US: Against All Odds, Goldman Prize Winners Protect the Earth

Publisher Name: 
Environment News Service

Three North American tribal leaders who have defended the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, share the North American Goldman Environmental Prize this year.


Goldman Prize winners North America (from left) Sarah James, Norma Kassi, Jonathon Solomon (Photo by Robert Roll, all photos courtesy Goldman Foundation)

Gwich'in tribal leaders Jonathon Solomon and Sarah James of the United States, and Norma Kassi of Canada, have campaigned to show that the drilling promoted by the Bush administration would supply six months of oil but devastate the Porcupine Caribou herd that has sustained Gwich'in people for 20,000 years.

The largest award of its kind, the $125,000 Goldman Environmental Prize is given each year to people termed "grassroots environmental heroes." One person is chosen from six geographical areas: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.

Richard Goldman

San Francisco insurance executive Richard Goldman

Insurance executive Richard Goldman, founder of the Goldman Environmental Prize, said, "This year's winners exemplify how much can be accomplished by visionary leaders who have the courage to struggle for sustainable development for their communities and for the health of the planet. They are an inspiration to the thousands of everyday environmental heroes across the globe who are working with -- not fighting -- nature."

Jean La Rose

Jean La Rose of Guyana, 2002 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Central and South America

Another indigenous person has been awarded this year's Goldman Prize for South and Central America. Jean La Rose of Guyana has overcome harassment to protect Amerindian lands from mining. La Rose lives and works in Georgetown, Guyana. She is an indigenous Arawak and the program administrator of the Amerindian Peoples Association. La Rose and the association have filed Guyana's first ever indigenous land rights lawsuit, hoping to annul all mining concessions in their tribal region.

In the 1998 case, which remains undecided, the communities seek recognition of their aboriginal title to a territory of about 3,000 square miles, the rainforest home of 5,500 Amerindians. If successful, this court case will grant the Akawaio and Arekuna peoples the right to remove all miners from their lands and force the government of Guyana to annul all mining concessions on native lands in the Upper Mazaruni River Basin.

Alexis Massol-Gonzalez

Alexis Massol-González of Puerto Rico, 2002 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Islands

The Islands and Island Nations Goldman Prize has been handed to Alexis Massol-González of Puerto Rico, an entrepreneur who led his community in a successful fight to convert a mining zone into Puerto Rico's first community managed forest reserve.

To protect the land from future attempts to mine, Massol-González convinced the Puerto Rican government to create the successful People's Forest, the Puerto Rico's first community managed forest reserve.

Fatima Jibrell

Fatima Jibrell of Somalia, 2002 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Africa

The Goldman Prize for Africa goes to Fatima Jibrell of Somalia who saved the northeast region of Somalia from the massive logging of old growth acacia trees by persuading the regional government to create and enforce a ban on exports of charcoal to the Gulf States. She faces wars, harassment, and the current severe drought while working to build peace and promote careful use of fragile environmental resources in her country.

Two Ashoka Fellows -- one in Thailand and one in Poland -- have won the 2002 Goldman prizes for their regions. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Ashoka is a global non-profit organization that searches the world for social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas for change in their communities. Ashoka helps emerging social entrepreneurs by electing them to an international Fellowship of their peers, and by providing financial support and non-financial services.

Pisit Charnsnoh

Pisit Charnsnoh of Thailand, 2002 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Asia (Photo by Alfredo Quarto)

Pisit Charnsnoh of Thailand was awarded the Goldman Prize for helping poor and marginalized Muslim fishing communities in the predominantly Buddhist Trang Province in southern Thailand to reclaim degraded coastal wetlands. In the 1980s, Charnsnoh, a Buddhist, went to live among the Muslim fishing families. His organization Yad Fon (the Raindrop) helps them organize to protect their fishing grounds and devise strategies to increase their earning power.

A respect for the fishermens' traditional knowledge and techniques is central to the strategy. "They are our teachers, they know more about the natural history of their environment than you will ever find in a textbook," Charnsnoh says.

Ashoka Fellow Jadwiga Lopata of Poland is the 2002 Goldman Prize winner for Europe. Lopata recognized that Poland's small family owned farms were ideal for conversion to organic farming methods to serve the emerging premium market for organic produce and livestock. Her eco-farm organization, European Centre for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism, links 120 farms. It provides families converting to organic farming with a steady stream of visitors who happily pay for the opportunity to stay, eat, and work on the farms.

Jadwiga Lopata

Jadwiga Lopata of Poland, 2002 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Europe (Photo by Michal Sadowski)

Lopata says that Poland has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in the "sunrise industry" of organic farming. "This is our big treasure, the Polish countryside," she says, "this is what we can offer to our visitors, this really picturesque landscape still not so destroyed, nature not so poisoned, and good farmers who can in a very short time turn to organic production."

Goldman says the winners are chosen because they can inspire others. "Goldman Prize recipients are proof that ordinary people are capable of doing truly extraordinary things. Although the Prize winners represent a wide variety of nations and work on very different issues, they have much in common," he said. "All have shown conviction, commitment and courage."

AMP Section Name:Environment
  • 100 Climate Justice Initiative
  • 182 Health