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Maria Gunnoe

It is time again for the Goldman Environmental Awards – honoring global grassroots activists.  North America winner Lynn Henning is profiled below.  She is a leader in the movement to hold factory farms accountable for the environmental damage they do, and she follows in the proud tradition of last years winner, Maria Gunnoe, whose crusade to end mountaintop removal for coal mining continues.  Great article in today’s Chronicle.



When faced with the vastness of our world, its complexity, I am almost daily reminded by how little I am aware of.  We may live in the greatest country on Earth, but that does not shelter us from deep environmental tragedy.  What, for example, is the connection between something as ubiquitous as your light switch with your community, your state, your country…your world?

The 2009 Goldman prizes for Grassroots Environementalism have been announced.  Honoring 6 individuals from the 6 inhabited continents, the prize recognizes “a group of fearless grassroots leaders taking on government and corporate interests and working to improve the environment for people in their communities.”

Real grassroots achievements, not things like last weeks bullshit “tea parties” hosted by Fox News, but dedicated, local community activists working on local problems that touch global lives…this is what the Goldman Prizes salute.  The achievements of true grassroots leaders like  Maria Gunnoe demand not only recognition, but also admiration.

Maria has lead the fight against mountaintop removal – a practice of literally blowing up mountains to harvest the coal beneath them.  To date close to 500 mountains have been blown up; the millions of tons of toxic debris dumped into the Appalachian watershed in the form of valley fills as casually as someone throws a plastic water bottle into a garbage can.

Maria has defended her great state of West Virginia and the Appalachian mountains because she loves her home and cannot stand idly by while the rest of us destroy it by our collective indifference, but her efforts have come with great personal cost:

“Observers confirm that mine managers point to Gunnoe as an enemy of mine workers and their jobs, and have encouraged acts of harassment. Gunnoe has received numerous verbal threats on her life, and her children are frequently harassed at school. Gunnoe’s neighbors recently overheard people planning an arson attack on her home. Her daughter’s dog was shot dead, and “wanted” posters of Gunnoe have appeared in local convenience stores…”

Her “crime”?  Pointing out the catastrophic environmental damage done to her home by corporate profit whores bowing at the altar of the dollar, environment and community be damned.  But her environment, her community, is also ours.    And the damage done belongs to us all.  As Maria says, “when you flip the switch on  there is a 52% chance you are destroying the water, air and land of where I live.”