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Earth Day 2023: Celebrating Environmental Champions

We have so much to learn from environmental leaders, such as the winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. These leaders are boldly creating new paradigms for addressing the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. Leaders like Brazilian indigenous leader Alessandra Korap are languaging the future, giving us courage to create new ways of thinking being, and acting.

In Turkey, environmental activist and marine photographer Zafer Kizilikaya has worked to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in which fishing is not allowed. These areas are patrolled by marine rangers to ensure they remain no-fishing zones and allow for ecosystem restoration. With the support of the Turkish government, Zafer has ensured that 700 kilometers of ecosystem restoration. The Turkish Coast Guard helps to patrol the Bay through its marine rangers program.

Alessandra Korap Munduruku of the Tapajos region of Brazil has led a movement of self demarcation in which her tribe, the Munduruku, have mapped their region and placed signs demarcating their land. This movement and her courageous activism in coalition with NGO partners has led the Brazilian government to recognize the lands of her tribe, and while forcing the mining company Anglo-American to withdraw its requests for permits to mine in the region.

For three decades, Diane Wilson has campaigned to address the problem of persistent plastics in the Gulf Bay in Texas. The plastics and petrochemicals company, Formosa, has released nurdles into the Bay. Nurdles are persistent plastic pellets which are consumed by birds and sea life who mistake them for food. Formosa was releasing a trillion nurdle pellets per day. Wilson sued Formosa and won, with Formosa being ordered to spend $50 million in restoration efforts and reach zero discharge. Formosa has since spent $450 million to restore the waters.

In Finland, Tero Mustonen has worked to restore degraded peatlands. Like the rainforest, peatlands are a key mechanism for addressing climate change by sequestering carbon. Tero  combines traditional knowledge from the Saami people with scientific knowledge to bring the waters back and promote the rewilding of peatlands.  In 2017, Tero purchased peatlands and began rewilding efforts. Through this work, over 86,000 acres of peatlands have been restored. It gives me hope to hear Tero state: “I am filled with reverence for how big the comeback can be.”

In Sumatra, Indonesia, Delima Silalahi led a campaign on behalf of six Tano Batak communities to secure legal rights to 17,824 acres of land. Delima’s campaign allowed for the mapping of the territory and the education of local communities, as well as work with the government.

In Zambia, Chilekwa Mumba fought to combat pollution caused by the Konkola Copper Mine in Copperbelt of the country. Together with a British law firm, Chilekwa Mumba took the parent company, Vedanta, to court. The UK Supreme Court held British company Vedanta, liable for the pollution caused by its subsidiary in Zambia, an historic precedent.   

These environmental champions have suffered harassment and death threats but have remained undaunted in their commitment to addressing the environmental health of our planet.  

To learn more about the Goldman Environmental Prize winners, visit their website.


Deborah Leipziger

Deborah Leipziger

She is Consultant on Social Innovation, Sustainability, and Human Rights, Lecturer, Senior Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation, Babson College, USA, Founder, The Lexicon of Change

Owned by: Institute of Directors, India

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    Deborah Leipziger

    Author. Advisor. Sustainability Expert. Lecturer

    Author, Consultant on Social Innovation, Sustainability, and Human Rights, Lecturer, Senior Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation, Babson College, USA, Founder, The Lexicon of Change

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