By Michael Sutton
Happy New Year! 2021 brings new possibilities for hope, self-examination, and continued action for our planet and its defenders.
Reflecting on the extraordinary and challenging year that just concluded, one particular word rises above the many for me: resilience. While it would be easy to enumerate our myriad weaknesses as a species, Homo sapiens at their best have proven themselves to be adaptable, compassionate, and creative in the face of adversity. Confronted with a year of loss, tragedy, and disorientation due to a historic pandemic, political chaos, and social injustice, it would be wrong to despair and give up on our collective ability to rise to the challenge. While some governments have used the pandemic to further restrict activism, environmental leaders have carried on their essential work, refusing to be discouraged. Whereas some people hardened their hatreds, exacerbated differences, and focused only on their own needs, more still thought of their communities, sacrificed for the greater good, and showed empathy toward people and the planet. New heroes have emerged in this context: health care workers, teachers, service staff, and other frontline workers who have continued their work despite the risks to their own health.
That overriding empathy and sacrifice are what give me hope—the countless people who have considered the needs of others and worked in the service of their larger community, city, or society. These are the same values that motivate the 200 environmental defenders we have recognized to date with the Goldman Environmental Prize. Their courage and unfettered moral compass are what inspires me to welcome a new year with renewed energy and optimism.
In 2021, the fight to protect our environment and combat climate change are more important than ever. And we will continue to listen to, support, and honor the community-minded and brave people at the frontlines of this movement.
In the words of a 2020 Goldman Prize winner, “We can win the climate war” and we mustn’t give in to a “culture of defeat.” We must maintain our sense of hope and community as we fight for a better planet. We can settle for nothing less.
About the author:
Michael Sutton is Executive Director of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, which awards the Goldman Prize each year to grassroots environmental leaders on six continents. Mike is a respected environmental conservation leader with extensive experience managing nonprofit organizations, influencing public policy, advocating for natural resources, and guiding successful philanthropic efforts. His distinguished career has ranged from work with the National Park Service to senior conservation roles at the World Wildlife Fund, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the California Fish & Game Commission, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and National Audubon Society.
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