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The New Environmentalists, Francisco Pineda, and the power of speaking out

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What would I do for a cause I believed in? Wear a pin or a t-shirt? Sure, no problem. March in the streets or shiver in a tent, a la Occupy Wall Street? Maybe—if it was something really important.

But what if speaking up endangered my life? What if my fellow activists faced threats, or even actual violence, because of our actions? Would I keep going anyway, or be scared into silence?

Big questions, but those are the kind of things I’ve been asking myself since I met Francisco Pineda last week.

Pineda, an Oxfam America partner and recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Prize, led a citizens’ movement to protect El Salvador’s land and water from the harmful effects of a gold mine. He’s one of six Goldman Prize winners featured in a documentary called The New Environmentalists, narrated by Robert Redford and premiering starting Sunday on PBS stations around the country. “The new environmentalists are making personal sacrifices that most of us can’t even imagine,” says Redford in the trailer, below.

In Pineda’s case, that’s definitely true. Though he comes across in person as an unassuming guy, the story he told when I interviewed him was pretty shocking: A community’s only source of clean water being pumped away by a gold mine. A mining company scientist trying to convince people that cyanide isn’t poison. A leader living with 24-hour police protection because of repeated attempts on his life—and mourning his friends and fellow activists who’ve been killed for speaking out.

Ultimately, Pineda’s grassroots activists won an important victory. They stopped the Pacific Rim gold mine from operating in their region of El Salvador, at least for now. Since then, Pineda has been bringing attention to the effects of oil, gas, and mining projects on poor communities worldwide, and is leading a campaign to stop all mining in El Salvador. “You can live without gold, but you can’t live without water,” he said of the threat to his country’s vital resources.

When I asked Pineda whether he was worried about the risks, he told me he was just doing what he had to do. “This is our responsibility as parents: to protect our land and water for our kids,” he said. “All of us are volunteers, but we’re still ready to give our lives for this.”

In other words, even if the cost is high, some things are always worth fighting for.

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  1.'james bennett

    in the state of North Carolina , the state is taxing our trees unless we have a ” forestry plan ” which means , we must cut down our natural privitly owned woodlands . and plant pine trees . this is getting rid of all of our natural habitats and replaced with fruitless pine forest , all for the lumber companys . they eather tax the uncut trees , or tax us as we sell the trees . and the wild life is the real lossers here . i will not cut mine . but i have to put it in a conservancy , which controls my land . help us in North Carolina .

  2.'Vincent Calabrese

    So, the new enviromentalists are willing to be martyr’s for their faith?
    And just what is their faith placed in? The earth? So, are they worshippers of Gaia or pantheists of some sort? Pantheism offers no hope of eternal life.

  3. Anna Kramer

    Hm, Vincent, I’m not sure the new environmentalists’ sacrifices are in the name of any one religion as much as they are about protecting the earth’s resources, like clean water, soil, plants, air–things that are essential to life no matter what faith you believe in. What do others think?

  4.'Vincent Calabrese

    Thank you, Anna, for your thoughts. It gives a different perspective to view what these people are working towards.


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