21 April 2009

Goldman Environmental Prize

Yesterday, on a rare balmy evening in San Francisco, David and I attended the 20th Goldman Environmental Prize Awards at our beautiful, but unfortunately-named War Memorial Opera House. And I was finally propelled (and freed?) to post my first blog entry because this event --and the awardees' stories--never fails to inspire me and move me to tears, and this year was no exception. I flash back often to something one of last year's awardees said from the stage, "We are in grave environmental danger and have so much hard work to do, but we have to remember that Martin Luther King changed the world not by scaring us, but by making us see how that changed world could look..."

War Memorial Opera House: Stage and Chandelier

This year's awards were especially glam: Christiane Amanpour emceed, Al Gore gave the keynote, Robert Redford spoke in person in addition to his regular narration of the video on the awardees, and Tracy Chapman performed. Christiane didn't look up much from the prompter, but she was still her amazingly crisply-spoken and telegenic self. Part-time SFer Al started off in his Professor Gore persona, shvitzing like mad in the heat, and he did an odd shout-out to his biz partner in the audience, but he finally hit his "Inconvenient Truth" stride. Redford was disarmingly unrehearsed and craggily handsome (David: "He's so short in person!"); I knew his very smart and generous ex-wife Lola in New York. And it was a treat to hear local resident Tracy's live versions of "Talking 'Bout a Revolution" and "Big Yellow Taxi" since she performs so rarely; she joked that it had been hard to find upbeat environmental songs. I understand there's a big debate on whether she's sapphic, but when I see her on Valencia in The Mish, I certainly think so...

Goldman Prize Awards Program: Christiane Amanpour, Al Gore, Robert Redford, and Tracy Chapman

But I digress, because the point of the awards and this post is the awardees and their amazing stories. Each year, the Goldman Prize gives an award to one grassroots environmentalist in each of six areas of the world: Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, and North and South America. This year's awards highlighted work in Gabon to stop mining in newly-created national parks, in Bangladesh to halt the dumping of toxic freighters, in Russia to focus attention on chemical waste, in Bali to build safe water and trash/recycle/re-use infrastructure, in West Virginia to stop mountain-top removal coal mining, and in Suriname to prevent deforestation of tribal common lands. I always am inspired and amazed because these are truly grassroots efforts of individuals with few resources or connections who build movements and take on major issues, often facing hostile governments or well-funded corporations who put their lives at risk through intimidation, violence, and imprisonment--the awardee from Gabon alluded to how grateful he was to be allowed to leave the country to accept the award. And I don't think it is a coincidence that they are overwhelmingly upbeat, modest, and that many of them are women. As I watch and hear their stories and hear them speak in person I realize again what each of us is capable of--large and small.

Several notes: most of the awardees used the phrase "our territory" in their speeches, and I found myself wondering and hoping that they didn't intend to use those specific words with their specific connotations in English, but something more like "our home," or "where we live" since English was the primary language of only one awardee. I wish the organizers had used a lectern that could be lifted and lowered, rather than take out a mini lectern for the one awardee in a wheelchair. I sometimes wonder about the awards' hagiographic tone toward the Goldmans, but then they have done incredible things and put vast resources toward awareness around grassroots environmental efforts ($150,000 award x 6 awardees x 20 years = $18m). And I can never figure out where the award attendees are from: overwhelmingly well-off, well-dressed, older, straight, white people who I don't recognize.

The reception at City Hall that followed was again a generous and warm event overflowing with well-crafted, beautiful, and delish food and drink, and following the green theme it was a completely S.O.L.E. food gala that filled the North and South Light Courts, the Rotunda and stairs, and the balconies above. I love being in and attending events at our City Hall--it's a beautiful building that has been well-restored. And while it has some sad memories for San Franciscans, it is also has all the good memories of brave politicians and seminal legislation, gay weddings and gay pride, and other protests, movements, and memorials. I can never resist climbing the stairs and walking the halls, and I dragged David by the offices of the Gav and our Supes.

City Hall: Staircase and Main Hall

We also got to take a closer look at the cool/wild/slightly scary Patrick Dougherty willow sculptures woven into the London plane (Platanus × acerifolia) trees in Civic Center Plaza.

Patrick Dougherty artwork: toward City Hall and toward the Federal Building

1 comment:

  1. OMG!!!! So many things:

    1) Yay!
    2) WOW - this is *quite* a first post. Love it!
    3) You know there's no speculation about her sapphistry, right? It's confirmed. I'll tell you more offline. ;-)
    4) Your iPhone photos are actually great -- love them. One of my other fave bloggers has an iPhone app called Camera Bag that she loves, I think, for this purpose.
    5) Yay again! Can't wait to read more from you and comment it up.


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