Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reactions to the Nobel Peace Prize Award

This morning I woke up to the disconcerting editorial in my local newspaper, the Statesman Journal, which had this to say about the Nobel Peace Prize Award to the IPCC and Al Gore: 

Tossup: Al Gore.  He shared this year's Nobel Pace Prize for his efforts to educate people about human-caused climate change.  His commitment is admirable, even if you don't agree with his cause.  However, the Norweigian prize committee certainly has expanded the definition of "peace.

Apparently the august body of the Stateman Journal's editorial board has two objections to awarding Gore the prize: they don't agree with his cause and they don't think it has anything to do with peace.

I won't even comment on the first objection -- that's silly.

As to the second objection, I've done a bit of research on past winners of the Peace prize to explore the contention that the Nobel Committee stretched the definition of peace for Gore's benefit.  I've also looked at the research concerning the implications of climate change for global conflict.

The award to the IPCC and Gore is certainly in line with the Committee's previous Peace prize awards, which have focussed on sustainability as a means to achieve peace.  The Committee rather unsurpisingly believes that creating sustainable environmental, economic, and social conditions within nations reduces international conflict.  Go figure!  Indeed, the Committee has focused recent awards on sustainability efforts.  Two obvious examples are the 2006 Peace prize award to Professor Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank who invented the idea of microcredit and the 2004 Peace prize award to Professor Wangari for her work encouraging tree planting in Africa and cancellation of African debt.  [Their full Nobel biographies can be found below].

2004 - Wangari Muta Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya (Africa) in 1940. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. Wangari Maathai obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964). She subsequently earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966). She pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region. Wangari Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya in 1976-87 and was its chairman in 1981-87. It was while she served in the National Council of Women that she introduced the idea of planting trees with the people in 1976 and continued to develop it into a broad-based, grassroots organization whose main focus is the planting of trees with women groups in order to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. However, through the Green Belt Movement she has assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds.

In 1986, the Movement established a Pan African Green Belt Network and has exposed over 40 individuals from other African countries to the approach. Some of these individuals have established similar tree planting initiatives in their own countries or they use some of the Green Belt Movement methods to improve their efforts. So far some countries have successfully launched such initiatives in Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, etc). In September 1998, she launched a campaign of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. She has embarked on new challenges, playing a leading global role as a co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, which seeks cancellation of the unpayable backlog debts of the poor countries in Africa by the year 2000. Her campaign against land grabbing and rapacious allocation of forests land has caught the limelight in the recent past.

Wangari Maathai is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She has addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the earth summit. She served on the commission for Global Governance and Commission on the Future. She and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Others include The Sophie Prize (2004), The Petra Kelly Prize for Environment (2004), The Conservation Scientist Award (2004), J. Sterling Morton Award (2004), WANGO Environment Award (2003), Outstanding Vision and Commitment Award (2002), Excellence Award from the Kenyan Community Abroad (2001), Golden Ark Award (1994), Juliet Hollister Award (2001), Jane Adams Leadership Award (1993), Edinburgh Medal (1993), The Hunger Project's Africa Prize for Leadership (1991), Goldman Environmental Prize (1991), the Woman of the World (1989), Windstar Award for the Environment (1988), Better World Society Award (1986), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Woman of the Year Award (1983). Professor Maathai was also listed on UNEP's Global 500 Hall of Fame and named one of the 100 heroines of the world. In June 1997, Wangari was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 persons in the world who have made a difference in the environmental arena. Professor Maathai has also received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world: William's College, MA, USA (1990), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (1994), University of Norway (1997) and Yale University (2004).

The Green Belt Movement and Professor Wangari Maathai are featured in several publications including The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach (by Professor Wangari Maathai, 2002), Speak Truth to Power (Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, 2000), Women Pioneers for the Environment (Mary Joy Breton, 1998), Hopes Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet (Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, 2002), Una Sola Terra: Donna I Medi Ambient Despres de Rio (Brice Lalonde et al., 1998), Land Ist Leben (Bedrohte Volker, 1993).

Professor Maathai serves on the boards of several organizations including the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Disarmament, The Jane Goodall Institute, Women and Environment Development Organization (WEDO), World Learning for International Development, Green Cross International, Environment Liaison Center International, the WorldWIDE Network of Women in Environmental Work and National Council of Women of Kenya.

In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote. She was subsequently appointed by the president, as Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in Kenya's ninth parliament.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2004, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 2005

For more updated biographical information, see:
Maathai, Wangari, Unbowed : a memoir. William Heinemann, London, 2007.

2006 - Muhammad Yunus "Banker to the Poor"

Professor Muhammad Yunus established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1983, fueled by the belief that credit is a fundamental human right. His objective was to help poor people escape from poverty by providing loans on terms suitable to them and by teaching them a few sound financial principles so they could help themselves.

From Dr. Yunus' personal loan of small amounts of money to destitute basketweavers in Bangladesh in the mid-70s, the Grameen Bank has advanced to the forefront of a burgeoning world movement toward eradicating poverty through microlending. Replicas of the Grameen Bank model operate in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Born in 1940 in the seaport city of Chittagong, Professor Yunus studied at Dhaka University in Bangladesh, then received a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Vanderbilt in 1969 and the following year became an assistant professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University. Returning to Bangladesh, Yunus headed the economics department at Chittagong University.

From 1993 to 1995, Professor Yunus was a member of the International Advisory Group for the Fourth World Conference on Women, a post to which he was appointed by the UN secretary general. He has served on the Global Commission of Women's Health, the Advisory Council for Sustainable Economic Development and the UN Expert Group on Women and Finance.

Professor Yunus is the recipient of numerous international awards for his ideas and endeavors, including the Mohamed Shabdeen Award for Science (1993), Sri Lanka; Humanitarian Award (1993), CARE, USA; World Food Prize (1994), World Food Prize Foundation, USA; lndependence Day Award (1987), Bangladesh's highest award; King Hussein Humanitarian Leadership Award (2000), King Hussien Foundation, Jordan; Volvo Environment Prize (2003), Volvo Environment Prize Foundation, Sweden; Nikkei Asia Prize for Regional Growth (2004), Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan; Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom Award (2006), Roosevelt Institute of The Netherlands; and the Seoul Peace Prize (2006), Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation, Seoul, Korea. He is a member of the board of the United Nations Foundation.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2006, Editor Karl Grandin, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 2007

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