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Twelve Tales of Environmental Victory

by Aubrey Wallace

232 pages, paperback, Mercury House, 1993

Eco-Heroes profiles environmental activists from around the world who have won the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded annually for grassroots efforts to preserve and enhance the environment. The twelve activists profiled are:

  • Wangari Maathai , who planted seven trees in her backyard on World Environment Day in 1977 and went on to organize the Green Belt Movement in Kenya resulting in the planting of over 10 million trees;
  • Christine Jean, who formed Loire Vivant to educate the public about the environmental impact of planned development and damming of the Loire River valley, which resulted in the cancellation of two dam projects.
  • Samuel LaBudde, a San Francisco biologist whose video footage documenting the indiscriminate slaughter of dolphins by tuna fishermen changed public opinion, and resulted in new laws;
  • Catharine Wallace, who works to stop oil drilling and other environmental assaults on Antarctica;
  • Jeton Anjain, who works to deal with the radioactive exposure of the Marshall Islanders by the atomic testing of the U.S. government
  • Eha Kern and Roland Tiensuu, a teacher and student in Sweden who worked with their class to buy pieces of the Costa Rican rainforest and went on to help organize schoolchildren around the world to raise $2.5 million to save 23,000 acres of the rainforest;
  • Michael Werikhe, whose walking trips around the world draw attention to the plight of the black rhinocerous of Kenya;
  • Colleen McCrory, whose efforts lobbying on behalf of old growth forest in British Columbia resulted in the creation of the Valhallas Provincial Park;
  • Wadja Egnankou, a college professor and expert on the mangrove forests of the Ivory Coast, who struggles to protect the forests and the local communities that live in them;
  • Lois Gibbs, a housewife with no prior community organizing experience, who led efforts resulting in the evacuation and relocation of more than 800 families living on toxic waste dumps at the Love Canal;
  • Medha Patkar, a social worker from Bombay who assists the tribal people of the Narmada valley in India oppose the building of the Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects; and
  • Carlos Alberto Ricardo, who founded the Ecumenical Center for Documentation and Information in Sao Paolo to gather and disseminate information about activities in the Brazilian rainforest.

Praise for Eco-Heroes

"There actually is good news in the world. It has to do with people across the planet who are working to restore environmental quality and human dignity. The stories of twelve of these people in Eco-Heroes are especially welcome because most of them are in their thirties--with decades of good work ahead of them."-- David Brower

Quotes from Eco-Heroes

"Perhaps it was inevitable that the tree-planting movement sprouted political branches. [Wangari] Maathai began to place more emphasis on public education to teach people that rehabilitating the environment would take more than planting trees. . . . As a result, Maathai says, 'We have raised the environmental agenda from one that concerns women and children and unemployed men in the countryside to a national political issue. This is very, very important because if we are going to change, everybody has to be involved: politicians, academicians, industrialists, investors, developers--everybody.' "

. . .

"LaBudde, brand-new to the world of environmental activism, 'was honored just being in the room with these people--they were from Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Marine Conservation, the World Wildlife Fund. When I sat down, I thought, God, this is great. I didn't really know how they worked. I thought I'd brief them about what was going on with the footage, and they'd kick me out of the room to figure out what to do about it. What I heard instead was a lot of bullshit about what their compromise position should be, and they hadn't even fired the first shot yet! They were talking about the impossibility of going anywhere on this issue.' "

" 'People are willing to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars a year into insurance policies, but are they willing to actively participate in their future? No, they want to pay somebody else to take care of it. That's what the whole insurance model is about. People feel like that's what they do when they donate to environmental groups: It's insurance. 'Give to Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, let them take care of it.' But it's not taken care of. People think the environment is out there and that the environment is peripheral to human experience. It's not. It's our backyard, and its central; everything we do is ecology.' [quoting Samuel LaBudde]"

. . .

"For [Catharine Wallace], it is easier to work nights, days, and weekends, killer hours of overtime on top of her full-time job. It is easier to detect and expose deception and corruption; it is easier to spend most of her own small income traveling the globe speaking to large groups of strangers in strange lands--anything is easier than walking uninvited into a cocktail party and trying to make conversation. . .'I remember saying to myself, 'I loathe this. I hate it. It's just horrible.' . . But I never thought of giving up. . . . And there's the sense that this is an irreversible issue. If you don't win this, then the whole continent is at risk, which makes your own personal concerns seem relatively minor. With the Antarctic, there's no domestic constituency of people, no people who are indigenous to the continent. It's something that all of us on this planet have to look after.'

" 'Gradually, the environmentalists were allowed to distribute their journal to the delegates at the meetings, then they were given identify tags as lobbyists. Eventually the environmentalists were granted observer status at the standard treaty meetings and at the associated meetings. 'Nonetheless, for a long time the treaty nations ignored what we were saying. They wrote us off as being funny socialist greenies, which we're not. They thought we were running a simple-minded anti- capitalist line, and they didn't really listen. For years, the diplomats have said how much they would like to be idealists like us, but they have to be realists. What they mean is that they'll take more notice of a few politicians than they do of the actual physical reality--that you can't take oil tankers into an environment like that without an accident. Oil and ice don't mix.' "

. . .

"Having attained the best of what French colonization had to offer an Ivory Coaster, [Wadja Egnankou] insists on sharing his education with his country, where forty-three percent of the population is fifteen or younger, and most are uneducated. What makes his work truly exceptional is the solitariness of his efforts. Egnankou has no organization, network, or resources. He struggles to help the people of his country, despite a hostile political environment. He uses his expensive and high- status education to fight for the lowly mangrove swamps. Singlehandedly, he risks all he has gained to work for the betterment of his country and its natural resources."

. . .

" 'It is mostly the poor who are made to give away their resources, cultural base, and even life, if so required, because it has become crucial and central to 'economic development' of society symbolized by rampant consumerism on one hand and the increasing percentage of the population being pushed and retained below the poverty line, on the other,' [Medha] Patkar has written. 'It is an irony that the tribals and the rural poor--in whose name development action projects are justified-- are the ones who face the severe backlash of development.' 'And what's more,' she says, 'not only are the tribals kicked out of their land and forest and river valleys, but the one who really takes it is destroying capital which is for all the world, which is limited, and which has to be used very carefully and sustainably, considering not just a few years, but generations.' "

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