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The 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize virtual ceremony will be held on May 25 at 5:00 pm (PDT) / 8:00 pm (EDT). YouTube (https://youtu.be/-_f0J4P_87A)

A teenage girl in California who shut down a toxic oil-drilling site; a Nigerian lawyer who got long-overdue justice for communities devastated by two Shell pipeline spills; two Indigenous Ecuadorians who protected their ancestral lands from gold mining. These are just some of the inspiring winners of this year’s so-called “Green Nobel Prize.”

The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the seven 2022 winners of its annual Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the highest honor one can receive for participating in grassroots environmental activism. 

A teenage girl in California who shut down a toxic oil-drilling site; a Nigerian lawyer who got long-overdue justice for communities devastated by two Shell pipeline spills; two Indigenous Ecuadorians who protected their ancestral lands from gold mining. These are just some of the inspiring winners of this year’s so-called “Green Nobel Prize.”

The Goldman Environmental Foundation today announced the seven 2022 winners of its annual Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the highest honor one can receive for participating in grassroots environmental activism. 

“While the many challenges before us can feel daunting, and at times make us lose faith, these seven leaders give us a reason for hope and remind us what can be accomplished in the face of adversity,” Goldman Environmental Foundation vice president Jennifer Goldman Wallis said in a press release. “The Prize winners show us that nature has the amazing capability to regenerate if given the opportunity. Let us all feel inspired to channel their victories into regenerating our own spirit and act to protect our planet for future generations.”

The winners will be officially announced at an online ceremony at 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time hosted by actress and activist Jane Fonda. 

However, you can already view the winners and their stories on the prize’s website. 

Nalleli Cobo: At the age of 19, Cobo led a coalition that shut down a toxic oil drilling site in her South Los Angeles community. Cobo began fighting to shut down the site, which caused health problems like nosebleeds and headaches for her and other residents, when she was only nine. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was 19. Now cancer-free at 21, the illness left her unable to have children. She plans to run for U.S. president in 2036, The Guardian reported.  

“I kept fighting because no child should be denied the right to play outside or open windows like I was. It’s powerful to know that we, an invisible community, made this change,” she said, according to The Guardian. 

Marjan Minnesma: Minnesma developed a unique legal strategy to compel the Dutch government to take action on the climate crisis. She argued that the government had a “duty of care” towards its citizens that it was failing by dragging its heels to reduce emissions and successfully sued the government to slash emissions by at least 25 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The government appealed twice, until the highest court in the nation upheld the decision, marking the first time that citizens had successfully held their government to account for climate inaction. 

The ruling was “the strongest decision ever issued by any court in the world on climate change, and the only one that has actually ordered reductions in greenhouse gas emissions based on constitutional grounds,” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University director Michael Gerrard said on the prize website. 

Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narvaez: Lucitante and Narvaez are two members of the Indigenous Cofán of Sinangoe community, whose ancestral territory covers 79,000 acres of biodiverse rainforest in northern Ecuador. When Lucitante and Narvaez discovered that the Ecuadorian government had granted mining concessions in the area without consulting their community, they led a movement to protect their home They won a 2018 legal victory in which the court canceled the 52 concessions, setting an important precedent for protecting Indigenous land rights in the country.

“As women we have to defend Mother Earth, to speak out for the future of our children and defend our way of life in spite of the machismo and being afraid. It’s been beautiful to be part of this struggle with other women from my community,” Narvarez said, as The Guardian reported.

Niwat Roykaew: Roykaew is a retired schoolteacher in his 60s who worked to organize the communities that live along the Mekong River on the Thai-Laotian border. He observed first-hand the impacts of development on the river, and worked to stop a rapid-blasting project to allow Chinese cargo ships to pass. His efforts were successful, leading the Thai government to cancel a transnational project due to environmental concerns for the first time.

“The Mekong is like a mother to us, she gives us everything we need,” Roykaew said, as The Guardian reported. “It’s important to inform and empower the powerless so they know as citizens they have the right to ask questions and oppose multimillion-dollar projects by big countries.”

Julien Vincent: From extreme bushfires to bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis. At the same time, it is the world’s leading coal exporter by value and the second by volume. Vincent decided to address this by trying to cut off the financial tap. His group Market Forces managed to get Australia’s four largest banks to agree to stop funding coal projects by 2030. The country’s leading insurance companies have also agreed not to underwrite new coal projects.

“That was years of campaigning – we had divestment days, shareholder actions,” Vincent told The Guardian of his actions in a profile. “The lesson was that you can get to a point of mutual understanding and trust. We were not satisfied with what they were doing, and they didn’t appreciate our campaigning. But we had years of meetings and there was an understanding. It’s about being genuine and sincere.”

Chima Williams: In 2004, a Shell-operated pipeline in the Niger Delta caught fire, burned farmland and mangroves and polluted a lake. The next year, another pipeline leak spewed oil into land and drinking water for 12 days before it was contained. Shell blamed sabotage for the incidents, but Williams, an environmental lawyer, worked with the impacted communities to take the company to court. In 2021, the Court of Appeal of the Hague ruled that both Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary and the parent company Royal Dutch Shell had a responsibility to prevent spills. 

“This is the first time a Dutch transnational corporation has been held accountable for the violations of its subsidiary in another country, opening Shell to legal action from communities across Nigeria devastated by the company’s disregard for environmental safety,” the Goldman Environmental Prize website wrote. 

The Goldman Environmental Prize was first established in 1989 in San Francisco by philanthropists Rhoda and Richard Goldman, according to the press release. Since then, it has been awarded to 213 people from 93 different countries.

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An Asian elephant family at Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, India. Abhishek Mittal / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The highly social and endangered Asian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) lives in matriarch-led groups and, in addition to foods that can be found in the wild like grasses and the roots, bark and leaves of trees, enjoys foods cultivated by humans like rice and bananas, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Unfortunately, remnants of these and other cultivated foods and their packaging can be found in garbage dumps near where the elephants’ forest habitat meets human communities, where hungry Asian elephants gobble up the food, plastic packaging, utensils and other garbage. The plastics and other human debris is then transported into the forests via the elephants’ dung.

The highly social and endangered Asian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) lives in matriarch-led groups and, in addition to foods that can be found in the wild like grasses and the roots, bark and leaves of trees, enjoys foods cultivated by humans like rice and bananas, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Unfortunately, remnants of these and other cultivated foods and their packaging can be found in garbage dumps near where the elephants’ forest habitat meets human communities, where hungry Asian elephants gobble up the food, plastic packaging, utensils and other garbage. The plastics and other human debris is then transported into the forests via the elephants’ dung.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported that the consumption of extensive amounts of plastic waste had killed about 20 elephants in Sri Lanka over the past eight years. 

“Polythene, food wrappers, plastic, other non-digestibles and water were the only things we could see in the post mortems. The normal food that elephants eat and digest was not evident,” said wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumara, as The Associated Press reported.

In a new study published in the Journal for Nature Conservation, titled “Plastic ingestion in Asian elephants in the forested landscapes of Uttarakhand, India,” a team of scientists collected dung samples from inside and around forested areas in Uttarakhand, India, and found that the endangered Asian elephants there had been ingesting human garbage, including plastics.

“Each human-derived item was identified, measured, and sub-categorized into plastic or other anthropogenic waste. About one-third (32%) of the elephant dung samples showed presence of anthropogenic waste,” the study said.

Elephants disperse seeds through their dung, but when their food supply is contaminated with plastic, this natural process transports the ubiquitous and damaging pollutant into wild spaces, endangering the health of the elephants and their forest companions, reported The New York Times.

While working on her Ph.D. at Jawaharlal Nehru University, lead author of the study Dr. Gitanjali Katlam caught elephants ingesting garbage via trail cameras in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. She and her colleagues, along with ecological research nonprofit the Nature Science Initiative, also collected dung samples.

Plastic was detected in all of the dung close to the dumps and forest near Kotdwar, located near Jim Corbett National Park. Eighty-five percent of the refuse found in the elephant dung collected there was made of plastic, mostly from plastic utensils, food containers, plastic packaging and plastic bags.

Once the plastics are brought into the forest via the elephants’ dung, they may be consumed by other species and fill their stomachs, causing “mechanical damage,” said Carolina Monmany Garzia, who was not involved with the study and works with Agustina Malizia, an independent researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina, The New York Times reported.

“It has a cascading effect,” said Katlam, as reported by The New York Times.

With the ingestion of plastics comes the introduction of dangerous chemicals like phthalates, polystyrene and bisphenol A to the digestive systems of the elephants and other animals.

The management of waste by the Indian government, as well as individuals taking the time to make sure that containers don’t contain food waste, are both important to help keep plastic from being ingested by elephants and other animals as often, Katlam pointed out.

“We need to realize and understand how the overuse of plastics is affecting the environment and the organisms that inhabit them,” said Malizia, as The New York Times reported.

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Monarch butterflies roost in an oyamel fir at the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Preserve, Mexico. WWF-Mexico

After many years of plummeting populations of migrating monarch butterflies, a WWF-Mexico survey brings good news: during the 2021-2022 overwintering period, the monarch butterfly presence observed in the forests of Mexico was 35% higher than the previous year. While the butterflies are still vulnerable and require more conservation efforts, the survey gives some hope for recovery.

The survey, Forest Area Occupied by the Colonies of Monarch Butterflies in Mexico During the 2021-2022 Overwintering Season, measured the amount of forest the butterflies cover, since it is too difficult to count each butterfly. In total, WWF-Mexico noted that 10 colonies of monarch butterflies spanned 2.835 hectares (7.005 acres) of forest in late December 2021, up 35% from the 2.10 (5.189) hectares covered in 2020. Six colonies covered 2.174 (5.372 acres) hectares inside the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. An additional 0.661 hectares (1.633 acres) of forest outside the reserve were also covered in butterflies.

After many years of plummeting populations of migrating monarch butterflies, a WWF-Mexico survey brings good news: during the 2021-2022 overwintering period, the monarch butterfly presence observed in the forests of Mexico was 35% higher than the previous year. While the butterflies are still vulnerable and require more conservation efforts, the survey gives some hope for recovery.

The survey, Forest Area Occupied by the Colonies of Monarch Butterflies in Mexico During the 2021-2022 Overwintering Season, measured the amount of forest the butterflies cover, since it is too difficult to count each butterfly. In total, WWF-Mexico noted that 10 colonies of monarch butterflies spanned 2.835 hectares (7.005 acres) of forest in late December 2021, up 35% from the 2.10 (5.189) hectares covered in 2020. Six colonies covered 2.174 (5.372 acres) hectares inside the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site. An additional 0.661 hectares (1.633 acres) of forest outside the reserve were also covered in butterflies.

“The increase in monarch butterflies is good news and indicates that we should continue working to maintain and reinforce conservation measures by Mexico, the United States, and Canada,” Jorge Rickards, general manager of WWF-Mexico, said in a press release. “Monarchs are important pollinators, and their migratory journey helps promote greater diversity of flowering plants, which benefits other species in natural ecosystems and contributes to the production of food for human consumption.”

The forest coverage for monarch butterflies varies from year to year, but it has been on a general decline for decades. In the 1996-1997 overwintering period, experts measured 18.19 hectares (44.726 acres) of forest covered in butterflies. In recent years, the butterflies covered just over 6 hectares in 2006-2007 and 2018-2019. 

Several factors contribute to the overall population decline. Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed for reproduction, but agricultural practices, including reliance on Round-Up-ready crops, has depleted the number of milkweed plants across the migration route. Other insecticides and herbicides, as well as the bacterial pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis, further threaten the butterflies, as do parasites and pathogens.

Illegal logging has decreased the amount of forests in the reserve and beyond where butterflies migrate to. Climate change has also impacted the migration of monarch butterflies, as the increasing temperatures can shift environmental cues for migration and make their overwintering habitat too warm.

The latest population survey gives hope for recovery for monarch butterflies, but more work is needed to combat the threats that have contributed to their steady decline.

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