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Losing a Friend

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Wangari Maathai died Sunday, in Kenya. I have lost a dear friend, but the world has lost an amazing champion. Wangari was, perhaps, the first powerful environmental voice for the Global South, a voice that fundamentally made environmentalism truly planet-wide. The Sierra Club gave her its first international award, the Chico Mendes Prize, and we worked side by side with her in the decades that followed, as her transformative environmental advocacy in Africa next won her the Goldman Environmental Prize and, finally, the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wangari was unique, in my experience, in the joyfulness that she brought to the extraordinarily difficult struggles that she embraced. She was also unique in how she demonstrated through her actions, rather than by lecturing, that at the heart of our environmental dilemma is human oppression, not difficult trade-offs between man and nature. Ultimately, it is the struggle for justice among people that will enable us to pass on, intact, what she liked to call "Mother Earth."

We were lucky to have her. We will all miss her.

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