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The 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize

April 20, 2009

The Goldman Environmental Prize specifically notes pursuit of environmental justice as part of the work it honors, and the efforts of this year’s recipients clearly illustrates the connection between environmental and social issues.

Rizwana Hasan was recognized for her work with the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association combating abuses of laborers and the environment by the ship-breaking industry in which ships used and owned by citizens of wealthy nations are dismantled for scrap by impoverished workers who have little protection from exploitation or the safety and health threats posed by these often toxic hulks.

Also honored was Maria “Mother” Gunnoe, who despite threats and attacks, continues to organize against mountaintop removal in Appalachia. An Alternet article quotes her writing on the connection between environmental destruction and harm to disadvantaged people:

People around here are swiggin’ down contaminated water all day long, every day. The health affects are sometimes long-term. It’s usually pancreatic cancer or some kind of liver disease, or kidney stones, gall stones – digestive tract problems. And then, too, people’s breathing. The blasting is killin’ people – just smotherin’ them to death through breathin’ all of the dust. The computers and electronics and stuff in my house stay completely packed up with black coal dirt and rock dust together. Why do they expect us to just take this? It’s not gonna happen down at the state capital. I mean they’re not gonna go up there and blast off the top of a mountain in the background of the Capitol.

Whereas Rizwana Hasan and Maria Gunnoe have focused on opposing companies that do harm to less wealthy communities, Yuyun Ismawati of Indonesia has focused on developing community-based solutions to sanitation challenges. She founded BaliFokus, which trains local villagers in safe ways to separate recyclables and compost from trash.

You can read about the rest of the honorees at

Of course, no single award can recognize every deserving individual. Who are some of the people working for environmental justice you would like to see honored?

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