In April, environmental journalist and former visiting scholar Myint Zaw was awarded the 2015 Goldman Prize, commonly known as the “Green Nobel Prize,” an ultimate recognition for environmental activism. The prize is presented by the San Francisco-based Goldman Foundation, and includes a $150,000 award.
Zaw spent a year studying at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, from 2007-2008. While there, he studied environmental issues and documentary photography. He credits his recent success to his time spent studying at Berkeley.
“I was able to study anything that interested me,” he recently told the Cal Alumni Association. “That really gave me the tools I needed when I returned to Myanmar.”
Zaw’s photography work and campaigning helped stop the construction of the Myitsone dam, a controversial dam in Myanmar.
The dam was slated to be built on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. The construction would cause displacement for nearly 20,000 people, including members of the minority Kachin ethnic group, and impact nearby biodiversity.
Zaw photographed the Irrawaddy River, attempting to capture the environmental, social and cultural impact if the dam were built. To avoid government scrutiny, he used art exhibits to showcase his photography, share information behind the construction and raise public awareness about the dam.
It worked. Myanmar President Thein Sein halted the dam’s construction, vowing that the project would not continue under his presidency.
His experience of having been raised in a community on the Irrawaddy River, combined with the skills he learned at UC Berkeley, Zaw was able to expertly document the impact of what would have been the 15th largest dam in the world. The majority of its hydropower would also support China’s energy needs, rather than local Myanmar.
“We were able to gradually bring pressure to bear,” Zaw told the Cal Alumni Association. “Not through confrontation, but through discussions and meetings with local leaders, and by connecting with people emotionally through our photos, songs and performances.”