Field Museum Gives Award to Environmental Activist, Attorney Judith Kimerling
CHICAGO - In recognition of her courageous and unrelenting efforts on behalf of indigenous peoples of Amazonia and Alaska, and their natural resources, Judith Kimerling has won The Field Museum's prestigious Parker/Gentry Award.
"For the past 12 years, The Field Museum has given the award to nspiring environmental innovators who, in the spirit of Ted Parker and Al Gentry, have made a profound difference in conservation," said Debby Moskovits, senior vice president of The Field Museum for Environment, Culture, and Conservation. "This year we are extremely pleased to
acknowledge Judith Kimerling's courageous effor ts on behalf of indigenous peoples and vast forests in the headwaters of the Amazon and wilderness of
Alaska. Kimerling's work to establish independent verification of the environmental impact of transnational corporations' practices is fundamental in a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by oil concessions."
As an Assistant Attorney General for New York State during the 1980s, Kimerling litigated environmental cases, including Love Canal. In 1989, she became concerned about degradation and loss of the rainforests. She decided that to be effective she would need to work with the people who live in the rainforests so she moved to Ecuador and learned Spanish. She soon discovered that oil production was the driving force behind rainforest destruction in Ecuador, so she began to study the problem.
"I was appalled by what I saw," Kimerling said. "It was as if everything we had learned in this country at Love Canal was being ignored in Ecuador.
"I felt ashamed that U.S. companies would come into someone else's country and behave in this way," she added. "I didn't think that the American public would approve of this if they knew about it." To shine an international spotlight on what she had observed, Kimerling wrote Amazon Crude (Natural Resources Defense Council, 1991). The book
exposed the exploitation of the Amazon basin by transnational oil corporations as well as their disregard for the well being of local peoples. It prompted a $1.5 billion class action lawsuit in the United States, Aguinda v. Texaco. Kimerling is currently an Associate Professor of Law and Policy at The City University of New York, with a joint appointment at Queens College and CUNY Law School.
"I am honored to receive this award especially because The Field Museum's conservation work is not just based on advocacy from afar but also based on the realities on the ground," Kimerling said. "Field Museum understands that conservation in the Amazon depends most of all on the people who live there."
Kimerling's investigation of Amazonian oil field standards and practices, which more recently has focused on Occidental Petroleum in Ecuador, was informed by speaking directly with indigenous organizations and communities. This approach has proven to be very successful, not only in providing her with hard evidence of the environmental ruin taking place, but also in arming her to advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples. As such, Kimerling has helped to give indigenous peoples in Amazonia a voice in decisions regarding land use and environmental conservation. But there is still much work to be done.
The Parker/Gentry Award was established in 1996 by an anonymous donor.
It honors an outstanding individual, team or organization in the field of conservation biology whose efforts have had a significant impact on preserving the world's rich natural heritage -- and whose actions and approach can serve as a model to others.
The Award bears the names of the late Theodore A. Parker III and Alwyn Gentry, both ardent conservationists and leading naturalists. Parker, an ornithologist, and Gentry, a botanist, died on August 3, 1993, while surveying hill forests in western Ecuador. For more information, visit http://www.fieldmuseum.org/parkergentry.
The award will be granted during a private ceremony at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 29, 2007, at The Field Museum. Journalists are welcome to attend but must register in advance.