On Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize was granted to Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali. He won for supporting de-escalating long-simmering tensions with neighboring Eritrea.
He was one of a few finalists, including climate change activist Greta Thunberg who was nominated by Norwegian lawmakers earlier this year. That Thunberg did not win for her tireless activism might feel like a slight. But the fact is, she did not deserve to win this award. More importantly, winning at this point could have been detrimental to her cause.
I didn’t say that to belittle her activism. Thunberg has completely changed the climate conversation globally. But that’s not what Thunberg is after. She’s after-action based on sound science. And world states have yet to perform in that regard, which means she and other activists still have most of the task ahead of them. Winning the noble prize might only have slowed down that work by diluting her report that the hardest efforts lay ahead.
When the Norwegian lawmakers told they had decided to nominate Thunberg in March this year, the climate strike campaign was still increasing. In the months since it has metastasized into a potent political power.
Soon after the report that Thunberg had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, 1.4 million followers took to the streets in the first global climate strike. That figure increased to an estimated 7.6 million people participating in strikes over the last two Fridays in September. Thunberg has also roasted policymakers at the UN and Davos and joined a group of kids who filed a landmark case against five of the world’s largest polluters. And her struggles have continued as she tours North America, drawing large crowds and connecting with frontline communities.
All this has happened in just a little over a year since her first single climate strike. The swift rise of the movement and the global, inclusive nature almost certainly gave Nobel Peace Prize board members pause for thought as they weighed her nomination. While the deliberations and how they arrive at the prize winner are highly secretive, we do know the criteria for the prize Alfred Nobel left in his will. The document stated that the award should go “to the person who shall have done the most of the great work for fraternity between the states and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the development and spreading of peace congresses.”
If you asked Greta Thunberg, I bet she would admit that she hasn’t done that (yet). She’s also never been one for awards or being feted by luminaries. You can see her speeches to know whether she believes the world has changed enough yet. A sampling below, with emphasis, added.
“Yes, we are failing, but there is a lot of time to turn everything around. We can fix this. We have everything in our own hands. But except we realize the overall failures of our current systems, we most probably don’t stand a chance.”
Last year’s global climate conference:
“Some people say that we are not doing enough to fight climate change. But that is not true. Because to ‘not do enough’ you have to do something. And the truth is we are not doing anything.”
The UN Climate Action Summit:
“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now, is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Heck, you can read the science that Greta Thunberg frequently invokes in her speeches. Sure, it’s not the flashy part that gets headlines, but it points to what drives her and what should, in theory, be driving world leaders. It shows the world needs to rein in carbon pollution 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 to have a shot at a climate somewhat close to the one that’s allowed humans to thrive. The world is going in a different direction now despite the alarm bells being set off by Thunberg carrying the scientists’ report.
The point she’s raise over and again is that we are at an inflection point. The system can choose to proceed to fail at curbing carbon pollution, or it can get its act together and, to paraphrase another of a line from Thunberg’s Davos speech, respond like our apartment is on fire. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize could really dampen the amount of people waking up to this reality by making them think the job is done when it’s anything but.