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Wangari Maathai: 'Rich nations have a responsibility'

In an interview, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya talks about the obligations of first- and third-worlders in climate change.

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Connection: Wangari Maathai spoke to students at a private school in Dedham, Mass., last month.

Mark Thomson

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In 1977, Kenyan Activist Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Move­ment. The nonprofit's mission: to halt deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification by planting trees. Ms. Maathai, who holds degrees in biological sciences and anatomy and is a former member of Kenya's parliament, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

To date, the Green Belt Move­ment has planted more than 30 million trees. Maathai has also campaigned for the Congo Forest Basin Fund, a multicountry effort to preserve Africa's largest tropical rain forest, to which the British government has pledged £50 million ($99 million). Last year, the UN's Billion Tree Campaign, which Maathai headed, attracted 1 billion pledges to plant trees worldwide. And now, after interethnic violence around the 2007 elections in Kenya, Maathai is working to foster peace and reconciliation between Kenya's ethnic groups.

Maathai has also attracted controversy: In 2004, a journalist quoted her as saying that HIV/AIDS was designed by "evil-minded scientists" to control black people. Maathai says she was quoted out of context and disavows such views.

A Monitor reporter caught up with her in New York City. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

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