The digital age might allow us to transcend geography, but real places — places far and near, exotic and humble — still matter. Just ask the six winners of the 2007 Goldman Prize, who risk their reputations, their livelihoods, and their lives to protect very particular pieces of turf. Whether they’re fighting for a stand of big-leaf mahogany in the remote Peruvian Amazon, a family farm in Ireland, a stretch of boreal forest in Canada, or an incomparable fishing stream in Iceland, they’re committed to the dirt beneath their feet, and their dedication has deep roots.
“We knew we were going to lose everything we had,” says Irish farmer Willie Corduff, who was jailed for opposing a gas pipeline on his land. “It wasn’t a lot, but it was what was handed down to us, so it was an old tradition. And we loved where we lived. So I said, ‘Look, I have to stand up for this.’”
Each year, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors such extraordinary dedication. The prize was established in 1990 by Richard and Rhoda Goldman (Richard Goldman founded Goldman Insurance Services in San Francisco, and Rhoda Goldman was a descendant of jeans-maker Levi Strauss). Winners represent every major region of the world — Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South and Central America, and island nations — and are nominated each year by environmental organizations. Each winner receives an award of $125,000.
This year’s six winners were honored in a ceremony in San Francisco on April 23. Grist caught up with them by phone ahead of time to find out what makes them tick.
- Hammerskjoeld Simwinga of Zambia travels by car, bike, and foot throughout the wildlife-rich Luangwa Valley, helping his fellow residents develop economic alternatives to poaching.
- Ts. Munkhbayar, a Mongolian herder, sold his livestock in order to campaign against destructive mining on the Onggi River.
- Willie Corduff, an Irish farmer, was jailed for his opposition to a high-pressure gas pipeline on his family’s land.
- Orri Vigfússon of Iceland has coordinated huge buyouts of commercial fishing rights and brokered moratorium agreements with several North Atlantic countries to save the struggling North Atlantic salmon.
- Sophia Rabliauskas of Canada has worked to protect the traditional territory of the Poplar River First Nation from logging and hydropower development.
- Julio Cusurichi Palacios of Peru, who has fought for the rights of indigenous people since he was a teenager, helped establish a national forest reserve in the remote Peruvian Amazon.