Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize to the cheers of climate change campaigners around the world. However, the decision raises several questions about what the Nobel Committee is hoping to achieve and the direction in which they want to take the award.
An Inconvenient Truth is a brilliant piece of film-making. It has raised awareness of climate change issues around the world. But what has peace got to do with climate change? Well, many people believe that future wars will be fought as a result of climate change. If climate change accelerates at the rate which Gore's film claims, natural resources will be at even more of a premium than they are today. In fact, the Darfur conflict, which began in 2003, is now widely seen as the first climate change war, with herders and farmers clashing over shrinking fertile lands in the region.
The counter-argument is that limiting industrial production in developing countries to reduce greenhouse gases would also lead to poverty, a scramble for resources and possible conflict.
Conservatives are outraged by Gore's Laureate. Commentators point to the fact that, according to a ruling from a British judge last week, An Inconvenient Truth contains nine scientific errors and is guilty of "alarmism and exaggeration". It was, the judge said, "a political film". The American Right does not want to acknowledge climate change because of the repercussions for large-scale industry.
Such self-interest is not helpful in a critical debate. However, it is a valid criticism that the Nobel Committee is making a political statement by endorsing one side of a fierce global debate. It is a swipe at Bush ahead of the UN conference on climate change in December.
Whatever the benefits of An Inconvenient Truth to the climate change debate, Gore cannot be a serious Nobel choice because he has made one film — the success of which is largely down to Hollywood. It is a media choice.
Al Gore is a good man with a worthy message, but he has not dedicated his life to the pursuit of peace. His film transformed him from presidential candidate to global celebrity and darling of the Hollywood green brigade.
In 1895, Alfred Nobel created the prize to honour "the person who shall have done the most for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
A glance at previous Peace Laureates — with the exception of the ludicrous selection of Yasser Arafat in 1994 — fit these criteria. In 2005, the award went to the International Atomic Energy Agency for their efforts over 50 years in preventing nuclear energy being used for military purposes. In 2000, Kim Dae Jung took the prize for a lifetime spent working for peace and reconciliation in North Korea. 1998 saw John Hume and David Trimble share the award. They are political rivals, but the Committee recognised that both had spent years striving for a peaceful solution to the Northern Ireland problem. In 1993, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk took the gong for ending apartheid.
Incidentally, Mahatma Gandhi was nominated five times. He was rejected on grounds that he was "neither a real politician nor a humanitarian relief worker," yet today the star of a film gets the nod.
One piece of work, no matter how worthy, should not qualify for the Nobel. Jimmy Carter, winner in 2002, spent decades producing research and publications campaigning for peace. The Carter Center has, for over twenty years, pursued peaceful solutions to global conflicts and his presidency was defined by securing peace between Israel and Egypt. No red carpets or sharing stages with Cameron Diaz here.
So, were there more worthy contenders this year? Certainly any other choice would not have generated so many headlines, but perhaps better qualify in the promotion of peace.
Irena Sendler is a 97-year-old Polish Catholic and was nominated for saving 2,500 Jews during the Holocaust. Ex-Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari is noted for his international peace work in former Yugoslavia. Shih Ming-The was nominated for his efforts to bring democracy to Taiwan after a life of persecution.
Gore's Laureate broadens the scope of what was originally created as a peace prize and narrows the dedication and long-term impact that used to be prerequisites for the prize. As for Gore himself, he has an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize. Could the White House now be within his grasp? I hope so — then maybe he can win the Laureate again in 20 years with a history of concrete achievement under his belt.