Environmentalist Alexandr Nikitin receives prestigious “Chico Mendes Award”
Sierra Club Bestows Honors on Former Soviet Submarine Captain
Washington, DC — On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the murder of Brazilian rubber-tapper Chico Mendes, the Sierra Club today recognized one of the world’s most courageous environmentalists with an award named after the environmental martyr. St. Petersburg environmentalist Alexandr Nikitin, charged with espionage for contributing to a report that exposed Russia’s illegal nuclear waste dumping, was chosen to receive the Sierra Club’s highest international honor, its “Chico Mendes Award,” for the heroic efforts that have cost Nikitin his freedom.
| Chico Mendes
Photo: Rainforest Action Network
“What Alexandr Nikitin and Chico Mendes have in common is that they have both become symbols of the price often paid by brave environmental activists who dare to speak out,” said Sierra Club Chairman Michael McCloskey. “The Nikitin case is evidence that environmental advocacy remains a dangerous exercise in countries where environmental protection is slighted,” he concluded.
A former Soviet submarine captain and nuclear engineer, Nikitin has been charged with treason for his contributions to a stunning report entitled, The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination, co-authored with Norway’s Bellona Foundation. The report warned the world of an undersea catastrophe equal to a “Chernobyl in slow-motion.” In October, a St. Petersburg judge dismissed the evidence presented in Nikitin’s espionage trial and sent the prosecution back to re-create their case. Russian authorities have disregarded constitutional protections for environmental whistleblowers. Nikitin remains under “city arrest.”
“The environmental threats exposed by Nikitin’s report are real,” said Stephen Mills Director of the Sierra Club’s International Program. “The real criminals are the Russian officials who continue to mismanage nuclear waste. This could cause irreparable damage to the world’s oceans and fisheries. Russia would not be the only country to suffer from such a catastrophe.
“Chico Mendes’s concern for the rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon are matched by Alexandr Nikitin’s concern for the oceans and the Russian people,” said Mills. “Both of these men realized early on that environmental degradation does not enhance a faltering economy. Chico Mendes campaigned to stop unsustainable logging for the same reasons Nikitin has campaigned against nuclear dumping — so that their children would not inherit an economy that was poisoned and bereft of natural resources. Unfortunately, both of these campaigns continue to face uphill battles.”
Every year, a forest area the size of Massachusetts is clear-cut and burned in the Amazon. In 1995, deforestation rates were higher than ever before reported and as the region is drying out, fires are more frequent and harder to control. Illegal loggers continue to clear land even within protected areas.
The political persecution of Alexandr Nikitin has had a chilling effect on the activities of environmentalists across Russia. Nuclear waste clean up has essentially come to a grinding halt as the secret police divert public attention away from serious environmental threats in order to act out cold war spy novels.
Sierra Club’s Chico Mendes Award recognizes individuals and organizations outside of the United States who have exhibited extraordinary courage and leadership in their efforts to protect the environment.
“The courageous story of Chico Mendes has become an inspirational lesson to environmentalists worldwide,” McCloskey said. “If governments, including our own, provided greater support for these unlikely heroes, not only would economies become more stable, but the environment would be protected for future generations.”
Chico Mendes was born in Xapuri, Acre in the western Brazilian Amazon. He would have been 54 years old this year.
The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, with more than 550,000 members and campaigns on a variety of domestic and international issues.