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Michelle Nijhuis' Posts

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Ukrainian attorney Olya Melen stands up for the Danube Delta

Olya Melen doesn't think small. In her first-ever court case, the young Ukrainian attorney challenged a massive canal project proposed for the Danube Delta, an internationally recognized wetland on the edge of the Black Sea. Melen, a lawyer for the public-interest group Environment-People-Law, argued that the canal would disrupt the area's rural communities and diverse wildlife, violating national laws and international agreements. Olya Melen. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The court agreed with Melen, ruling in 2004 that the Ukrainian government's environmental analysis was inadequate. But government officials pressed ahead with construction, continuing to dredge and shore up sections of the …

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In China, Yu Xiaogang is helping locals fight back against dams

China has spent decades trying to harness its powerful river systems with dams. Enormous hydroelectric projects, most notably the Three Gorges Dam now under construction on the Yangtze River, have devastated local economies and ecosystems. Yu Xiaogang. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Chinese environmentalist Yu Xiaogang, founder of the group Green Watershed, says the people harmed by these projects are often silenced, and their stories left untold. Through a pioneering watershed management program in western China, Yu hopes to break this pattern, helping dam-affected communities both publicize their experiences and participate in the decisions that change their lives. Yu studied the …

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Silas Siakor put his life on the line to save Liberia’s forests

The forests of the West African nation of Liberia cover almost 12 million acres, and are home to nearly half of Africa's mammal species -- including the region's largest forest-elephant population. But these forests, and the communities that call them home, have been ravaged by 14 years of brutal civil war. Liberian President Charles Taylor used timber to fund much of that violence, entering into illegal logging contracts with a favored company. Private militias hired by the logging industry exacerbated the country's already enormous suffering, in some cases destroying entire villages. Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Silas Kpanan'Ayoung …

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Meet this year’s winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize

The winners (left to right): Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, Yu Xiaogang, Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva, Anne Kajir, Olya Melen, and Craig Williams. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize.  Though the connection between people and their surroundings is undeniable -- a serving of clean air, anyone? -- defense of the environment is still sometimes considered antisocial behavior. But this year's winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest award for grassroots environmentalists, belie that pesky stereotype. Whether they defend wide-open spaces or stick up for communities threatened by dams, these activists say they draw their strength and energy from other people. They credit …

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Jacques Leslie’s Deep Water sheds light on dam dramas

What does hell look like to an environmentalist? In the classic Encounters With the Archdruid, writer John McPhee imagines this particular inferno. The outer ring, he writes, is a moat filled with DDT. Inside lies another moat brimming with burning gasoline, and still deeper are masses of bulldozers and chainsaws. In the middle -- at "the absolute epicenter of hell on earth" -- stands a dam. "Conservationists who can hold themselves in reasonable check before new oil spills and fresh megalopolises," McPhee writes, "mysteriously go insane at even the thought of a dam." Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Green Living and Paper or Plastic give shoppers cause — and pause

Food for thought. I found out not too long ago that I am a LOHAS. Or, I should say, I found out that a gaggle of people I've never met think I am a LOHAS. These initials, as you may well know, stand for "lifestyles of health and sustainability." We LOHAS shoppers are, according to our boosters in the marketing world, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the consumer universe. Members of this tribe, the marketing literature explains, can be easily identified by our distinctive set of "holistic" consumer preferences. Our inclinations include green building (yep, I live in a …

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Isidro Baldenegro López leads a struggle against logging in the Sierra Madre

Isidro Baldenegro López. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. When Isidro Baldenegro López was growing up in the mountains of central Mexico, his father opposed widespread logging in the forests of the Sierra Madre. He spoke out about the effects of the destruction on the indigenous Tarahumara people, drawing the attention of local crime bosses, who ordered him killed. Baldenegro, while still a boy, witnessed his father's murder. Today, at 38, he is continuing his father's work, risking his own life to protect the forests and people of this rugged mountain range. In the spectacular canyons and forested uplands of the Sierra …

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Chavannes Jean-Baptiste ensures a future for Haitian farmers

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, faces overwhelming poverty. Massive deforestation has left its people vulnerable to deadly mudslides and floods, such as those that killed an estimated 3,000 people in late 2004, when tropical storm Jeanne swept through the area. The ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide last spring was only the latest upheaval in this country's long history of political violence, repression, and instability. Yet Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the founder of the Peasant Movement of Papay, has hope for the environment and people of Haiti. An agronomist, he has spent more than …

Read more: Food

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Former journalist Stephanie Roth is battling against a gold mine in Romania

Stephanie Danielle Roth. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The Apuseni Mountains of west-central Romania are rich in gold, iron, and history. The area's gold once supplied the Roman Empire, and it is home to Rosia Montana, the country's oldest documented mining settlement. But this past is threatened by the present: five years ago, the Romanian government granted rights to a Canadian mining company to build a massive gold mine on top of the ancient town -- a project that would force the relocation of 2,000 people, destroy 900 homes and 10 centuries-old churches, and threaten the region's most important water source. …

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Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez guides the fight for Honduran forests

José Andrés Tamayo Cortez. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The woodlands of southeastern Honduras range from mountaintop cloud forests to low-lying rainforests; they are home to more than 500 bird species and a wide array of other animals and plants. But in recent years, more than half of the 12 million acres of forest in the isolated Olancho region has been mowed down by unregulated logging. Rev. José Andrés Tamayo Cortez, a Catholic priest from Tegucigalpa, has witnessed the devastating effects of logging on the diverse Olancho landscape, and has seen its people intimidated, harassed, and even murdered by the crime …

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