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Grassroots grit, global impact: SF’s Goldman Prize salutes world environmental warriors

Winners of the 35th annual Goldman Environmental Prize celebrate as a group on stage at the ceremony.
Source: Steve Fisch

Real change doesn't happen overnight, but grassroots environmental activists are proving that ordinary people can spark extraordinary global transformations. From halting destructive oil and gas exploration along South Africa's Wild Coast to securing groundbreaking regulations limiting trucking and rail emissions in California, the 2024 Goldman Environmental Prize winners have achieved remarkable victories through their unwavering determination and community-driven efforts.

Environmental heroes from around the globe gathered in San Francisco on April 29 for the 35th annual Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony at the War Memorial Opera House. The prestigious award honors grassroots environmental activists making extraordinary impacts in their communities. This year's ceremony was hosted by Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp and featured a musical performance by Jazz Mafia.

The Prize was founded in 1989 in San Francisco by philanthropists and civic leaders Rhoda and Richard Goldman. Over 35 years, the Prize has had an immeasurable impact on the planet. To date, it has honored 226 winners—including 102 women—from 95 nations.

Rirchard and Rhoda Goldman of the Goldman Environmental Prize
Richard and Rhoda Goldman of the Goldman Environmental Prize | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

"My parents loved the outdoors and nature," said John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation and son of Richard and Rhoda Goldman. "The impetus for this Prize was their love of the natural world and the people working to protect it through environmental action."

While the ceremony had a distinctly San Francisco flair, the prize recipients represented a true global movement. The seven 2024 Goldman Prize winners hailed from six different continental regions, showcasing the widespread impact of grassroots environmentalism.

The process of selecting the Prizewinners each year is extensive. Goldman explained that after a round of nominations from environmental organizations worldwide, the list is pared down to around 30 finalists through staff vetting. A jury of seven members, including representatives from the Goldman family, then thoroughly reviews each finalist and selects the winners.

"We want them to continue the work they do and collaborate with others globally working on similar issues," Goldman said. Prizewinners become part of an extended family, with opportunities for networking, grants for specific projects and a platform to raise awareness.

Goldman emphasized that although the San Francisco Bay Area is ahead of many parts of the world in terms of environmental consciousness, there are still lessons to be learned from Indigenous practices of caring for the land. "We can do better by paying attention to our recycling, the products we use, and learning from our activists around the world to bring back practices that balance human life with natural life."

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Many former winners have gone on to become government officials, heads of state, nongovernmental organization leaders and even Nobel laureates. Their victories, though local, have global impact—inspiring a growing movement of ordinary people taking extraordinary actions to protect our planet.

"It is consistently amazing to me that, even with our eyes wide open, understanding the threats to our planet as we do, we still march forward and postpone systemic change to our climate policies and actions," Goldman said. "So what positive message can we take from another year of bad news? For me, it is humanity's endless reserves of bravery, ingenuity, grit and determination to do good. There is no shortage of those who are doing the hard work selflessly."

This year's winners include:


Nonhle Mbuthuma and Sinegugu Zukulu of South Africa
Nonhle Mbuthuma and Sinegugu Zukulu | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

In September 2022, Indigenous activists Nonhle Mbuthuma and Sinegugu Zukulu stopped destructive seismic testing for oil and gas off South Africa's Eastern Cape, in an area known as the Wild Coast. Organizing their community, Mbuthuma and Zukulu secured their victory by asserting the rights of the local community to protect its marine environment. By halting oil and gas exploration in a particularly biodiverse area, they protected migratory whales, dolphins and other wildlife from the harmful effects of seismic testing.


Alok Shukla of India
Alok Shukla | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

Alok Shukla led a successful community resistance campaign that saved 445,000 acres of biodiversity-rich forests from 21 planned coal mines in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. In July 2022, the government canceled the 21 proposed coal mines in Hasdeo Aranya, whose pristine forests—popularly known as the lungs of Chhattisgarh—are one of the largest intact forest areas in India.


Teresa Vicente of Spain
Teresa Vicente | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

Teresa Vicente led a historic, grassroots campaign to save the Mar Menor ecosystem—Europe's largest saltwater lagoon—from collapse, resulting in the passage of a new law in September 2022 granting the lagoon unique legal rights. Once pristine, the waters of the Mar Menor, considered the most important saltwater coastal lagoon in the western Mediterranean, had become polluted due to mining, rampant development of urban and tourist infrastructure and, in recent years, intensive agriculture and livestock farming.

Islands and Island Nations

Murrawah Maroochy of Australia
Murrawah Maroochy | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

Murrawah Maroochy Johnson blocked the development of the Waratah Coal mine, which would have accelerated climate change in Queensland, destroyed the nearly 20,000-acre Bimblebox Nature Refuge, added 1.58 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over its lifetime and threatened Indigenous rights and culture. Johnson's case, which overcame a 2023 appeal, set a precedent that enables other First Nations people to challenge coal projects by linking climate change to human and Indigenous rights.

North America

Andrea Vidaurre of the United States
Andrea Vidaurre | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

Andrea Vidaurre's grassroots leadership persuaded the California Air Resources Board to adopt, in the spring of 2023, two historic transportation regulations that significantly limit trucking and rail emissions. The new regulations—the In-Use Locomotive Regulation Rule and the California Advanced Clean Fleets Rule—include the nation's first emission rule for trains and a path to 100% zero emissions for freight truck sales by 2036. The groundbreaking regulations—a product of Andrea's policy work and community organizing—will substantially improve air quality for millions of Californians while accelerating the country's transition to zero-emission vehicles.

South and Central America

Marcel Gomes of Brazil
Marcel Gomes | Source: Goldman Environmental Prize

Marcel Gomes coordinated a complex, international campaign that directly linked beef from JBS Foods, the world's largest meatpacking company, to illegal deforestation in Brazil's most threatened ecosystems. Armed with detailed evidence from his breakthrough investigative report, Gomes worked with partners to pressure global retailers to stop selling the illegally sourced meat, leading six major European supermarket chains in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to indefinitely halt the sale of JBS products in December 2021.

As the Prize recognizes a new cohort of environmental champions, it continues the legacy envisioned by its founders. The Goldmans dreamed of drawing global attention to our planet's crisis—and proving that transformative change can be sparked by passionate grassroots activism. Thirty-five years on, that dream shines bright. The Prize's glittering alumni are beacons of hope in an era of environmental peril.

John Goldman of the Goldman Environmental Prize
John Goldman of the Goldman Environmental Prize | Source: Meaghan Mitchell

"These seven leaders refused to be complacent amidst adversity," Goldman said. "Alone, their achievements across the world are impressive. Together, they are a collective force—and a growing global movement—that is breathtaking and full of hope. From San Francisco to Sao Paulo to the Wild Coast of South Africa, we are a global community—and we are powerful."