American Environmentalist Wins United Nations Prize

NEW YORK, New York, November 16, 2001 (ENS) - Huey Johnson, an environmentalist known for his pioneering work on protecting and managing the Earth's natural resources, has been selected as the winner of this year's United Nations Environment Programme Sasakawa Environment Prize. The Prize is worth US$200,000, and is considered one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world.

"Through the numerous organizations he has created and the countless people he has supported, Johnson has emphasized and clearly demonstrated that the problems we face both environmentally and socially, require a global and systematic approach," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

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Huey Johnson has spearheaded natural resources protection in California and around the world (Photo courtesy ecospeakers.com)
Johnson, who has helped spearhead green management plans both nationally and internationally to save water, reduce energy use and cut pollution, said he was "deeply honored."

"I have boxes full of prizes and awards for career recognition, however, this one is the ultimate prize. It is recognition from my peer group," Johnson said. "Receiving this is beyond all my expectations and has come as a total surprise."

The award will be presented at a ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on November 19.

"Johnson has been a catalyst and a champion for environmental protection for more than 40 years. His contributions richly deserve to be recognized," said Lord Clinton-Davis, chair of the selection committee.

Johnson, who has worked in the corporate, non-governmental and governmental sectors, was pivotal in the creation of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit land acquisition corporation founded in 1972, whose aim is to save open spaces for America's urban centers. To date, TPL has conserved more than 1.3 million acres of land in the United States.

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Johnson helped found the Trust for Public Land (Photo courtesy UNEP)
As secretary of natural resources in California in the early 1980s, Johnson crafted statewide programs and policies for the preservation of natural resources such as water, forestry and soil, which have since been emulated around the globe. Johnson instituted the Investing For Prosperity program (IFP) - a 100 year initiative which channels funds into investments that promote the long term productivity of California's natural resources.

The IFP initiative reinvests proceeds from the sale of public natural resources into programs designed to fund maintenance and improvement of the state's natural resources. Urban forestry, the enhancement of fisheries, waterways and parklands and investment in alternative energy benefited greatly from IFP.

One of the most dramatic successes of the IFP program was the development of cost effective renewable energy technologies, implemented by the California Resources Agency. A report by the Rand Corporation showed that energy conservation efforts have saved Californians some $34 billion since the late 1970s (about $1,000 for each resident) and have played a significant role in helping the state's economy expand.

For his efforts in this area, Johnson received the President's Award for Sustainable Development in 1996.

"I was fortunate to have been in a position in government to fulfill a personal dream of developing and implementing a 100 year plan to manage and improve the state's natural resources. The successes have been many," Johnson noted. "We tripled salmon stocks, significantly cut water use and saved a tremendous amount of energy. It confirmed my belief that we can manage the environment and restore it."

"What one learned from this is that you cannot manage elements of the environment individually, one by one, or all your best efforts will unravel," added Johnson. "The environment is like a house. You can't say you'll fix the leaky roof this year, repair the walls next year and care for the garden in three years time. You have must have a plan that manages all of these issues at the same time."

In 1985, Johnson founded the Resource Renewal Institute (RRI), a non-governmental organization whose mission is to catalyze the development of green plans both nationally and internationally. RRI developed the Campaign for a Sustainable Future, which targets policy makers and opinion leaders and is designed to mobilize coalitions strong enough to secure green plans and obtain the momentum for a national green plan.

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Johnson is the author of the 1997 book, "Green Plans: Greenprint for Sustainability," published by the University of Nebraska Press (Photo courtesy Resource Renewal Institute)
Under the RRI umbrella, Johnson developed the Grand Canyon Trust - an independent conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Canyon area of the Colorado plateau.

Johnson has been involved with the development and support of many international environmental organizations as well. One such organization is the Nairobi based environmental watchdog organization Environmental Liaison Center International.

Johnson is also the founder of Green Belt Movement International (GBMI), whose aim is to promote citizen based tree planting worldwide as a way of mobilizing people to restore the environment and break the cycle of poverty and environmental degradation. GBMI provides a network for tree planting activists, raises funds to promote successful models of tree planting and supports international policies to promote ecological balance and economic and democratic empowerment.

Johnson said he plans to use the prize money to further his interests in the environment.

"We need a plan to manage and implement the restoration of the Earth's natural resources. Whether you are designing a computer, a bridge or a new aircraft, you have to have a plan, otherwise you cannot raise the funds needed to turn it into a reality," said Johnson. "Let us hope that such a plan can emerge when world leaders meet for the World Summit on Sustainable Development taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, later next year."

The UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and founded by the late Ryoichi Sasaskawa, has been awarded each year since 1984 to individuals who have made outstanding global contributions to the management and protection of the environment. Past winners include Nobel Laureate Professor Mario Molina for discovering a new reaction sequence involving chlorine peroxide, which accounts for most of the ozone destruction in the Antarctic; Chico Mendes, the rubber tapper from Brazil who died leading the fight against cattle ranchers' destruction of the rainforest; and Lester Brown, former director of the Worldwatch Institute, whose writings were instrumental in alerting the world about the threats to the biosphere.