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Goldman awards environmental prize
to six international environmentalists

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger amongst key speakers

Photos by Jenifer Austin

By Aldrich M. Tan

April 25, 2006

Six international environmental activists received the Goldman Environmental Prize at a ceremony Monday evening at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.

Established in 1990 by Richard and Rhoda Goldman, the local-based organization annually recognizes six individuals for sustained and significant efforts to preserve the natural environment from six continental regions, master of ceremonies Kate Kelly said. The recipients will receive $125,000 as well as the honor of being among over 113 award recipients from 67 countries.

"These six winner are among the most important people you have not heard of before," founder Richard Goldman said. "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 us."

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the surprise keynote speakers for at the event to congratulate the recipients.

"These are the action heroes of our time and history will smile upon them," Schwarzenegger said.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Schwarzenegger mentioned his own state conservation efforts, including allocation of 25 million acres for conservation through the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the launching of a hydrogen highway plan for 200 fueling stations by the year 2010 as an alternative to fossil fuels, and the creation of a million solar roofs on residential and commercial buildings which would take 3 million tons of greenhouse gases out o the air, equal to taking a million cars off the road.

"I am working towards building a better and cleaner future for California," Schwarzenegger said.

2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai was another keynote speaker at the event. Maathai said it was her first time coming back to the event since she received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1991 for launching the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots tree-planting project composed mainly of women working to curtail deforestation and desertification in Kenya.

Wangari Maathai

"Tonight we honor individuals who recognize that the environment needs to be managed through sustainable means," Maathai said. "The only way we can do that is if we govern ourselves responsibly."

Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor of Monrovia, Liberia is this year's Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Africa. As the Director of the Sustainable Development Institute, Siakor exposed mass lumbering violations by former President Charles Taylor which led to the United Nations Security Council to ban the export of Liberian timber.

Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor

"We cannot allow multinational corporations to destroy our forest," Siakor said. "When they tear down the trees and strip away the land, they tear down the people and strip away their lives,"

This year's Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Islands and Island Nations went to Annie Kajir of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Kajir, an attorney for the Environmental Law Center, defends aboriginal land rights and spearheaded the case against lead logging company Ribunan Hijau for using illegal land permits in the country's western province.

"How can it be called development when the land is raped for the profit of few?" Kajir said. "We must make a consorted effort to rescue this land for its biodiversity and cultural diversity and make sure that it is handed down intact to the next generation."

Yu Xiaogang, director of the Green Watershed program in Kunming, China, is the Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Asia. Xiaogang developed groundbreaking watershed management program for Lashi Lake. He helped persuade the Chinese government to delay the development of dams on the Nu River and has been instrumental in making sure that the government makes social impact assessments when planning major developments.

Yu Xiaogang

"Protecting the environment is the only path for truly sustainable development in China." Xiaogang said.

Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva of Altamira, Brazil, led a successful campaign to protect 240,000 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest and exposed illegal logging activities to the Brazilian government despite many death threats. Feitosa is the Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for South and Central America.

Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva

"722 people have been brutally murdered for protecting the forest," Feitosa said, "The crimes remain unpunished, but we have hope for justice because we know that the land is really our land no matter how much we are threatened."

Olya Melen, an attorney at the Environment-People-Law in Lviv, Ukraine, is the Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Europe for her successful efforts to suspend the dredging of the Danube Delta, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culturally Organization-recognized World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve, for the development of the Danube-Black Sea Canal.

Olya Melen

"I feel so strongly about the work that I'm doing," Melen said. "I knew that this delta was worth fighting for and worth taking the risk of protecting."

Melen said she is also the first award recipient from Ukraine but not the last.

Together, we can change the history of the Ukrainian environmental movement to assure that more Ukrainians will come on this stage after me," Melen said.

The Goldman Environmental Prize for North America went to Craig Williams of Berea, Kentucky. Williams, a Vietnam War veteran, discovered that the Department of Defense had built an incinerator to destroy stockpiles of chemical weapons stored in multiple areas of the United States near his community. Through the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a nationwide grassroots coalition, Williams convinced the Pentagon to stop their plans and use safer water-based process to destroy the weapons in 1996.

Craig Williams

"As we honor the work of a few, we are fighting for the rights of many," Williams said.

The recipients were not the only honored guests at the award ceremony. Approximately 400 youth representing 32 schools and programs throughout the Bay Area attended the event, events assistant Molly Norton said.

The youth sat at reserved seating throughout the event and attended a private reception with a speech by Goldman award recipient Margie Eugene-Richard, Norton said.

"It is important that they are here to hear the recipients' stories and their struggles because the youth will soon be taking on our battles," Norton said.

Teacher Susan Stanaway agrees with Norton. Stanaway is an eighth grade social studies teacher at Cupertino Middle School in Sunnyvale. The school brought 16 kids to the event.

"A lot of teenagers feel very disempowered and the reason I went into teaching is to let them know that they are empowered and their voice really counts," Stanaway said. "This is the age to reach kids and this is the time when they need to be listened to and encouraged."

Julia Korableva, 14, an eight grader at Cupertino Middle School, agrees with her teacher.

"I think young people are generally taken advantage of because their viewpoints are so easily manipulated," Korableva said. "It is important for adults to tell them to do the right thing."

Benjamin Lilly, 14, from Cupertino Middle School said he felt honored that the recipients were imparting their values to the youth. Lilly said he had donated a lot of his money from his Bar Mitzvah to the Sierra Club.

"I am hopeful that our generation is going to be able to face the environmental problems of the world head on and realize that we too can make a difference," Lilly said.




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