Climate Champion–Sharon Lavigne, plus the Earth Island Institute, and the Children’s Climate Prize.
Climate Champ–Sharon Lavigne, Earth Island Institute, the Children’s Climate Prize
CLIMATE CHAMPION, SHARON LAVIGNE
And who is the dynamic woman behind the movement that “paused” the Formosa plastics complex? Ms. Sharon Lavigne, that’s who. This is how the Goldman Environmental Prize –which honors grassroots environmental heroes for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk describes Sharon Lavigne:
In September 2019, Sharon Lavigne, a special education teacher turned environmental justice advocate, successfully stopped the construction of a $1.25 billion plastics manufacturing plant alongside the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Lavigne mobilized grassroots opposition to the project, educated community members, and organized peaceful protests to defend her predominantly African American community. The plant would have generated one million pounds of liquid hazardous waste annually, in a region already contending with known carcinogens and toxic air pollution.
She is the daughter of civil rights activists who has lived in St. James Parish her whole life. As a little girl, her family lived off the land—with gardens, cattle, pigs, and chickens—and her grandfather caught fish and shrimp in the Mississippi River. Lavigne worked as a special education teacher until deciding to dedicate herself full-time to working for environmental justice in her community. In October 2018, she founded RISE St. James, a faith-based, grassroots environmental organization that started with a meeting in her living room with 10 community members and her daughter taking notes. Now, she manages a small staff and some 20 volunteers.
Let’s be clear. Sharon Lavigne’s activism has already protected residents from additional air pollution, and has also prevented the generation of a million pounds of liquid hazardous waste each year, safeguarding the environment of St. James Parish.
Today, she continues her work opposing new chemical plants—and the pollution they bring—in her community. Doesn’t get much more champion than that!
DEEPER DIVE: Goldman Environmental Prize
CHILDREN’S CLIMATE PRIZE
The Children’s Climate Prize is an international prize annually awarded to young people taking actions to bring sustainable solutions for our planet. The Children’s Climate Prize was founded in 2016 by Telge Energi. Telge Energi Ab was founded in 1994. The Company’s line of business includes the generation, transmission, and/or distribution of electric energy.
Young people aged 12-17 can compete for The Children’s Climate Prize. It rewards youth from all over the world, young innovators, entrepreneurs, changemakers, and conservationists who have in various ways taken the initiative to find sustainable solutions for the environment and climate.
The winners of the Children’s Climate Prize are celebrated at a gala event in Stockholm, Sweden. The winner will receive a diploma, medal, and prize of SEK 100,000 Krona (about $11K USD) to continue developing their project. Individuals, a group, or organization can nominate themselves or be nominated by someone else.
While it’s not clear why Telge Energi established the Climate Children’s Prize, it is clear that this energy company is positioning itself as an alternative energy source energy provider of note. According to their website, “We are in a time of great challenges. Already, people around the world are being hit hard by climate change and environmental degradation. If we do nothing about the development, we will hand over a globe to our children where the climate and environmental crisis is considered normal.”
THE EARTH ISLAND INSTITUTE
I love the concept of Earth as an island. The idea that we’re an island afloat in the vast ocean of Space rather than a planet with seven separate continents and a few hundred countries defined by arbitrary artificial borders, which can cause us to act as though the people on the other side of those borders don’t matter as much as we do is very appealing.
The Earth island concept changes our perspective from apart to together. And as travel writer Rick Steves says about travel changing perspective—it allows us to have empathy for the other 96% of the people on the planet!
Perhaps that’s why the environmentalist David Bower chose Earth Island as the name of his Institute when he founded it back in 1982. Actually it’s a phrase coined by Margaret Mead, who urged us all to respect “this island Earth.”
For just about forty years, Earth Island has been the organizational home to more than 200 grassroots environmental action projects and currently has a vibrant network of more than 75 projects. According to its website, it claims this year’s crop of leaders is the largest, “most diverse, and most skilled team of established and new leaders that we’ve ever had.”
Their project leaders work in communities spanning the globe to protect marine life, confront plastic pollution, preserve forests, help Indigenous leaders protect their sacred sites, restore wetlands and green schools, and get kids outside into nature. One of its most recent actions was filing a lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court this summer, arguing that Coca-Cola cannot lawfully advertise itself as a sustainable or environmentally friendly company while generating millions of tons of plastic waste every year.
The suit accuses Coca-Cola of “greenwashing.”