve great personal risk, toward preserving planetary health. A prestigious prize, $125,000 and international recognition by a grateful grassroots community are their rewards.
For 2001, Akre and Wilson are joined by the following winners:
Giorgos Catsadorakis and Myrsini Malakou
In February of 2000, the biologically rich wetlands of Pr?spa, in northwestern Greece, received some very promising news. Thanks to groundwork laid by biologists Catsadorakis and Malakou, the prime ministers of Albania, Macedonia and Greece signed an agreement for wetlands conservation that established the entire Pr?spa region as the first transnationally protected area in the Balkans. Years of single-crop cultivation had degraded the wetlands, which are habitat for 1,500 plant species, 17 species of fish and animals such as otters, wolves and bears. They also are used as a stopover for 260 species of birds. Building bridges with local communities, Catsadorakis and Malakou helped expand organic farming techniques, created an education center and introduced a pilot program using water buffalo to control the reeds. Peaceful collaboration among the three countries with a history of conflict is an important step toward their continued restoration.
Despite being detained and tortured by Indonesian soldiers and arrested by West Papua police, Yosefa Alomang continues to organize indigenous women against the large-scale mining that threatens their culture, environment and health. The world’s largest gold mine, run by the American company Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold, was built in West Papua, Indonesia, without the consultation of the Amungme and other indigenous peoples on lands they consider sacred. In 30 years, the operation, stretching from the mangrove-fringed coast to alpine highlands, has removed more than 1,500 feet of mountaintop, dumped 85 percent of the mined rock into Ajkwa River, and created heavy metal pollution, dam collapses and other watershed problems. Alomang has served as the Amungme spokesperson in the first major negotiation between the Freeport CEO and local peoples, and she has filed suit against the company in U.S. courts. More than 600 women have joined her local womens" organization, through which she fosters health, education and sustainable economic development projects.
Political and ethnic conflicts have long riddled Rwanda’s history, complicated further by the country’s extreme poverty, frequent droughts and regional instability. Eug?ne Rutagarama has worked within this chaotic atmosphere to stabilize the national park system, home to the mountain gorilla, one of the world’s most endangered primates. As second in command of the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks, Rutagarama created and directed a strategic plan to rehabilitate the agency and protect the reserves, which were compromised by years of war and the government’s task to resettle more than two million people. Now, through the International Gorilla Conservation Program, he is working to involve communities and redevelop an ecotourism industry devastated by violent acts. He has risked violence many times himself, travelling to unsafe rebel-held territories to reinforce park managers and field staff and build a stronger framework for conservation with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In his role as executive secretary of the Cochabamba Federation of Factory Workers and spokesperson of the cross-sector Coalition in Defense of Water and Life, Olivera led his city’s people in their struggle against privatization of their water supply. In 1999, the Bolivian government sold Cochabamba’s public water system to a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation, which immediately raised water prices by more than 35 percent. The World Bank barred its loans from subsidizing water services to the poor, who were suddenly faced with the purchase of permits for rainwater gathering and access to community wells. Olivera was forced into hiding while the government declared martial law. It cracked down on protests, outlawed public gatherings and censored the media. Other Coalition leaders were taken to remote jungle jails; Olivera emerged to direct negotiations with the government, and last April, the contract with Bechtel was canceled. He continues to strive for a workable solution to the water shortage crisis.
Bruno Van Peteghem
Spearheading advocacy efforts to place the world’s second-largest reef system on the World Heritage List of protected places is Bruno Van Peteghem. Only the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the network of coral that sits offshore of New Caledonia, a French territory located in the South Pacific just east of Australia. It supports 3,400 plant species, three-quarters of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Van Peteghem faces opposition from the International Nickel Company of Canada (INCO), currently setting up operations on the island, as well as numerous other multinational mining companies and the pro-development New Caledonian government. No environmental laws exist to prevent INCO from digging up large portions of the reef and using its calcium carbonate to neutralize the millions of tons of acidic mine tailings it will produce. Van Peteghem and the two organizations he co-founded lead a coalition of environmental groups and indigenous communities in the reef campaign.