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The Heroic Power of Individuals

Modern day Davids successfully challenging Goliaths are honoured in this year's Goldman Environmental Foundation prizes, a global award for environmental activism. We should all take inspiration from the winners and realise the difference every one of us can make to the world around us.

“These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact that one person can have on many,” said John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation. Highlighting the power of individual action, the six victors were:

Chibeze Ezekiel, Ghana As a direct result of his four year campaign, the Ghanaian Minister of Environment canceled the construction of a coal power plant and adjoining shipping port to import coal. The power plant would have been Ghana’s first. Ezekiel’s activism stopped the coal industry from entering Ghana and steered the nation’s energy future away from coal.

Kristal Ambrose, The Bahamas Drawing on the power of youth activism, Kristal Ambrose convinced the government of The Bahamas to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic cutlery, straws, and Styrofoam containers and cups. Announced in April 2018, the nationwide ban went into effect in January 2020.

Leydy Pech, Mexico An indigenous Mayan beekeeper, she led a coalition that successfully halted Monsanto’s planting of genetically modified soybeans in southern Mexico. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the Mayans’ constitutional rights and suspended the planting of genetically modified soybeans. Because of the persistence of Pech and her coalition, in September 2017, Mexico’s Food and Agricultural Service revoked Monsanto’s permit to grow genetically modified soybeans in seven states.

Lucie Pinson, France In 2017, Lucie Pinson’s activism successfully pressured France’s three largest banks to eliminate financing for new coal projects and coal companies. She then compelled French insurance companies to follow suit: between 2017 and 2019, mega insurers AXA and SCOR announced plans to end insurance coverage for coal projects.

Nemonte Nenquimo, Ecuador She led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court saving 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

Paul Sein Twa, Myanmar Seeking to preserve both the environment and Karen culture in Myanmar, in December 2018 Paul Sein Twa led his people in establishing a 1.35-million-acre peace park, a unique and collaborative community-based approach to conservation, in the Salween River basin. The Salween River basin is a major biodiversity zone and home to the indigenous Karen people, who have long sought self-determination and cultural survival. The new park represents a major victory for peace and conservation in Myanmar.

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