Michelle Nijhuis

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

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 …

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 …

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. …

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 …

An African wildlife reserve is saved, thanks to Corneille Ewango

Corneille Ewango. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. In the vast Democratic Republic of the Congo, dense equatorial rainforests line the sprawling basin of the Congo River. Corneille E.N. Ewango, a Congolese botanist, has a particular appreciation for these lush stands, which represent about half of the continent’s tropical forests. To him, they are a scientific puzzle, a refuge for plants, wildlife, and people — and the place he considers home. As the director of the botany program for the 3 million-acre Okapi Faunal Reserve, Ewango risked his life to protect these forests and their people. During his country’s civil war, which …

Kaisha Atakhanova fought to keep nuclear waste out of Kazakhstan

Kaisha Atakhanova. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The Republic of Kazakhstan bears the scars of its Soviet past. Intensive agriculture has drastically shrunk the inland Aral Sea, creating one of the world’s worst ecological disasters, while decades of nuclear testing have poisoned the landscape and its people. The country — which is dominated by vast stretches of steppe grassland, and underlain by rich oil and mineral deposits — currently harbors some 237 million tons of nuclear waste. Kaisha Atakhanova, a biologist from Karaganda, Kazakhstan, has dedicated herself to repairing this damage. The founder of the Karaganda Ecological Center, or EcoCenter, Atakhanova …

These six activists have won a top prize — and countless battles

The winners: (clockwise from left) López, Ewango, Roth, Tamayo, Goldman (cofounder of the prize), Atakhanova, Jean-Baptiste. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. You know it’s been a tough year when you’ve spent half of it wondering if you’re dead. Since the October debut of “The Death of Environmentalism,” many environmentalists in the U.S. have indulged in spells of gloomy self-questioning. Do environmentalists need to rethink their priorities? Talk more about human beings than critters? Get religion? Give themselves a new name? The strategic questions have been endless, and often frustratingly abstract. Of course, it’s helpful for a movement to take a critical …

Trash Test Dummies

Mongo and Found uncover the hidden pleasures of reduce-reuse-recycle

Flo and Channing, a pair of occasionally employed, twentysomething hipsters in lower Manhattan, live well. At least, they eat well. They favor sushi and vegetarian pizza and soy milk and artisan bread, and they also like to indulge in custard pastries, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate croissants, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. They're especially fond of waffles. And they eat it all for free. All they have to do is spend a few hours each night lurking outside restaurants, rescuing their favorite menu items from the trash. "Sometimes, people see what we're doing and say, eee-yew, how gross," says Flo. "Other times they offer to buy us a meal. We just say, no thanks, we have plenty of food here."

A spotlight on young enviro activists

David Brower, a pioneer of the U.S. environmental movement, once said that his generation depended on young people “to shape us up before it’s too late.” Though Brower — former executive director of the Sierra Club, founder of Friends of the Earth and the Earth Island Institute — passed away in 2000, his legacy lives on: He established the Brower Fund, which cultivates new environmental leaders through the annual Brower Youth Awards. Award winners — aged 13 to 22 — are chosen by a panel of activists organized by the Earth Island Institute. They get a $3,000 prize, and ongoing …