May 6, 2017

Want to Protect the Environment? Prepare to be Shot.

I grew up thinking “green” was a dirty word.

No one in my family would identify as an environmental activist, let alone an eco-warrior—but they do care about the environment.

My dad and I are often—almost always—on opposite sides of local resource arguments. We debate, we raise our voices, we disagree, then we sit down and have a nice family dinner together.

We’re privileged to debate civilly. For many, arguments about the environment are a matter of life and death. Reasoned discourse is giving way to deadly violence around the world.

Caring about and advocating for our environment shouldn’t be a death sentence. I was horrified to learn recently that this past year will top 2015 as the deadliest year on record for environmental activists according to Global Witness.

Environmentalists around the world are defending forests from big mining corporations, the last mountain gorillas from poachers, indigenous land use rights from unscrupulous government officials, and urban communities from pollution.

They are also dying by the hundreds.

Just last Saturday, April 22, 2017 activist and author of I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki Gallmann, was shot in the abdomen by men at her conservation ranch at in northern Kenya. Dozens of others have been killed or wounded in the past few weeks.

Each year, in recognition of the courage and sacrifices of incredible grassroots activists, the Goldman Environmental Prize honors the efforts of six individuals working for environmental sustainability and justice.

On April 23, 2017 this year’s recipients were announced. They include a Congolese park ranger and former child soldier reporting on bribery by oil companies, a Slovenian organic farmer fighting air pollution, a third generation activist from California fighting industrial contamination, an Indian social justice leader, an Australian farmer fighting against coal development, and a Q’eqchi Guatemalan indigenous land rights activist.

The prize recognizes individuals whose lives are often endangered by their work. Indigenous land activist and 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize recipient, Berta Cáceres, was shot and killed at her home in her native country of Honduras in March, 2016. She was targeted simply because she spoke out about ancestral land rights.

What can we do to support these eco-warriors?

1. Speak truth to power.

In this age of “alternative facts” and dismantling of the United State’s Environmental Protection Agency, it’s more important than ever that we stand in solidarity with facts. Especially ones that are unpopular with those in power.

We can follow the lead of people like Michael Cox, who wrote a scathing letter to the new head of the EPA when he recently chose to retire.

2. Teach our kids to care.

There were some great signs at this past weekend’s March for Science. Especially the ones made by young people. My little one and I marched around our living room since our local march was unfortunately scheduled during nap time.

When our children see our communities standing up for science, they learn that environmental protection is important and integral to our society. Let’s remember our childhood curiosity and celebrate what we don’t already know.

And, good news! Bill Nye the Science Guy is back! Although his new Netflix show is intended for adults, the original series is still great. I hear “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” is also making a come back. Let’s make science cool again for kids!

3. Pay attention.

Did you know more than 140 Virunga park rangers have been killed on duty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? I didn’t either.

I know baby goats doing yoga in sweaters are much more enjoyable to watch than the depressing news, but we need to pay attention.

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” ~ Henry David Thoreau

4. Give.

Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s time. Support organizations that are doing good work. It’s especially imperative to look for organizations working in our own local communities. For those working internationally, check out these three to start:

>> Global Witness, which investigates and reports on environmental and human rights abuses.

>> Grassroots International, which advocates for environmental and social justice by tackling climate justice, human rights, food sovereignty, movement building, resource rights, and sustainable livelihoods.

>> Nature Conservancy, which focuses on ecological conservation of land and marine ecosystems in partnership with local communities.

5. Share.

Tell a friend about the six incredible environmental activists the Goldman Environmental Prize honored this year. I recently bought a set of Women in Science postcards from my favorite local book store. I’m going to write notes and send them to friends who inspire me.

We can’t do this work alone. Let’s encourage and educate each other. Burdens are easier shared and accomplishments are best enjoyed together.


Author: Kenni Linden
Image: Daniel Cima / Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell

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