The Goldman Environmental Prize is named for late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. You might also compare it to the yellow-colored precious metal.
Seven people are recipients of the annual prize for 2022, from Thailand, Australia, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Ecuador and the United States.
The Goldman Environmental Prize is dubbed as the world’s foremost award for grassroots environmental activists. Its latest recipients are called “seven of the Earth’s foremost defenders.” That’s foremost, as in prominent in rank, importance or position.
Take a look at 2022 winners and you’ll see what they mean. They are, as described by organizers:
Chima Williams of Nigeria, an environmental lawyer who worked with two communities to hold a major petroleum company accountable for widespread environmental damage in communities;
Niwat Roykaew of Thailand, a retiree who terminated the China-led Mekong River rapids blasting project, which would have destroyed 248 miles of the Mekong to deepen navigation channels for Chinese cargo ships traveling downstream;
Marjan Minnesma of the Netherlands, who successfully secured a ruling from the Dutch Supreme Court that the government must protect its citizens from climate change and that by the end of 2020, greenhouse gas emissions must be 25% lower than 1990 levels;
Julien Vincent of Australia, who led a successful grassroots campaign to defund coal nationwide, culminating in commitments from the country’s four largest banks to end funding for coal projects by 2030;
Nalleli Cobo of the United States, who successfully shut down a toxic oil-drilling site and convinced government officials to begin phasing out all oil extraction throughout her city;
Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narvaez of Ecuador, who spearheaded an Indigenous grassroots movement to protect 79,000 acres of their people’s ancestral territory from illegal gold mining.
Cobo, now 21, lives in Los Angeles. Cobo was 19 when she led a coalition to permanently shut down the drilling site in her community in March 2020.
“It was 30 feet from our house,” Cobo recalls. She says she suffered from chronic headaches, intense nosebleeds, stomach pains, asthma, body spasms and heart palpitations as a child and was diagnosed with cancer at age 19. “I got to the point where I couldn’t walk and had to be carried from place-to-place.”
She moved to another house in 2014 and has been cancer-free for a year.
Cobo’s continued organizing against urban oil extraction has yielded major policy movement within the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which voted unanimously to ban new oil exploration and phase out of existing sites.
Vincent, 41, of Melbourne, says he was working on climate campaigns at Greenpeace and “started to win by going after sources of finance.
“It just got me thinking, ‘Why isn’t there an organization out there doing this?’”
Vincent founded Market Forces in 2013 with an aim to combat climate change by targeting the financial levers that enable the extraction, refining, and export of coal and other fossil fuels. He helped organize events like “divestment days,” with people lining up outside a bank, wearing T-shirts proclaiming “My bank chose fossil fuels, so I chose another bank.”
Over the years, the campaigns grew and so did the organization’s power. “Ultimately, we got to a point where all the elements lined up,” Vincent recalls. “The bank had the right people in the right positions with the right level of empowerment themselves to make some really good decisions.”
Vincent, Cobo and the others were honored for the 2022 prize in a virtual ceremony, streamed on YouTube and Facebook.
In addition to a physical award, each winner receives an undisclosed cash prize. The organization does not make recommendations on how the funds should be used.
“The award is meant to acknowledge the groundbreaking work that has been done in grassroots environmentalism,” organizers say, “and the winners are free to use the prize in whichever way they feel best supports them and their environmental efforts.”
Since the prize was established in 1989, 213 winners from 93 nations have been honored.
Cobo, now a freshman studying political science at a community college, has big plans for the future.
“I want to meet the pope … I want to be civil rights lawyer and work for the ACLU and run for president in 2036. Vote for me. I’m campaigning early.”