Environmental leadership: When doing good ends with death

Have you ever been in the situation when you have tried to help the other person but your input was not appreciated? Some environmental leaders in today’s world don’t end up appreciated for their effort. They end up dead.

Lives at stake

People who try to defend the environment are being killed at a rate of almost four a week all across the world. They mostly die in distant forests or villages. Only few killers are ever arrested but the ones who are identified are hired. And it is important to add that the actors behind the hired killings are corporations or state forces. Therefore, the cases are by nature problematic to investigate. In addition, many more environmental activists, who are trying to defend their land are threatened with death.

Environmental conflicts are not only becoming more and more common around the world but also more violent, say researchers. Global corporations are seeking poor countries for having an access to property and resources because these countries usually do not have strong law enforcement and are more corruptible.

Defenders tend to seek help from governments but it is not rare that a corrupt government is involved with violence, which makes the magic cycle of environmental conflict endless. Authorities usually fail to protect the courageous men and women who should be lauded as heroes for risking their lives to protect the environment and the rights of others.

Environmental activism in Latin America

One of the most intense situations is in Latin America which is still the most deadly region when it comes to river, forest, ocean, mountain protection. Perpetrators are still walking free and will continue to do so, if governments and the international community continue to not step in. It is no secret that with growing population the pressure upon natural resources, which are becoming scarcer and scarcer, is rising.

Manifestación Berta Cáceres

One of the most notorious of all the murders was the Berta Cáceres case that took place in Honduras, which was announced as the deadliest place to be an environmental activist. In 2015, she won a prestigious award which recognizes grassroots environmental activists from around the world – the Goldman Environmental Prize. She was not only an environmental campaigner and activist but also the head of the indigenous rights group Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was brutally murdered in her hometown La Esperanza, Honduras when gunmen broke into her home and shot her.

Months after the death of Berta Cáceres, another Goldman prize winner Isidro Baldenegro López got killed. He was a well-known leader of the Tarahumara community in Mexico’s northern mountain region and also a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his campaign to protect local forests from deforestation by non-violent means in 2005.

“The killing of Isidro Baldenegro Lopez is a tragic illustration of the many dangers faced by those who dedicate their lives to defend human rights in Latin America, one of the most dangerous regions in the work for activists,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Global warming – global responsibility

Chasing communities off their land, destroying ecosystems and violating human rights are standard operating procedures for too many businesses around the world. Global Witness, which is a climate organization that investigates and exposes these crimes across the continents and is campaigning to end human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

Often global warming is talked about as it is a far-off scenario that only future generations will experience, predictions are being made using phrases such as “sea level rises within the century”, but the reality shows us that the effects of global warming are already present and future changes will only make the process more severe. Natural ecosystems nowadays are under a threat which is bigger than ever. Therefore environmental leaders, who can provide a plans of development which are sustainable and does not cost us the Earth, are needed more than ever before.

By Monta Christiana Nitisa

Photo credit:

Gun Club, Peretz Partensky, CC BY-SA 2.0

Manifestación Berta Cáceres, Daniel Cima/CIDH, CC BY 2.0