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Fighting For Environment, Climate And Justice: the 2014 Goldman Prize Winners

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2014 marks the 25th year the Goldman Foundation has been drawing the world's attention to unknown yet inspiring grassroots heroes around the world, unsung local Davids successfully battling industrial and political Goliaths to preserve, ultimately, our global environment and environmental rights. These heroes' lives, their stories and their extraordinary commitments are truly awe-inspiring.

The 2014 heroes are excellent examples. After personally talking with 3 of them, my head came away spinning. All were devoting monumental amounts of work to local environmental and justice issues for little or no pay, and against daunting odds. One of them, Ramesh Agrawal, was shot for doing so - luckily, he survived. Amazingly, he is undaunted, even as he struggles to walk. Another, Suren Gazaryan, had to flee his homeland and seek protective asylum in Estonia.

The differences these heroes are making may appear local, but ramify globally: theirs is no less than a ringing challenge to giant, profitable companies and corrupt governments who would rob all of us of a decent environment, climate and future in the name of short-sighted greed.

Like the Nobel Prize Committee, the Goldman Foundation takes their heroes unawares: winners receive calls "out of the blue" notifying them (for 2014) of their $175,000 prize. The surprised heroes this year are - Drum roll, please! --

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Ramesh Agrawal, Contesting Coal and Oil Mining in India

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Ruth Buendia, Fighting Dams in Peru

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Desmond D'Sa, Sustainable Development in South Africa

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Suren Gazaryan, Protecting Forests in Russia

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Rudi Putra, Protecting Forests in Indonesia

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Helen Slottje, Fighting Fracking, in the United States

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If you need inspiration, click on the names of any of these heroes. I'll be presenting the personal stories behind Ramesh Agrawal and Rudi Putra in the coming weeks, but for now, here is the one behind Helen Slottje:

Helen is doing battle literally on top of the Marcellus Shale, the largest shale gas deposit in the United States. Over a million oil or gas wells now dot the US landscape, so her work has national implications.

A commercial attorney turned rural lawyer, she gained crucial insights from an early failure to develop a successful legal framework for nearly 200 (and counting) rural communities to pass local fracking bans.

Her insights are many. At a personal level, she is now far more conscious at home about using energy, the real cost of which is far higher than any number she will ever see on a monthly bill.

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The real cost of natural gas: the unnatural environmental impacts of fracking it. Source: Helen Slottje at flickr.

At a local level, "Despite the gas industry telling us there was nothing we can do, we do have very important home rule rights and the right to make local decisions," she says. Take home message: don't let big industry bully you.

Scaling up, "Fracking is scraping the bottom of the energy barrel," she notes. Many wells fail outright or do so within a few years; on a long-term basis, even the best cement casings are unable to contain toxins. It's not a question of if, but when a fracking site will contaminate the surrounding area. There is no safe way to do fracking.

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Up close and impersonal: the environmental contamination from fracking ultimately affects everyone, whether it is the surrounding community, or the world from the global heating created by burning gas. Source: Helen Slottje at flickr.

But what about using gas as a transitional fuel? The gas industry has been talking about that since 1981, she scoffs. At a fundamental level, our democracy is being replaced by major oligarchies, like the fossil fuel industry, she has come to realize. It's time for us to fight back.

And fight back is what her organization, the Community Environmental Defense Council (CEDC), does, pushing the envelope for opportunities to make a difference quickly, and broadening their sights. Although they were the first to do this, they have watched it become a mainstream industry. She predicts an explosion in the number of communities adopting anti-fracking regulations within the next year.

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Fracking is exploding across the landscape of the US, not just in New York. Source: www.shaleshock.org

As the website notes,

"Fracking and fossil fuels are choking off renewable energy solutions. The future of solar energy and other renewables is dependent upon political will to stand up to fossil fuel interests, not on technology."

Helen will be using her award to help the CEDC keep pushing that envelope. You can help them now, here.

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