Michelle Nijhuis

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

First, Do No Farm

Michelle Nijhuis reviews Against the Grain by Richard Manning

What's for dinner at your house? Unless you're a strict Atkins adherent, chances are you've got at least one of the world's four top crops on your plate. Corn, wheat, rice, and potatoes account for about two-thirds of the world's nourishment; from French fries to brown rice, these familiar starches dominate humanity's diet.

Freecycling groups spurn the landfill and spawn goodwill

Paint of no return. Let’s say you’re cleaning out your garage. Maybe you run across some old cans of paint and a couple of rickety chairs you’ve never gotten around to fixing. Would the Salvation Army want them? Not likely. You could throw the stuff out, but there’s that pesky issue of landfill space — and besides, someone might be able to use them. If you’ve got an Internet connection and a few minutes to spare, there’s an elegant solution. It’s called freecycling. Freecycling is simple. If you live in one of the 499 U.S. cities or 63 foreign ports …

Manana Kochladze strives to protect Georgia from a BP oil pipeline

The Republic of Georgia, which gained its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union, may be best known to Westerners as the birthplace of Josef Stalin. But this new democracy, bordered by the formidable Caucasus mountains, is also known for its alpine forests, stunning mountain gorges, and clear-running mineral springs. Kochladze. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Manana Kochladze, 32, has dedicated herself to protecting the natural resources — and the people — of her homeland. Trained as a scientist, Kochladze left the academic world to found Green Alternative, now one of the most powerful non-governmental organizations in Georgia. Kochladze and …

Libia Grueso advocates for Afro-Colombians and their land

The Pacific Coast of Colombia, a narrow slice of jungle between the Andes and the ocean, is rich with plant and animal life. It’s also home to about a third of Colombia’s 10.6 million Afro-Colombians, descendants of black slaves emancipated in the mid-1800s. In recent years, this isolated area has been hit hard by logging, gold mining, industrial agriculture, and Colombia’s civil war. Grueso. Photo: David Lent. Social worker Libia Grueso, a native of the Pacific Coast, is a cofounder of the Process of Black Communities (PCN), a civil-rights group that advocates for Afro-Colombians. In the early 1990s, she and …

Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho champions East Timor’s environment

De Carvalho. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. East Timor is the world’s newest country. Once a Portuguese colony, the tiny Southeast Asian nation covers half of a 300-mile-long coral island. When Portugal withdrew from the island in the mid-1970s, East Timor became a disputed territory, and for decades it was devastated by civil war and Indonesian military occupation. When the East Timorese people voted for independence in 1999, Indonesian-backed militias looted and burned throughout the island, killing residents and forcing an estimated 500,000 people from their homes. In late 1999, Portugal and Indonesia both agreed to the United Nations’ assumption of …

Rudolf Amenga-Etego beats back the privatization of Ghana’s water supply

Amenga-Etego. Photo: Dave Wendlinger. The western African nation of Ghana, tucked under the chin of the continent, is dominated by the enormous Lake Volta, a sprawling reservoir that arcs through the midsection of the country. Though there appears to be water, water everywhere, an estimated 70 percent of Ghana’s people lack access to clean, piped drinking water. Rudolf Amenga-Etego, a 40-year-old Ghanaian attorney, is determined to change that. To Amenga-Etego, the biggest obstacle to wider water access is water privatization, especially large-scale privatization schemes backed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He recently mobilized labor unions, rural …

Margie Eugene-Richard of Louisiana battled Shell on behalf of her neighborhood

Eugene-Richard. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The Old Diamond neighborhood of Norco, in far southern Louisiana, sits between a Shell Chemicals plant and an oil refinery owned by a Shell joint venture. “We’re like the meat in the sandwich,” says Margie Eugene-Richard, 62, who grew up just 25 feet from the fenceline of the chemical plant. For decades, the 1,500 residents of this predominantly black neighborhood suffered unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory diseases. They didn’t sleep well, either — they lived in fear of a major industrial accident, like the 1973 pipeline explosion that killed an Old …

Rashida Bee of Bhopal, India, fights against the company that devastated her community

Shukla (left) and Bee. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize On the night of December 2, 1984, in the central Indian city of Bhopal, a massive poisonous gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide factory killed 8,000 people. Over the course of 20 years, the infamous disaster has caused an estimated 20,000 deaths, countless birth defects, and a litany of other serious health problems. “The young women who were exposed while they were infants have different kinds of menstrual disorders, and some are going through early menopause — at age 25 or 30,” says Bhopal survivor Rashida Bee. Bee, 48, and fellow …

Interviews with the 2004 winners of environmentalism’s top prize

The winners: (clockwise from left) Eugene-Richard, Kochladze, Goldman (cofounder of the prize), De Carvalho, Grueso, Bee, and Shukla. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. The environmental movement often runs on the adrenaline of outrage, and the past year has provided more outrages than most. The White House has taken aim — and fired — at some of our most powerful environmental laws. Multinational corporations continue to exert undue influence on, and in some cases write, regulations meant to govern them. There are new signs that humans are changing the global climate, and that species are vanishing — perhaps even faster than we …

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