Worthy Cause, Wrong Award

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Al Gore, which leaves me wondering what broad definition of peace the committee was using. Admittedly, as an Andover student, I can only follow the news so much–is it possible that war and peace no longer have the clear-cut definitions they used to? That seems to be the skewed conclusion that the Nobel Prize committee has come to. At Phillips Academy, it is easy to relegate war and peace to distant places, far from atop our New England hill. Scanning newspaper headlines and listening to NPR only gives me a vague outline of world events, blurry around the edges, with statistics of the dead and injured in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Darfur, Burma, Israel and Palestine quickly fading beneath the hum of daily classes and homework. I certainly can’t grasp the implications of each new foiled terrorist plot or feeble peace plan in the Middle East. In fact, I didn’t even have time to see Al Gore’s informative, eco-friendly film, An Inconvenient Truth, this masterpiece of cinema that has earned its creator a Nobel Prize. It confuses me that Al Gore, whose appearance at the Academy Awards ceremony was greeted with well-deserved applause from an audience of Hollywood stars and many friendly pats on the back for his altruistic work, can now place a Nobel Prize alongside his Oscar for best documentary. Yes, he made a movie that has raised awareness about global warming, but how is that accomplishment comparable to the contributions of Nelson Mandela (the 1993 laureate) or the Dalai Lama (the 1989 laureate)? Granted, Al Gore shared his award with scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose authoritative, painstaking work has created a new understanding about the human causes of global warming. And it may be true, as the committee stated in its formal release, that Gore is “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.” But to place this pair on par with Mother Teresea (the 1979 laureate) or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (the 1964 laureate) seems ludicrous. Alfred Nobel created the peace prize for the purpose of annually honoring individuals who had “done the most or best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” While climate change is an issue that must be addressed before it reaches the apocalyptic heights that Al Gore and others envision, it does not conform to Nobel’s intended purpose: promoting peace. Surely, out of the entire world, the Norwegians at Oslo could have selected a more worthy man, woman, or organization, who has contributed to peace on earth. Monks and protestors, diplomats and activists in war-torn, poverty-stricken countries risk their lives for the principles of peace and social justice each day. Their struggles – for the liberation of oppressed peoples, for the rights of women and minorities – deserve the highest honor and recognition. Al Gore has risked little more than his political reputation and his personal fortune, and for a cause that has only a tenuous connection to ‘peace.’ Environmentalism is obviously a worthy cause and the Nobel Prize committee has done well to elevate that cause and promote its agenda. However, by turning this prestigious award into a promotional stunt for a specific political platform, instead of a chance to recognize world leaders in peace and human rights, the Nobel committee has degraded its own prize. The Nobel Prize could do much more than congratulate an American politician for disagreeing with the president’s environmental policy. After all, when Alfred Nobel created his prizes, he did not mean for them to create more division and contention about international issues. Instead, his greatest ambition was to honor and advance the cause of world peace.