In past newsletters we have mentioned the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded by the Goldman Foundation (US). Every year the prize is awarded to environmentalists, one for each of the six geographical regions of the world. It is also called the Green Noble Prize.
This year the European winner was Slovenian Uros Macerl. After years of legal battles, thanks to his good will this farmer managed to close down the cement factory managed by French company Lafarge. Industrial waste constituted a ‘potential threat for citizen’s health’. Highly loved by environmentalists, loathed by his opponents, this 48 year old farmer has been devoting his work to organic farming and agriculture. His battle began over 15 years ago, but his battle and victory will not have been possible without the support of the environmental protection group Eco-Krog.
First of all it became clear that the entire valley was choking on pollution, due to a cement plant, a glass factory and a carbon power plant. These enterprises were providing hundreds of jobs, however the air was becoming less and less breathable, fumes were constantly covering the valley and snow was often black due to combustion dusts.
In 2002, Lafarge purchased the century old cement plant, and in a year the level of benzene (a carcinogenic substance) increased by 250%. In 2012 high rates of human cancer incidence, and spontaneous miscarriages among farm animals were found. The pollution data allowed Uros to prove this unsustainability. The cement industry did not respond, and resumed its activities without worrying about its effects on the population and the environment. In 2009, the farmer had already taken legal action against the cement factory a small area of his land had been included in the perimeter reserved for plastic and rubber incineration by the factory.
After years of hearings, in 2015 the European Commission took Slovenia to the European Court of Justice, saying the factory was (quoting) ‘potentially dangerous for citizens and their health’. In March 2015, the Slovenian government therefore ordered the cement plant to cease its cement production.
Uros’ opponents recognised an improvement in the environment and the return of birds and animals considered disappeared, raised concerns regarding the loss of jobs and the economic downfall of the area.
But jobs must not be an alternative to good health. Blackmail related to creating infrastructure for local communities (recreational centres, sport teams, medical structures …) to compensate for damage due to a polluting industry should not be allowed.
Finally, Uros Macerl’s experience shows that large industries and financial capitals can be forced to comply with laws, or … to close down.