Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Staying Empowered

By Mikaila Gawryn
Outreach Associate

Learning about environmental issues can be disheartening. I often wonder how people can devote their lives to difficult issues such as poverty or environmental degradation and not end up entirely depressed, unable to act. As I studied at school I found two things empowered me: The first was getting outside and actually taking action on environmental issues, and the second was hearing about other people who were doing the same.

I'd like to share with you one of the most empowering resources I came across in my studies. There are literally thousands of people all over the world working against great odds to protect and restore God's creation. Too often these hard working individuals go unrecognized. Thankfully that is changing. I give you...

The Goldman Environmental Prize

The prize was created by Richard and Rhoda Goldman when they realized that no environmental equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize existed. The prize honors a handful of grassroots environmental leaders around the world every year by awarding each $150,000 toward their work to heal environmental degradation in their own communities.

The prize has historically gone to environmental heroes such as Wangari Maathai of Kenya in 1991 who went on to receive the first Nobel Peace Prize given to an environmentalist in 2004. After receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996 Marina Silva was named Minister of Environment in Brazil in 2003.

This year's recipients are carrying out ground breaking work. Six environmental champions were chosen from Mexico, Mozambique, Russia, Ecuador, Belgium and Puerto Rico. This group is working on issues as diverse as protection of wetlands to reducing erosion through indigenous soil practices. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce two of this year's recipients.

For years Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza have been fighting an uphill battle against some of the most powerful and well financed corporations on the planet. Oil exploration, drilling, production and consumption cause long lasting environmental damage to the most delicate ecosystems on the planet. Often the petroleum industry leaves indigenous populations to bear the burden through polluted homes and failing health. The photo to the left shows wildlife from the Ecuadorian Amazon. The following excerpt describes what these two men have done to stand up for the communities and environments at risk in the Amazon region of Ecuador.

Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza Ecuador

"Fighting for justice after what has been called one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters in history, Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo are leading in unprecedented community-driven legal battle against a global oil giant. According to the plaintiffs, beginning in 1964 and through 1990, Texaco dumped nearly 17 million gallons of crude oil and 20 billion gallons of drilling waste water directly into the Ecuadorian Amazon. Allegedly suffering from the health affects of the pollution, the region's inhabitants are demanding a complete cleanup in potentially the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed in the world. Yanza co-founded the Amazon Defense Front to organize 30,000 inhabitants of the norther Ecuadorian Amazon in a class-action lawsuit against Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001. The lead lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, a resident of one of the affected communities, has become the public voice of the plaintiffs." The image below shows left over debris from the petroleum industry in the Amazon.

Thank the Lord we have people like Pablo Fajardo Mendoza and Luis Yanza! To learn more about the history of Mendoza and Yanza's case and the role that oil has played in the lives of Ecuadorians living in the Amazon check out the information provided by Amnesty International USA and Oxfam. You can also read more about what the other six Goldman Prize recipients are doing in their home nations.

Pablo Fajardo once said "In this battle I have understood that working for a clean environment today is working towards peace for humanity tomorrow - facing the future. That is what I intend to do." As we celebrate Fajardo and Yanza, we can all make a choice to face the future. With the support of one another taking on hard issues is possible.

Excerpts from http://www.goldmanprize.org/


thepfaffsays said...

Awesome! I'm going to Ecuador this January to look at environmental issues. This is really interesting.

Thanks for reporting on this. It's pretty interesting to focus on the social justice issues surrounding climate change that we don't often hear about.

Anna Kay said...

Chevron is willing to do anything to avoid helping the Ecuadorians suffering from their contamination. If you want to find out more about what is surely the largest environmental disaster on the planet, read this blog: http://www.thechevronpit.blogspot.com