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Michelle Nijhuis' Posts

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Inner Space

Michelle Nijhuis reviews Entering the Stone by Barbara Hurd

On the fourth of July this year, I went underground -- under the Chihuahuan Desert, that is, and into the famous Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico has been hosting tourists for the better part of a century, so it's got a lot of experience with showing itself off. The fabulous limestone decorations are subtly lit (a Hollywood lighting expert helped out with the placement of the bulbs), the paths are paved and protected by handrails, and large-capacity elevators whisk you up to the daylight. Carlsbad Caverns. Photo: NPS. It wasn't until a guide took a …

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How the five-gallon plastic bucket came to the aid of grassroots environmentalists

The plastic five-gallon bucket is the most humdrum of containers, yet it's proved to be almost as versatile as duct tape. Creative sorts have turned buckets into toolboxes and ottomans, planters and panniers. And in recent years, some environmental activists have begun using the humble bucket for an even higher purpose: These days, five-gallon buckets may literally be saving lives. Buckets of fun. Back in 1994, several years before Erin Brockovich and her boss Edward Masry saw their life stories reenacted on the big screen, Masry was representing a group of citizens from Rodeo, Calif., on the eastern side of …

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Grace Under Pressure

Michelle Nijhuis reviews Libby, Montana by Andrea Peacock

It's never been easy to make a living in Libby, Mont. Citizens in this town of 12,000, tucked into the dense, damp conifer forests of northwestern Montana, have long scraped by on seasonal logging jobs and other sporadic work. So in the 1920s, when local entrepreneur Edward Alley discovered that a nearby vermiculite deposit yielded an efficient, lightweight insulation and fireproofing material, Libbyites were thrilled. Mine site in Libby, Mont. Photo: CDC. For decades, the mine -- dubbed Zonolite, like the brand-name insulation it produced -- offered the best jobs in town. Townspeople bragged that their local product had "a …

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A Peruvian activist takes on the fishmeal industry

Maria Elena Foronda Farro was born to be an activist. Her father, a union lawyer in Chimbote, Peru, taught her -- through words and by example -- about the importance of social justice. Foronda, who grew up in Chimbote and earned a master's degree in sociology in Mexico, is now applying her father's lessons to her hometown. Maria Elena Foronda Farro. Photo: Richard Goldgewicht. Peru is the world's largest producer of fishmeal, a substance used in fertilizers and animal feed, and the industry dominates Chimbote and other coastal towns. Many of the factories are located in the middle of residential …

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Pedro Arrojo-Agudo has started a new water culture in the Old World

Economics professor Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, who teaches at the University of Zaragoza in Spain, is using his academic expertise to battle a monster: the National Hydrological Plan, a $25 billion project that would build 120 dams on the Ebro River. The dams would submerge entire towns along Spain's second-longest river, displace tens of thousands of rice and fish farmers, and poison the wetlands of the river delta with salt. Arrojo-Agudo's analyses have shown that the project makes little environmental, social, or economic sense. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. So Arrojo-Agudo, 52, has stepped off campus to organize an enormous grassroots …

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An Aboriginal elder battles construction of a radioactive-waste dump in Australia

In the 1950s and '60s, the British military conducted a dozen full-scale nuclear tests in the desert of southern Australia. To the military, the region was a wasteland, the best possible place for such a project; to the Aboriginal people who had lived in the desert for millennia, the land was their home. Eileen Kampakuta Brown and Eileen Wani Wingfield. Photo: Robert Roll. The military told the Aboriginals that the testing was safe, but in its wake many went blind, suffered radiation sickness, or developed cancer. Now, half a century later, the Australian government has proposed building a new radioactive-waste …

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Von Hernandez sparked a mass movement to keep trash incinerators out of the Philippines

The industrialized world is fond of exporting its problems: its toxic waste, its low-paying jobs, its most incorrigible mining and logging companies. Von Hernandez, the coordinator of Greenpeace International's Toxics Campaign in Asia, says "dirty technology" -- especially large-scale waste incineration -- is also being shipped away to developing countries. On April 14, Hernandez was awarded one of six 2003 Goldman Environmental Prizes for his battle against waste incineration in the Philippines. Von Hernandez. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Hernandez, 36, a native of Manila and a former literature professor at the University of the Philippines, has spent nearly a decade …

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West Virginia activist Julia Bonds takes on mountaintop-removal mining

The ancient mountains of Appalachia are corrugated with deep, narrow valleys, some of them no wider than a football field. Coal-mining families, who have lived in these valleys for generations, are now being driven out of their homes by the latest innovation of the very industry that has sustained them for so many years. That innovation, mountaintop-removal mining, literally slices off mountain peaks, threatening the valleys below with massive floods, sludge spills, and indiscriminate waste dumping. So far, this brutal form of mining has destroyed more than a thousand miles of streams and rivers. Julia Bonds. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. …

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Nigerian activist Odigha Odigha fights to halt illegal logging

In southeastern Nigeria, private logging companies are felling the country's last remaining rainforests. These hardwood forests shelter the highest diversity of primates in the world and some 20 percent of the planet's butterfly species. Odigha Odigha. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize. Odigha Odigha grew up in and around these forests, in the Ijagham community of Cross River State. In the mid-1990s, after receiving an MBA at the University of Lagos and pursuing a career in politics, he returned home to find that the forests of his childhood had been obliterated by loggers. He began speaking out against the destruction, especially against …

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Interviews with the 2003 winners of environmentalism’s greatest honor

These are dark times for grassroots activists. Just weeks ago, President Bush dismissed millions of anti-war protesters as little more than a "focus group" -- a group whose opinions he was determined to ignore, and did. But the indifference of the world's sole superpower is only one of the obstacles facing activists. Today's problems are often international in scale and staggeringly complex in their origins and effects. How, then, to begin tackling them? Good as Goldman -- an award for eco-heroes. The winners of the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prizes -- interviewed here in this special edition of Grist -- have …

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