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Mourning Wangari Maathai: A Loss in the Global Battle for Green Space

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Wangari Maathai
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Nobel prize winner and African Greenbelt Movement founder Professor Wangari Maathai, died this weekend while undergoing treatment for cancer. She was 71.Maathai's work, replanting Kenya's forests and taking on African corruption (yes, people all over the world fight to save open spaces) stood out amongst the stories from a continent where good news is seldom heard. The greenbelt movement itself gave African farmers, especially women, and communities the tools and funding to plant over 45 million trees since 1977. Local L.A. urban forest group TreePeople has a ways to catch up.

Professor Maathai spoke at Harvard's Radcliffe College in the 1990s:

“The women of the Green Belt Movement have learned about the causes and the symptoms of environmental degradation. They have begun to appreciate that they, rather than their government, ought to be the custodians of the environment.”

Maathai understood both causes and solutions to environmental solutions and offered those of us in the "Western World" an approach to environmental problems that we will continue to fight. From her 2004 Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

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“It is evident that many wars are fought over resources which are now becoming increasingly scarce. If we conserved our resources better, fighting over them would not then occur…so, protecting the global environment is directly related to securing peace…those of us who understand the complex concept of the environment have the burden to act. We must not tire, we must not give up, we must persist.”

In the ongoing fight to preserve and create green spaces in Los Angeles, we must also persist.