Many individuals and communities want to protect the environment from unlimited exploitation and unjustified destruction. Their commitment is not appreciated by all. They often face strong and violent resistance.
Martyrs in the cause of protecting our common home
In Africa, a tragic example is Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-95), Nigerian writer, television producer, environmental activist and member of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta. In that area, from the 1950s onward, Shell’s oil extraction has caused serious environmental damage. Spokesman and president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a non-violent campaign against the environmental degradation of land and water. A critic of the Nigerian government, he was tried by a military court and hanged in 1995. International indignation at his execution led to Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for more than three years.
In Brazil, Dorothy Stang (1931-2005), an American nun and environmental activist belonging to the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is another exemplar. Dorothy lived and worked in Anapu, in the State of Pará, where she co-founded Esperança (“Hope”), a sustainable development project. Because of her dedication to serving the poor and protecting the environment, after receiving numerous death threats from timber companies and landowners, she was murdered in 2005 by assassins hired by people whose financial interests were threatened by her environmental commitment.