Last night the ceremony announcing this year’s winners of the Goldman prize for environmental activism was held in San Francisco’s Opera House. The award is the brainchild of Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Rhoda passed away in 1996. This year it appeared Richard’s health had taken a turn for the worse, although he still spoke cogently.

Because it is the award’s 20th anniversary, they brought out the big guns. Al Gore gave an excellent keynote speech emphasizing individual responsibility.

Robert Redford lent some star power.

Tracy Chapman performed well at intermission.

But of course the main attention is supposed to be on the award recipients, one from each of the inhabited continents. This year’s winners (from left to right) included:

  • ISLAND NATIONS: Yuyun Ismawati, who brought modern waste management systems to poor neighborhoods in Bali.
  • EUROPE: Olga Speranskaya of Moscow, who created a network of organizations aimed at correcting the Soviet legacy of abandoned toxic chemicals.
  • CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA: Hugo Jabin (3rd from left) and Wanze Eduards (second from right ) who waged a campaign against Chinese logging in Suriname.
  • AFRICA: Marc Ona, who fought a Chinese mining development threatening Gabon’s rain forests.
  • ASIA: Rizwana Hasan, who worked to reduce environmental damage from the ship breaking industry in Bangladesh.
  • NORTH AMERICA: Maria Gunnoe, who stood up to mountaintop mining in West Virginia.

This is a worthy award that has done much good. Yet there is something a little odd in flying barefoot peasant activists in to mingle with Pacific Heights matrons, while workers from environmental activists battle each other to reach the City Hall hors d’oeuvres tables. (This year the Pacific Heights contingent seemed somewhat reduced in number.)

The award recipients truly accomplished great things. But, afterward, life outside city hall seemed unchanged.