By Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy, June 20, 2017
From Wonder Woman to Guardians of the Galaxy, superheroes have taken the big screen by storm. Fans applaud as these fictional galactic defenders fight radioactive monsters and super-powered villains, but the real-life heroes who toil to save our planet from destruction get little attention.
I’m talking about the scientists, farmers, activists and others who battle against rising global temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, and corporate exploitation of natural habitats and resources.
On April 24, The Goldman Environmental Prize honored six everyday superheroes for their work fighting environmental injustice – including poaching, environmental dumping, mining, and deforestation – at an award ceremony in San Francisco.
Presented every year to six grassroots environmental heroes from Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America, the Prize recognizes people who often risk their lives to protect Earth’s forests, oceans, and underground resources. This year’s Prize winners include a park ranger from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an iconic social justice leader from India, an organic farmer from Slovenia, an octogenarian Australian farmer and advocate, an American community organizer and activist, and a Guatemalan indigenous leader.
These grassroots leaders share an undying commitment to preserving our planet and upholding the rights of local communities against incursion by multinational corporations in search of profits.
In the DRC, for example, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo went on a dangerous undercover mission to stop an oil mining project that threatened wildlife in Africa’s oldest national park as well as the livelihoods of surrounding communities. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, Rodrigo Tot persuaded the government to award land titles to the indigenous Q’eqchi people and kept an environmentally destructive nickel mining operation from expanding into his community.
In times like these, when countries, including the United States, are reneging on their commitments to protect our planet from climate change, we can draw inspiration from these six champions of Earth. They are also wonderful role models for our children, who need real-life heroes they can look up to—not just the ones they see on TV and in the movies. I encourage everyone to share the stories of planet protectors everywhere. They are our true heroes.