“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
– Edward Everett Hale
By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
We’re always hearing about how one person can make a difference. We get this message from motivational speakers, and quotes like the one above that I ripped from GoodReads.
But every now and then, we see that one person really does have the power to bring change.
The Goldman Environmental Prize Awards prove it each year by singling out unsung environmental heroes from around the globe for special recognition and a cash prize. This year’s six winners, each from a different continent, all single-handedly wrestled with the status quo to take actions that restored the land, stopped polluters, saved the air and improved life for their fellow citizens.
Here, excerpted from from the Goldman Foundation’s announcement, are brief profiles of these grassroots heroes. Notice that none of them let what they couldn’t do get in the way of what they could.
JONATHAN DEAL, South Africa
With no prior experience in grassroots organizing, Jonathan Deal led a successful campaign against fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region treasured for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife. A dry, desert-like rural area the Karoo boasts the richest diversity of succulents on earth, and is home to many unique species of lizards, tortoises, scorpions and the riverine rabbit—one of Africa’s most endangered mammals.
AZZAM ALWASH, Iraq
Giving up a comfortable living in California, Azzam Alwash returned to war-torn Iraq to lead local communities in restoring the once-lush marshes that were turned to dust bowls during Saddam Hussein’s rule. These marshlands between the Euphrates and Tigris River comprise the cradle of civilization, and to some, the Garden of Eden. Now nearly half of the area has been restored to wetlands, and the descendants of the Sumerians have resumed life there.
ROSSANO ERCOLINI, Italy
An elementary school teacher, Rossano Ercolini began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town that grew into a national Zero Waste movement. Ercolini began at ground-level, organizing town hall meetings in his village, Capannori—the capital of Italy’s paper mill industry — to educate residents about how recycling could reduce waste and the need for more polluting incinerators.
ALETA BAUN, Indonesia
By organizing hundreds of local villagers to peacefully occupy marble mining sites in “weaving protests,” Aleta Baun stopped the destruction of sacred forestland on Mutis Mountain on the island of Timor.
Known to villagers as “Mama Aleta,” Baun traveled to remote villages to spread the word about the threat from the marble mining, which could have ruined water supplies for the villages and increased landslides.
Her work angered mining interests and local authorities, and an assassination attempt was made on her life, forcing her into hiding. Other villagers were beaten and arrested. Still the movement grew and forced back the mining plans after 150 women held a year-long “weaving occupation” at the site of the marble rocks.
KIMBERLY WASSERMAN, USA
Kimberly Wasserman led local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants — and is now transforming Chicago’s old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.
Wasserman grew up in an area known as Little Village, a mostly Latino neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side, near the aging, notoriously dirty Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants. After her baby suffered an asthma attack in 1998, she began organizing the community to fight back against the air pollution and coal dust that settled on their homes.
NOHRA PADILLA, Colombia
Unfazed by powerful political opponents and a pervasive culture of violence, Nohra Padilla organized Colombia’s marginalized waste pickers to make recycling a legitimate part of waste management. Padilla grew up recycling. It was how her family, with 12 kids, made ends meet. She put her experience to work as an adult, helping Columbia’s scores of informal recyclers organize so they could not be shut out of the waste management systemd in Bogota.
The cooperatives – the Association of Recyclers of Bogotá (ARB), an organization that represents the city’s 3,000 informal recyclers, and the National Association of Recyclers in Colombia (ANR), with 12,000 members — are helping assure that recycling remains a part of waste collection.
Each of the Goldman recipients will get $150,000 in prize money to continue their work and are honored at two ceremonies, one tonight in Washington D.C. and one this past Monday in San Francisco, where the foundation is based. The foundation praised the winners, who represent each of the inhabited continents, for their fearless approach to large environmental issues.
Find out more details about these not-so-ordinary environmentalists at the Goldman Environmental Foundation website.
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