The Forest Wins

As we celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Week, important changes are taking place around the world in how we view nature. For the first time, the Amazon Forest tops the list of the world’s billionaires, with its bioeconomy valued at $317 billion by the World Bank in 2023. The Amazon Forest is worth seven times more standing than the potential of the earnings from destroying the forest. This key concept is reflected in The Lexicon of Change which describes the key concept of the floresta em – the standing forest. It is hard to protect things for which we have no name.

This week the Goldman Prize winners were announced – sharing some important trends and identifying actions that give us a sense of hope. These winners also offer valuable language for new ways of thinking, being, and acting. The Goldman Prize winners are working to protect forests and oceans, as well as air quality.

Protecting the Amazon Forest in Brazil

Marcel Gomes, a journalist in Brazil, played a key role in halting the sale of beef from areas which had been illegally deforested in the Amazon Forest. Marcel worked with truck drivers and researchers to trace beef products from European supermarkets back to the Amazon Forest. “If a small nonprofit can trace the products back to its point of origin, so can large multinationals.” European consumers staged a boycott of products sourced by JBS, a beef importer. As a result of Marcel’s work with the NGO Mighty Earth, six major European supermarkets have stopped sourcing beef from deforested areas. Traceability is an important tool for promoting the floresta em and ensuring a sustainable supply chain.

Protecting wildlife corridors in India

Alok Shukla has been instrumental in creating the Lemru Elephant Reserve in the Hasdeo region and protecting 445,000 acres of nature reserves. As a result of Alok’s work with social media campaigns and wide-spread protests, the regional government cancelled 21 coal mines which were scheduled to be built in the Chhattigarh area of central India. The campaign took 12 years and has preserved the Hasdeo region, which has wildlife corridors for tigers and elephants.

Combatting climate change in Australia

Murrawah Maroochy Johnson of Queensland, Australia fought the development of the Waratah coal mine. She brought justices to the region for on-country hearings to familiarize the leaders with the Bimblebox Nature Reserve, a 20,000 acre area. The destruction of the nature reserve would have accelerated climate change by adding an additional 158 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere, endangering the health and wellbeing of her indigenous community.

Protecting the Wild Coast of South Africa

Nonhle Mbuthumi and Sinegugu Zukulu, stopped the testing for oil and gas off the Wild Coast of South Africa. The biome is part of the migratory path of whales and home to fishing communities which rely on fishing for their livelihood. Both indigenous activists, Nonhele and Sinegugu used social media and campaigning to organize protests to preserve the fragile ecosystem of the Wild Coast, an important cultural heritage site. As a result of these campaigns, the South African government withdrew Shell’s permit to test for oil and gas in the Wild Coast.

Protecting the Mar Menor, Europe’s Largest Saltwater Lagoon in Spain

Teresa Vicente, a law professor in Murcia, Spain, came up with a novel way to protect the Mar Menor: she found a way to grant the lagoon legal rights. In Spain’s legal system, an individual has the right to propose legislation, if they are able to get 500,000 signatures. Vicente fought for “ecological justice” through collective action, all during the time of Covid. She was able to get far more than the necessary number of signatures to bring the legislation to parliament, where it was approved. Providing legal rights for nature sets an important precedent.

Protecting the air quality in California, USA

Andrea Vidaurre of California noticed that the health of her community was being impacted by the diesel trucks and railway cars that passed through Inland, California. Clean air legislation was being proposed, but it was too slow. Andrea Vidaurre fought the environmental racism she saw perpetuated against Latino and indigenous peoples in the ancestral land of the Serrano by creating a state-wide coalition of leaders from labor and environmental organizations. Andrea convinced the California Air Resources Board to adopt regulations that will reduce emissions in the trucking and rail industries, including 100 percent zero emissions for freight truck sales. This legislation is the toughest in the US.

Each of these leaders is forging new pathways for environmental justice, and with this work sharing new paradigms for action, while reimagining a healthier planet.   

To share terms and paradigms, videos, and images of transformation, please visit the Lexicon of Change.