When Alfred Brownell arrived in a remote Liberian village, the surrounding tropical rainforest had been levelled by bulldozers. Burial grounds were uprooted, religious shrines were desecrated and a stream people depended upon for water was polluted.
Mr. Brownell, an environmental lawyer and activist, blamed the devastation on the palm oil company Golden Veroleum Liberia. The company had been given a green light in 2010 by the government to expand in the country and was poised to turn more than 2,000 km2 of lush forest into palm oil plantations.
Mr. Brownell on Monday was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for exposing alleged abuse by the company and helping to prevent it from converting about 50 km2 of forest that is home to elephants, pygmy hippopotamuses and chimpanzees. “It was total annihilation,” said Mr. Brownell, now a visiting scholar at Northeastern University’s School of Law in Boston.
A spokesman for the company, Randall Kaybee, acknowledged in a statement that “there have been lapses in following its own operating procedures, resulting in grievances among some communities and in the inadvertent clearance of some high carbon stock forest areas.” He said measures have been put in place to address these problems.
For his work saving forest lands, Mr. Brownell won the Goldman prize along with five others for grassroots environmental activism. The prize was created in 1989 by philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Winners are selected from nominations made by environmental organisations and others. The prize carries a $200,000 award.
The other winners are:
Linda Garcia of Vancouver, Washington, who rallied local communities to successfully prevent the construction of North America’s largest oil terminal.
Ana Colovic Lesoska of North Macedonia, whose seven-year campaign helped stop hydroelectric projects from being built in the country’s largest national park.
Bayarjargal Agvaantseren of Mongolia, who led the fight to create the Tost Tosonbumba Nature Reserve.
Jacqueline Evans of the Cook Islands, whose work led to the conservation and sustainable management of all of the Cook Islands’ ocean territory and creation of 15 marine protected areas.
Alberto Curamil of Chile, a jailed indigenous activist who had protested several hydroelectric projects in the country.