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Meet 6 of the World's Top Environmental Heroes
The Goldman Environmental Foundation announced today the six winners of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award for grassroots environmentalists. Every year since 1989, the foundation has chosen an environmental hero from each of the world's six inhabited continental regions.
Just as in past years, this year's winners persevered in the face of extreme adversity. Photo credit: Goldman Environmental Foundation
The prize "recognizes fearless grassroots activists working against all odds to protect the environment and their communities." The winners of the prize "often work in countries where violence and death threats against environmental defenders are on the rise, as documented in a report from Global Witness released today," says the Goldman Environmental Foundation.
The prize was established by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. The winners will be awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony tonight at 5:30 p.m. PDT at the San Francisco Opera House (this event will be live streamed online). A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC will follow on April 22 at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
This year's winners are:
Phyllis Omido, Kenya
After learning her own breast milk was making her baby sick—and realizing her child wasn’t the only one suffering from lead poisoning—Phyllis Omido galvanized the community in Mombasa to shut down the smelter that was exposing people to dangerous chemicals.
Myint Zaw, Myanmar
Facing heavy government scrutiny and restricted use of tools like email or social media, journalist and activist Myint Zaw launched a national movement, which included the use of art exhibitions, to successfully stop construction of the Myitsone Dam on Myanmar’s treasured Irrawaddy River. The dam would have displaced over 12,000 indigenous people and destroyed the watershed while exporting 90 percent of the energy generated to China.
Howard Wood, Scotland
After witnessing the severe degradation of the Isle of Arran’s marine environment from destructive commercial fishing practices, Howard Wood, a recreational diver spearheaded the establishment of Scotland’s first community-developed Marine Protected Area, leading to a dramatic recovery of biodiversity.
Jean Wiener, Haiti
In a country plagued by extreme poverty and political instability, Jean Wiener led community efforts to establish the nation’s first Marine Protected Areas by empowering Haitians to see the long-term value in sustainably managing fisheries and mangrove forests.
Marilyn Baptiste, Canada
A former chief of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, Marilyn Baptiste led her community in defeating not one but three attempts by a powerful mining company to construct British Columbia’s largest gold and copper mine, which would have destroyed Fish Lake—a source of spiritual identity and livelihood for the Xeni Gwet’in.
Berta Cáceres, Honduras
In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?