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The Planet

    The Planet
    July/August 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

    Personal Risks Didn't Stop These Actvists

    An Arizona girl who organized a youth group to stop a proposed hazardous-waste incinerator and a South African who united his racially divided community to close an illegal toxic dump are among six winners of the 1998 Goldman Environmental Prize.

    The awards were presented at an Earth Day kickoff event in April, and now the San Francisco-based Goldman Environmental Foundation is seeking nominations for its 1999 prizes. The total of $600,000 given annually with "no strings attached" to heroes from each of the six continental regions -- North America, South/Central America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Island Nations -- makes it the world's largest award for grassroots environmentalists.

    "They're looking for courageous individuals who have been fighting the good environmental fight despite personal losses," said Stephen Mills, Human Rights and the Environment Campaign director for the Sierra Club. "It's important to recognize these people because they've given so much, sometimes losing their livelihoods or facing harassment and harm for standing up for a cause."

    Kory Johnson of Phoenix, Ariz., was awarded the prize this year for founding Children for a Safe Environment. Johnson founded the group in 1989, when she was just 9 years old, after her older sister had died from a heart problem doctors suspect was caused by contaminated water. Johnson's group helped defeat the incinerator proposed for a poor Arizona community, and now works on environmental health issues affecting children.

    Also honored was Berita KuwarU'wa, an indigenous Colombian who has organized an international campaign to keep multinational oil companies from drilling in his remote homeland. Oil is the element that holds the Earth together, in their tradition; if it's extracted, their world would end. Kuwar and 5,000 other U'wa tribe members have pledged to throw themselves off a 1,400-foot cliff if the unauthorized drilling goes forward.

    Honoree Anna Giordano launched a campaign in defense of migrating raptors -- traditionally shot for sport by poachers in Sicily, where she lives -- and has since lowered significantly the number of birds killed. In the process she narrowly escaped a firebomb placed in her car by irate hunters.

    Award-winner Hirofumi Yamashita of Japan has dedicated more than 25 years to fighting a land-reclamation project planned for Isahaya Bay, one of the richest wetlands in the world. Due to his efforts, the scale of the project was reduced substantially.

    Prize-winner Sven "Bobby" Peck of South Africa, a native of the highly industrialized South Durban area who suffered from severe respiratory illness as a youth, pulled together his diverse community to close an illegal toxic dump.

    Atherton Martin of Dominica was honored for stopping a proposed copper mine through extensive local and international organizing. The mining operation would have devastated 10 percent of the island nation, which is mostly covered with tropical rainforests and contains some of the greatest biodiversity in the Caribbean.

    The deadline for nominations for the 1999 prize is July 15, 1998. Nominees don't have to be Sierra Club members.

    For more information and details on how to nominate someone, contact Stephen Mills
    Sierra Club
    408 C St. N.E.,
    Washington, DC 20002
    (202) 675-6691

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