Richard Goldman, originator of 'Green Nobel,' dies

The fund created by Richard N. Goldman and his wife has given out about $680 million since 1951.
The fund created by Richard N. Goldman and his wife has given out about $680 million since 1951. (Courtesy Of Goldman Fund)
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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 8:42 PM

Richard N. Goldman, a prominent California philanthropist who with his wife created a prestigious award to recognize unsung environmental activists around the world, died Nov. 29 at his home in San Francisco after a stroke. He was 90.

Since 1990, the Goldman Environmental Prize - known informally as the "Green Nobel" - has been awarded annually to six people for their on-the-ground efforts to protect the world's ecosystems and species.

Many recipients have labored for years in obscurity, challenging powerful authorities in the name of conservation. As winners, they receive $150,000 and worldwide attention for their causes.

Previous winners included Nigeria's Ken Saro-Wiwa, who opposed Royal Dutch Shell's oil operations in the Niger Delta. Saro-Wiwa was hanged by his country's military government in 1995.

Two years later, Alexander Nikitin of Russia was unable to receive his prize in person. He had been imprisoned on treason charges after exposing the possibility of nuclear catastrophe because of Russia's aging nuclear submarines.

"The Goldman Prize effectively drew global attention to environmental activists around the world who otherwise would not have received it," said Steve Schwartzman, director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund and a friend of several prize recipients.

The prize "made a point of singling out people who had taken real personal risks, who were dealing in the context of closed, terribly authoritarian regimes in various parts of the world," Schwartzman said.

Among this year's Goldman Prize winners are a public-interest lawyer from Swaziland, a Cambodian activist working to mitigate conflicts between humans and elephants, and a Michigan farmer who brought attention to the pollution caused by large livestock feedlots.

"Goldman Prize recipients are proof that ordinary people are capable of doing truly extraordinary things," Mr. Goldman once wrote.

In addition to the Goldman Prizes, Mr. Goldman and his wife gave hundreds of millions of dollars to other causes through their charitable foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund.

The couple donated to environmental causes around the world and gave more than $130 million to Jewish organizations in the United States. They also supported organizations in the San Francisco Bay area, including the University of California at Berkeley, whose public policy school bears the Goldmans' names.

Since 1951, the Goldmans have given away a total of about $680 million, according to their foundation.

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