05/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Even So, The Best Day of the Year

Coming back to my car after the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Goldman Environmental Prize, I found a car window smashed, and my computer gone.  Even so, it was the best day of the year -- as it has been for the past 20 years.  Losing an old laptop is somehow not so important or hard to bear when you hear what the real environmental heroes in this world are up against -- governments that may kill them, powerful foreign nations that intimidate, bribe, and cheat, fossil-fuel industries (like mountaintop removal mining in the United States, or chemical plants in Russia) desperately holding on to the polluting ways of the past.

And time and time again the activists win.  It's really astounding when you think about it.  Mountaintop removal mining is on the way out in this country -- and it's because of the activism of grassroots, community folks like this year's Goldman winner from North America, Maria Gunnoe.   The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has dramatically raised environmental standards for "shipbreaking," the industry in which the outmoded vessels of the industrial world are sent to Bangladesh (and India and Pakistan) for dismantling and recycling -- under the most dangerous  circumstances imaginable. The ruling happened  because of lawyers like the Goldman winner from Asia, Syeda Rizwana Hasan.

Another new theme emerged this year: Forestry activists are now, increasingly facing a new foreign exploiter -- timber companies from China.  In both Suriname and Gabon it was Chinese concessions that have taken the place of historically rapacious U.S. and European firms. The loudest applause of the evening came for Gabon's Marc Ona, who stood down his own government and a major proposed mining project which would have destroyed a national park -- and he did it all from a wheelchair.

Have a great year.