The Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony took place this past week. It is a prestigious award given annually to six environmentalists from around the world.
Though there were no winners this year from India and only one woman awardee, the ceremony showcased incredibly inspiring people. Two in particular resonated with me. The first was Raoul du Toit from Zimbabwe. His life work is protecting the country’s remaining population of black rhinos. The video that introduced his story included beautiful shots of the animals, as well as disturbing photos of rhinos left to die after having their horns hacked off. One was of a dead female rhino with her calf waiting by her side. Rhino horns are sold for a high price in Asia, where it is also believed that the horns can cure cancer. du Toit monitors rhinos, reinforces efforts to address poaching, and builds community awareness about rhino conservation. He has also helped reintroduce rhino populations in Botswana and Zambia. In his acceptance speech, du Toit said that “animals deserve better.”
The other winner whose story touched me was that of Francisco Pineda of El Salvador. As stated by the Goldman Prize, Pineda courageously led a citizens’ movement that stopped a gold mine from destroying El Salvador’s dwindling water resources and the livelihoods of rural communities throughout the country. Three of Pineda’s colleagues were killed organizing and educating their communities; his life is also under constant threat.
The Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program and its team of volunteers, of which I am one, has worked on the issue of mining and the environmental and human rights impacts in El Salvador. This is also an issue of free vs. fair trade.
Despite Pineda’s success, the company that runs the mine, Pacific Rim and Commerce Group, has invoked the investor rights provisions of the U.S.- Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The company claims to be owed enormous sums of “lost profits” simply because the Salvadoran government and people have rejected their mining permits in defense of the environment. It is a Canadian firm that created a U.S. subsidiary for the purpose of bringing a lawsuit against the government of El Salvador under CAFTA (Canada is not a signatory of the agreement).
It is simply wrong that corporations pollute the land and destroy communities, and instead of being held accountable, go after a poor government for so-called lost profits. Trade should be improving the livelihoods of citizens, not degrading their lives and communities.
In his moving and eloquent speech, Pineda said that. “We can live without gold, but we cannot live without water.”
Our society must learn that nature is not there for us to continue to exploit it.