Feel Inspired Right Now: Meet the Goldman Award 2016 Heroes

The Goldman Awards reward those brave Davids that fight corporate Goliaths worldwide, trying to preserve their homes and communities from unjust, destructive development, and important ecosystems that benefit all of us.

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This is what binds our heroes this year: recognizing that all the money in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the health of their lands and communities.

Each of them worked with community organizations that helped realize their victories.
Each has helped your family and mine, by fighting climate change through prevention of toxic emissions and protection of their carbon-storing homelands.

Here are their stories, and all could use your help. But even if you can’t, hear their stories, and get inspired!

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OO Destiny Watford , student, 20*, USA: Cleaning Up Our Community

“Our system is failing us, and our planet.”

* >>> Destiny is the youngest person ever to win this prestigious award. <<<

The Problem: A planned toxic incinerator in her already heavily polluted community. Energy Answers, International marketed it as a clean energy project, turning trash into energy – ignoring the resulting toxic pollution.

What Destiny Did:

  • At 16, she started mobilizing community opposition, going door to door;
  • convinced customers who planned to use the incinerator to withdraw their contracts;
  • 4 years later, she helped deprive the company of the financial incentive to build.
  • Showed that communities can choose not to be dumping grounds.

Moving Forward:

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Past, Present… Future? “We can change the fate of our community.” Working withUnited Workers, she led an effort to stop the incinerator… now she envisions a solar farm.

Destiny’s Vision: establish the largest solar farm on the east coast at that site, owned by chemical company FMC. How about it, FMC? How about some truly clean renewable energy?

In the meantime, join Destiny and United Workers to demand that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stop subsidizing trash-burning incinerators.

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OO Maxima Acuna, subsistence farmer, 49, Peru, Fighting For Our Land

“Mining must leave our country.”

The Problem: Colorado-based Newmont and Peruvian Buenaventura companies own a giant open pit mine in Peru’s highlands; it has already destroyed nearby homes and lakes, and now the companies want to expand it – and destroy hers.

What Maxima Did:

  • Refused to be bought out;
  • Mobilized community protection of the surrounding lakes;
  • Despite being beaten and her home burned, she fought the companies’ eviction in the courts;
  • won her court case after 2 years, effectively stalling the mine.

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Fenced But Free and Fighting Maxima and her community continue their struggle.

Moving forward:

  • Maxima continues to fight harassment by the company, which has surrounded her property;
  • her community has rallied behind her;
  • they continue to defend their land, water supplies, and people from large-scale gold mining.

Maxima’s Vision: protect her home and community. You can help here.

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OO Leng Ouch, investigator, 39, Cambodia: Defending Our Forests – Our Home

“What is the government thinking when they destroy the livelihoods of millions of people?”

The Problem: most Cambodians rely on the forests as their home. But corrupt government officials have illegally evicted 300,000+ Cambodians, letting companies destroy their homes as they log precious timber to supply Chinese and US furniture demand, and plant cash crops.

The few corrupt rich benefit through the poverty of many thousands.

What Leng did:

  • at great personal danger*, went undercover to document the corruption;
  • showed that the country was losing150 million daily to illegal logging;
  • brought his results to the press, which exposed the corruption;
  • ultimately shamed by the exposure, the government cancelled 23 logging concessions.
  • in saving these forests, Leng has also done humanity a service in fighting climate change.

*Environmental activism is enormously dangerous in Cambodia, where activists are murdered and intimidated. Ouch has had to hide at times, and his family has been intimidated by the military police.

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From Poor to Empowered Leng rose from foraging paper off the streets to do his schoolwork to a leading crusader for his peoples’ forests and communities, by exposing the corrupt system of illegal logging in Cambodia.

Moving forward:

  • This victory inspired forest communities to take up the fight;
  • Communities now patrol their forests daily for illegal activities.
  • Leng continues to work to prevent illegal logging in Cambodia.

Leng’s Vision: the government should completely stop logging concessions to private companies, and revoke all land concessions throughout Cambodia. Sign the petition to Save Cambodia’s Embattled Forests. You can further help here.

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OO Edward Loure, Public Activist, 44, Tanzania – Defining What Is Ours

The Problem: Lack of legal documentation has let the Tanzanian government sell off 150,000+ acres of land of the Maasai and Hadrabe, traditional protectors of their environment and wildlife, to commercial hunting, tourism and farming interests, destroying sustainable livelihoods, and harming lands.

What Edward did:

  • Used an innovative approach to legally document land rights:
  • applying an individual land rights legal rule at the community level;
  • helped communities map their boundaries and create land use plans;
  • helped secure 200,000+ acres of tribal lands;
  • helped the Hadrabe people negotiate payment for sequestering carbon in their forests.

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Building Bridges Across Communities Edward spent years building trust in other tribes in his work to help all of them preserve their lands.

Moving Forward:

  • inspired other tribes to use his approach;
  • is helping to secure almost 1,000,000 more acres of tribal lands.

Edward’s Vision: that his success will draw more awareness of, and support for indigenous land rights in Tanzania. You can help here.

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OO Luis Jorge Rivera Herrera, Environmental Planner, 43, Puerto Rico –Preserving a Rare Coastal Wonderland

The Problem: Puerto Rico’s government’s plan to develop one of its last pristine coastlines, a biodiversity hotspot home to nearly 900 types of flora and fauna, many endangered.

What Luis did:

  • raised community awareness, by showing how the development would destroy this rare place;
  • formed a community coalition to fight the development;
  • initiated a legislative act to protect the area;

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Understanding the Big Picture Luis fought beyond defeat to victory in preserving this piece of nature.

Luis then:

  • turned a legislative defeat into widespread public outcry;
  • ultimately succeeded in getting permanent government protection;
  • currently is managing, unpaid, the preserve itself.

Luis’ Vision: Raising funds to purchase private parcels remaining within the preserve over the next 8 years, a condition vital to its legal protection. Ultimately, he hopes to develop sustainable tourism there that will help finance its management.You can help here.

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OO Zuzana Caputova, public interest lawyer, 42, Slovakia – Cleaning Our Communities Through Public Awareness

The Problem: loose government laws have allowed companies to create toxic waste dumps and industrial projects in villages across Slovakia. One woman, an environmental lawyer, is now stopping that.

What Zuzana did:

  • filed injunctions to close an old toxic landfill in her town;
  • filed petitions to stop a new toxic landfill;
  • encouraged the residents to organize;

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She also:

  • showed how the toxicity boosted leukemia rates there;
  • inspired a 6,000 strong demonstration, convincing officials to stop the project.

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Moving Forward:

  • since 2014 helped 9 village stop a waste gasification plant, and similar projects;
  • drafted an amendment to Slovakia’s Construction Law, the source of harmful waste disposal.
  • The amendment gives villages a larger voice in waste disposal projects.

Zuzana’s Vision: giving all Slovakian village governments and the public a larger voice on allowing toxic waste disposal projects near them. You can help here.

You can find out more about the winners and the causes they spearhead here.

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These profiles in courage illustrate that for every human being who falls in the protection of our lives and lands, others stand to take their place. In this spirit, we honor Berta Cacares, Goldman 2015 Award winner, who was brutally murdered just recently in Honduras. Her daughter continues her work.

You can honor her by signing the petition calling for the pull out of financing for the planned Agua Zarca Dam, which threatens her beloved community and river; you can support her legacy here.

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Berta Caceres, 1972- murdered 2016 – mother, protector, crusader

@@ Berta Caceres: hear this incredibly eloquent and brave woman speak of her land and people.

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About melharte

Mel (Mary Ellen) Harte is a biologist (PhD) and climate change educator. She co-authored the free online book, COOL THE EARTH, SAVE THE ECONOMY, available at www.CoolTheEarth.US, and writes the CLIMATE CHANGE THIS WEEK column at the HuffingtonPost. Living summers in the alpine Rockies, she is on the frontlines of watching what climate change can do. Her diagnostic digital photographs of wildflowers have appeared in numerous publications.
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