Goldman awards in San Francisco honors environmentalists

The prestigious annual Goldman Environmental Prize, often called the "Nobel Prize of grassroots environmental activism," was presented on Monday to seven environmental activists at a ceremony in San Francisco. The winners, selected from different continents, included activists from Colombia, France, the Philippines, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam and included the most number of women prizewinners ever in one year. 

"Tonight, the seven people you are about to meet remind us that even one person, when determined and passionate, can be more powerful than the most forbidding adversary," said Susan Gelman, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation and daughter of the Prize founders Richard and Rhoda Goldman. 

Her brothers John, Goldman and Douglas Goldman, both vice presidents of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, were also at the event, carrying on the legacy of their parents at a time when some say environmental causes are under siege. Douglas Goldman praised the 2018 winners. 

"(They) truly are grassroots environmental heroes, changing our planet for the better. We need more people like that not less, and we need more opportunities to improve the planet, not fewer," said Goldman. 

The crowd at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House saw videos of each recipients work, narrated by Robert Redford.

The North American winner was LeAnne Walters, 39, a mom from Flint, Michigan who fought to expose the lead contamination in the City of Flint's water supply that gained nationwide attention.

"My oldest son, they thought he had cancer," she said in the video. She later learned her child had lead poisoning and said testing showed her home's water had lead levels at 13,000 parts per billion, exceeding the federal level of 15 parts per billion.

"For me, this is a symbol to my kids to fight for what's right and don't let anyone stand in your way," Walters said, "When someone tells you to stop. Ignore them and keep person can make a difference, but a community is unstoppable." 

The winner from Europe is a fisherman's daughter Claire Nouvian, 43, and her non-profit Bloom. She led an international movement against deep sea bottom trawling, eventually prompting the European Union to ban the overfishing practice. She said she doesn't regret the exhausting work.

"We'll do it again, because we'd rather die than to cave in up to the rampant corruption of system, the corruption of hearts, We'd rather die than give up fighting for a better world," said Nouvian. 

From the Central and South America region, Fracia Marquez, 35, a single mother of two from the small community of La Toma, Colombia, was honored for fighting against illegal miners who contaminated water and destroyed natural resources. Her grassroots organization, La Toma Community Group eventually gained the support of the Colombian government. 

"Viva la Colombia," Marquez said, telling the audience in Spanish she was committed to fight against racism and for justice, even if it meant "putting your own life at risk." 

From the Philippines, Manny Calonzo, 54, of Makati was honored for his efforts that led the Philippine government to ban the production, use and sale of lead paints. 

"This will help other governments to ban lead paints, especially in developing countries," said Manny Calonzo of Philippines.

Two women from South Africa, Makoma Lekalakala, 52, and Liz McDaid, 55, were honored for their legal challenge that stopped a $76-billion dollar nuclear plant project between the South African government and Russia.

"We have an obligation not to nuke our planet. we also have na obligation to stand up to our governments," said Lekalakala.

"Nuclear rose out of war. We don't need it to power a peaceful country," said McDaid.

Khanh Nguy Thi, 41, from Hanoi became the first person from Vietnam to win a Goldman Prize. Her non-profit Green ID worked with the Vietnamese government to replace coal plants with clean energy sources.

"We cannot create another is essential for our children. please support our work," Thi said to the audience. 

Many of the attendees said the work of the prizewinners was inspiring.  

Caitlyn Floyd, from Houston, Texas is a graduate student at Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey. She said she first heard of the award when Hilton Kelley from Port Arthur, Texas won the prize in 2011.

"It's made me think that little 'oe me can do something as well and put my stamp on the world," Floyd said. 

Her professor, Jeff Langholz, at Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey says the prize has become a way to teach his students about real-world problems and solutions. 

"We draw from these six recipients every year to figure out their strategies and tactics and what works best so our graduate students can go around the world and replicate that," said Langholz.

"It's really cool to get to see the bigger picture of people really exceeding in the things we would like to do," said Maggie Callaway, a U.C. Berkeley student.

The awards ceremony was followed by a reception at San Francisco City Hall. 

Each winner receives a $200,000 cash prize to continue their work. The recipients also will attend a ceremony in Washington D.C. on April 25th at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

This was the 29th year of the Goldman Environmental Prize which now has recognized 188 people from 87 countries. 

For more information, click The Goldman Environmental Foundation.