Michelle Nijhuis

Award-winning journalist and pretty good mom Michelle Nijhuis writes about science and the environment from western Colorado. Follow her on Twitter.

Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva fights illegal logging in the Amazon

In the northern Brazilian state of Pará, where the mouth of the Amazon cuts into the continent, illegal logging, industrial farming, and a human-driven cycle of massive wildfires are destroying the tropical forests. Since he was a teenager, Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva has considered it his mission to help protect these forests, and the isolated communities that live within them. Tarcísio Feitosa da Silva. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Feitosa works in the Xingu and Middle Lands of Pará, some of the most remote areas of the Amazon basin. He is one of the leaders of the Movement for the Development …

Craig Williams took on the Pentagon to stop chemical-waste burning

“We’re a little outnumbered, and a little outspent,” says Craig Williams, “but we’ve turned around decisions by the biggest bureaucracy on the planet.” Williams, founder of the nonprofit Chemical Weapons Working Group and a cabinetmaker by trade, has been fighting for more than two decades to ensure that the U.S. military disposes of chemical weapons safely. Craig Williams. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. In 1985, when Williams found out that the Department of Defense planned to incinerate weapons at an Army depot just eight miles from his Kentucky home, the Vietnam veteran took action, joining forces with citizens living near other …

Anne Kajir combats the greed of Papua New Guinea’s timber barons

The highlands of Papua New Guinea cradle some of the most remote places in the world, and are home to an astounding diversity of languages, cultures, and plant and animal life — including the Asian Pacific’s largest intact stand of tropical forest. Anne Kajir. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Since the 1980s, industrial logging has torn through the forests of this island nation. The government of Papua New Guinea has a cozy relationship with the timber industry, particularly with Malaysian logging companies, and illegal logging is rampant. Though traditional communities are guaranteed land rights under the national constitution, these rights are …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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, …

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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