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World’s bravest environmentalists
A Vietnam veteran fighting Pentagon plans to incinerate chemical weapons stockpiles, a man who tipped the United Nations to illegal logging in war-torn Liberia, and the person behind the creation of the world’s largest area of protected tropical rainforest are among the winners of this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
“These six winners are among the most important people you have not heard of before,” said Goldman Prize founder Richard N. Goldman. “All of them have fought, often alone and at great personal risk, to protect the environment in their home countries. Their incredible achievements are an inspiration to all of us.”
The $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 17th year, is awarded annually to six grassroots environmental heroes and is the largest award of its kind in the world. The winners were awarded the prize on April 24 in San Francisco.
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1990 by San Francisco civic leader and philanthropist Richard N. Goldman and his late wife, Rhoda H. Goldman. It has been awarded to 113 people from 67 countries. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals.
Previous Prize winners have been at the center of some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, including justice for victims of environmental disasters at Love Canal and Bhopal, India; the fight for dolphin-safe tuna; oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and Monsanto’s role in introducing the milk-stimulating hormone rBGH into the dairy industry.
Eight Goldman Prize winners have been appointed or elected to national office in their countries, including several who became ministers of the environment. The 1991 Prize winner for Africa, Wangari Maathai, won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.
This year’s winners:
Craig E. Williams, Kentucky: Williams convinced the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate old chemical weapons stockpiled around the US, and has built a nationwide grassroots coalition to lobby for safe disposal solutions. Williams co-founded the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its international campaign to ban land mines.
Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, Liberia: Siakor exposed evidence that former Liberian President Charles Taylor used profits of unchecked, rampant logging to pay the costs of a brutal 14-year war. Such evidence – collected at great personal risk to Siakor – led the United Nations Security Council to ban the export of Liberian timber, part of wider trade sanctions that remain in place today.
Yu Xiaogang, China: Yu spent years creating groundbreaking watershed management programs while researching and documenting the socioeconomic impact of dams on Chinese communities. His reports are considered a primary reason that the central government paid additional restitution to villagers displaced by existing dams and now considers social impact assessments for major dam developments.
Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva, Brazil: Feitosa led efforts to create the world’s largest area of protected tropical forest regions in a remote, lawless region in northern Brazil threatened by illegal logging. Despite death threats, Feitosa worked with local organizations to create protected lands for local residents and exposed illegal logging activities to the Brazilian government.
Olya Melen, Ukraine: Melen, a lawyer, used legal channels to halt construction of a massive canal that would have cut through the heart of the Danube Delta, one of the world’s most valuable wetlands. For her efforts, she was denounced by the notoriously corrupt and lawless pre-Orange Revolution government.
Anne Kajir, Papua New Guinea: Kajir uncovered evidence of widespread corruption and complicity in the Papua New Guinea government, which allowed rampant, illegal logging that is destroying the largest remaining intact block of tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. In 1997, her first year practicing law, Kajir successfully defended a precedent-setting appeal in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea that forced the logging interests to pay damages to indigenous land owners.
Major General Kahinda Otafiire, the Ugandan minister of water, lands, and environment, recently ordered all structures built in Uganda’s wetlands to be demolished, with a few exceptions.
“We are going to restore these wetlands in 30 days. This time we are not compromising over anyone, whether it’s the residence of a minister or MP (member of parliament), it will be destroyed,” he stated.
Loss of wetlands
forces wild birds to seek refuge in farm ponds, thus resulting in
direct contact with domesticated fowl. This intermingling of species
has been linked to a spread in avian influenza.
— Allafrica.com, 4/27
Uganda’s Health Minister Jim Muhwezi announced his government’s intention to begin spraying DDT in an effort to combat malaria. The government is convinced that DDT poses no environmental threat.
“We are preparing to use DDT very soon. We are convinced that there is no environmental threat posed by he use of DDT. The threat was merely political. There is no scientific evidence showing that DDT is an environmental threat,” he said.
In the US, the peregrine
falcon, the bald eagle, and the brown pelican once faced extinction due
to the widespread use of DDT. The US ban of DDT in 1972 is seen as
directly responsible for the recovery of those bird species. Russell
Train, chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund says, “The banning
of DDT was one of the most important legal victories ever won for
— Allafrica.com, 4/27
The city of Cape Town will pursue a civil suit against a 36-year-old British tourist who started a fire on Table Mountain in January 2006. He was seen tossing a cigarette butt out a car window.
claim against Anthony Cooper is successful, the settlement will be used
to pay for preventive measures to reduce risks of flooding and
mudslides, which are common in areas that have been devastated by fire.
— Allafrica.com, 4/27
World Bank collared
Several Nigerian communities filed a formal claim in late April with the inspection panel of the World Bank in Washington alleging damages caused by the West African Gas Pipeline. The Pipeline is a 425-mile onshore and offshore pipeline that will transport natural gas from fields in the Western Niger Delta to the Benin Republic, Togo, and Ghana. The pipeline consortium, led by Royal Dutch Shell and including ChevronTexaco, obtained financial guarantees from the World Bank Group and is being considered for support by the European Investment Bank.
The 12 Nigerian communities claim that the World Bank’s due diligence on the pipeline project, led by oil giants ChevronTexaco and Shell, was deeply flawed. The claim, filed by the Association of Host Communities in Lagos State, asserts that the World Bank’s policies on project supervision, resettlement, environmental assessment, and economic evaluation have been violated. It also decries the project’s lack of local jobs, its contribution to climate change, and its inability to end dangerous gas flaring.
“In Nigeria, oil and gas are at the
heart of severe conflicts,”says Asume Osuoka of Environmental Rights
Action and Friends of the Earth Nigeria. “Not applying social and
environmental policies, as the World Bank did, is a recipe for
disaster. Local people are now calling on the Inspection Panel and the
international community to resolve the grave problems caused by the
— Friends of the Earth, 4/20
Putin boots pipeline route
Under unprecedented pressure from local residents, Russian President Vladimir Putin is demanding that the route of the planned Siberia-Pacific pipeline be moved further from Lake Baikal. Putin cited environmental concerns in mandating that the Siberia-Pacific Pipeline be moved at least 40 kilometers further from Baikal.
Putin asked the president of Transneft, the Russian pipeline company, if it was technically possible to route the pipeline further north of the lake. Transneft President Semyon Vainshtok answered, “You have put me in a corner.” Noticeably miffed by Vainshtok’s response, Putin responded, “If you hesitate, it means that it is a possibility,” and demanded that the route be reworked.
Environmentalists, indigenous leaders, and
community activists from the Baikal region have been campaigning for
over a year to protect Baikal – the world’s deepest freshwater lake –
from the pipeline. Today’s announcement was an acknowledgement of the
wave of public support for Baikal: Over 5,000 people participated in a
protest in Irkutsk on March 18; “flash mob” actions attracted the
attention of the Irkutsk administration; more than 20,000 signatures
were collected online and delivered to the Kremlin by mail; and major
figures including poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko spoke out on behalf of
— Pacific Environment, 4/26
Taking Oz by storm
Australia’s cyclone season is traditionally over in April, but forecasters were still wary of more storms in May. The unusually strong storms characterizing this year’s season have been moving toward a crescendo, with Category 4 Cyclone Larry in mid-March, followed by Category 5 Cyclone Glenda in late March and Category 5 Cyclone Monica in late April. Monica may have had the lowest barometric pressure of any recorded storm.
Coastal residents in Australia and other South Pacific nations are worried about the change in weather patterns. In recent decades, the total number of severe tropical cyclones with wind speed at 64 knots or more – the equivalent of northern hemisphere hurricanes – has actually declined in the region. In the same time, cyclone numbers have risen in the northwestern Pacific and North Atlantic, and have stayed about the same in the Indian Ocean and other parts of the Pacific.
The US NOAA opines that global climate change will probably not increase the number of hurricanes in the world, but MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel published an article in Nature in July 2005 stating that hurricanes’ destructive force “is highly correlated with tropical sea surface temperature, reflecting well-documented climate signals, including multidecadal oscillations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific, and global warming,” and predicting “a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the twenty-first century.” Another article in September 2005’s Science noted that over the last 35 years, a steadily increasing number of such storms have reached categories 4 and 5 strength, especially in the north and southwest Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Damage from the five severe cyclones that hit
Australia this season was reduced because they made landfall in the sparsely populated north, but was still estimated in billions of dollars.
— Reuters, 4/16; BBC News, 5/10
Twenty years after
Chernobyl, the most significant nuclear accident in history, took place on April 26, 1986. Twenty years later, the accident has left many unanswered questions about its impact on human health, the environment, and the socio-economic sector.
To provide some answers, the NGO GreenFacts published a report, “Chernobyl’s Legacy,” in March 2006.
The accident contaminated large parts of Europe with radioactive materials. The greatest contamination occurred around the reactor in areas that are now part of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
About 50 people – most of them emergency workers – are known to have died of either acute radiation syndrome or cancer as a direct consequence of the accident. A considerable increase in thyroid cancer has been observed especially among local children, though the survival rate has been high. In the long term, the report estimates that the accident might lead to about 4,000 cancer deaths among the 600,000 most exposed people. However, estimations are difficult because those who have been exposed to radiation often die from the same causes as unexposed people.
report indicates that many people were traumatized by the accident and
the rapid relocation that followed. They remain anxious about their
health, perceiving themselves as helpless victims rather than as
— GreenFacts, 4/23
Soil no silver bullet
Plants’ ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in the soil is limited, report researchers at the University of California Davis, Northern Arizona University, and in the Netherlands. The findings challenge assessments and model projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that have anticipated increases in soil carbon with rising carbon dioxide.
“Future carbon storage by land ecosystems may be smaller than previously thought, and therefore less of a solution to global warming,” said UC Davis’ Johan Six, a study co-author.
“Our paper shows that in order for soils to lock away more carbon dioxide as carbon, there has to be quite a bit of extra nitrogen available – far more than what is normally available in most ecosystems,” said Northern Arizona University’s Bruce Hungate.
Many plants can move nitrogen from the air into soils, and some researchers expected rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to speed up this natural nitrogen pump. But the studies analyzed in this paper revealed that this process, called nitrogen fixation, cannot keep up with increasing carbon dioxide unless other essential nutrients, such as potassium, phosphorus, and molybdenum, are added as fertilizers.
The researchers acknowledge that plants do play a role in mitigating global warming, with about half of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere stored, at least temporarily, by ecosystems.
“But soils of non-managed ecosystems
appear to have a limited and diminished capacity to clean up excess
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Six. He stressed that reducing
reliance on fossil fuels is likely to be far more effective than
expecting natural ecosystems to absorb increasing levels of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere.
— UC Davis, 4/11
wet conditions early in the year mean that 2006 is shaping up as the
worst year for California’s butterflies in almost four decades,
according to UC Davis’ Art Shapiro.
That’s a turnaround from last spring, when millions of painted lady butterflies migrated through the state. But other species have seen steep declines in recent years and could disappear from the region altogether.
“It has been the worst spring for butterflies of my 35 in California,” Shapiro said. “There will probably be long-term repercussions, especially for species already in serious decline.”
— UC Davis, 5/8
Activists protested Wells Fargo’s socially and environmentally destructive investments at the company’s annual general meeting of shareholders in San Francisco. Protesters outside the meeting used giant puppets and banners to highlight Wells Fargo’s investments in oil and coal companies infamous for environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and bad practices like predatory lending in poor communities. Shareholders inside the meeting called on Wells Fargo to follow the lead of its peers in the financial sector and stop investing in destructive oil, coal, logging, and mining operations and move toward industry best practices on the environment and human rights.
With $435 billion in assets and over 23 million customers, Wells Fargo is the largest US-based bank still operating without comprehensive guidelines to govern its investment practices and corporate conduct on a broad range of urgent environmental and social issues. Wells Fargo supports clear-cutting and mountaintop removal mining from Ecuador to Alaska to West Virginia.
While the company released a 10-point
environmental plan (significantly weaker than the industry’s best and
riddled with loopholes), it has invested millions of dollars in Massey
Energy – currently under fire for destroying Appalachian communities
with mountaintop coal removal – and funded an industry front group that
is trying to put roads though roadless areas in Alaska’s valuable
Tongass National Forest.
— Rainforest Action Network, 4/25
Bonfire of the manatees
Thousands of acres of Florida caught fire during April and May, causing at least four human fatalities by way of auto accidents on smoke-shrouded highways. The fires prompted Governor eb Bush to declare a state of emergency on May 9 and place the National Guard on standby alert.
Six thousand acres of Brevard Country had burned for two weeks by May 9, in one of three huge fires and about 20 smaller ones incinerating forests, grasslands, and brush across the state.
Thousands of Floridians have been evacuated at least temporarily due to the fires. Officials hope the onset of rain in June will douse the burns. But John Saddler, a Florida Division of Forestry fire manager, told Reuters that conditions were so dry that it “would take a significant amount of rain to make a difference.”
Both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have
been hit hard. The two north-south Interstate highways, I-95 and I-75,
have been shut down at times this spring due to fires and smoke.
— Reuters, 5/9
The negative impacts of the paper pulp industry in South America came under the spotlight during an alternative gathering held in parallel to the May 12 European Union – Latin America and Caribbean Heads of State Summit in Vienna.
Participants in the May 10–11 alternative summit held a “People’s Tribunal on Human Rights violations” by European corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Four European companies were summoned to the Tribunal: Norwegian-Brazilian Aracruz Celulose, Finnish Metsä Botnia and Spanish ENCE for bad practices at their pulp mills in Latin America, along with Austrian Andritz AG for supplying pulp machinery for the projects. Pulping has led to deforestation, pollution, and increased concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few corporations, all of which has displaced rural populations and family farmers.
“The establishment of forest
monocultures for the production of cellulose in South American
countries has had serious social and environmental impacts in Brazil,
Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay,” says Carlos Santos of Friends of the
— FOEI, 5/10