2018 Goldman Awards: the Irony and the Ecstacy

2018 Goldman Environmental Awards

Heroes across the globe, honored at San Francisco's City Hall

The 29th Annual Goldman Environmental Awards were held on Monday, April 23, at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. The ensuing reception honoring the awardees was held across the street at City Hall - an irony not lost on those aware of San Francisco's "original sin" and its continued occupation of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley.
 
The Goldman Environmental Awards have become a venerable institution. They remind us that the world is a big place with endless conflicts arising from the need to develop natural resources for economic development. Communities around the world often resist that development when it threatens their land, wildlife, water and air. The Goldman Awards annually honor leaders who passionately, and often bravely, protect their communities from harm. 
 
Clockwise from top left: Goldman AWard Winners Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid (South Africa), Khanh Nguy Thi (Vietnam), Claire Nouvian (France), Francia Márquez (Colombia), LeeAnne Walters (United States), Manny Calonzo (The Philippines)
 
The award winners are an impressive group. Each told an interesting, educational and impressive story. As an advocate myself, it was both humbling and inspiring to listen. Stories and video of past and present winners are available on the Goldman website.
 
As one focused on ending San Francisco's continued occupation of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, however, I saw a certain irony in holding the ceremony in San Francisco and especially the reception across the street at City Hall. 
 
The conservation movement has of course expanded considerably since the original Hetch Hetchy battle in the early 20th century. In the 1960s, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring alerted us to the fact that better living through chemistry was very often not so. Then in 1972 President Nixon signed the clean water act - having been inspired to do so after a horrified nation watched Ohio's Cuyahoga River catch fire.
 
Nixon also signed the Clean Air Act, subsequently amended in 1991 by George H.W. Bush with provisions that included market-based incentives for reducing acid rain. Today, much of the conservation movement is consumed with local, national and international efforts to stop the Earth's atmosphere from warming due to the ever increasing combustion of fossil fuels.
 
Conservation is integrated within virtually every aspect of our lives. We recycle. We conserve energy and water. We subsidize public transportation and dedicate highway lanes to carpools. We regulate forestry, commercial fishing and other industries so they will be sustainable for future generations.

Even as we address these broader challenges, there is ever increasing demand to protect public land - especially some of our most spectacular and unique landscapes. There are no longer great swaths of public land to be set aside for permanent protection. Restoration, rather than preservation, will be the focus of ecosystem conservation in the 21st century. We also have already begun ambitious projects to restore Florida's Everglades and the Mississippi River Delta.
 
Restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley would be a tremendous way to teach ourselves once again the lessons John Muir taught more than a century ago. And what a gift it would be for our children and future generations, as we strive to leave them a world that is in better shape than the one we have now.
 
"Standing waste deep in wildflowers on a sunny day in June" (John Muir) will be perhaps the best way to celebrate Hetch Hetchy's restoration. But the reception at City Hall to commemorate San Francisco's decision to end its occupation of this second "Yosemite" will surely be a great event as well.