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Winners of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize

Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize

With everything terrible going on in the world this week, it's about time for stories that are uplifting and inspiring, ones that restore our faith in humanity and incite us to action ourselves. Every year, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation awards six individuals across the globe for their heroic grassroots environmentalism at the Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony at the War Memorial Opera House (which then goes on the road to Washington, D.C.). All of the winners demonstrate that one person, with painstaking persistence and willpower, can indeed make a difference.

And, in fact, one of the winners' work lit such a fire at the ceremony in D.C. that it spurred groups to immediate action. Jonathan Deal's work in South Africa to eliminate fracking in the Karoo region of his country led two prominent anti-fracking orgs in both the U.S. and South Africa to announce a new statement of a global allegiance against fracking. One very big step for mankind. Take that, Shell!

Here's a very brief look at the winners' efforts, followed by a video illustrating their causes.

Azzam Alwash (Iraq)
Alwash, an Iraqi expat and engineer, moved back to his country when the Hussein regime fell in 2003 to restore the Mesopotamian marshlands of his childhood, which Hussein had burned and drained in the mid-1990s. While his country was focused on restoring peace and rebuilding infrastructure, he took on the impossible challenge of bringing environmental protection to the forefront by breathing life back into a region once teeming with wildlife and culture. Thanks to his efforts, the marshes are beginning to flourish anew, and this year, the area is slated to become Iraq's first national park.

Jonathan Deal (South Africa)
This photographer turned activist faced off with Shell oil executives and convinced the South African government to issue a moratorium on fracking in the arid and water-scarce Karoo region of his country.

Nohra Padilla (Colombia)
The third generation recycler (a group marginalized in her country) succeeded in making recycling a legitimate and compensated part of society.

Kimberly Wasserman (U.S.)
This Chicago native and mother experienced firsthand the effects of two old and highly polluting coal plants in the low-income Southwest side of her city when her then 3-month-old baby suffered a near life-threatening asthma attack. She immediately launched the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), and for the next 15 years, battled to shut these plants down. She won.

Rossano Ercolini (Italy)
Inspired by San Francisco as a model for Zero Waste initiatives and sustainable business, elementary teacher Ercolini worked to eliminate dangerous and toxic waste incineration in his country and get several Italian cities to commit to Zero Waste efforts. His enthusiasm and passion for his project shined in his acceptance speech, which reminded me of the effusive Roberto Benigni at the Oscars in 2008 for Life is Beautiful.

Aleta Ba'un (Timor, Indonesia)
This fierce lady led hundreds of village women in a peaceful, silent occupation of the rich Mutis Mountain in protest of foreign marble mining operations that were destroying their sacred land and simple way of life. After four long years, the miners caved to the pressure, packed up, and moved out.