This year’s Nobel Peace Prize should’ve gone to Greta Thunberg – what’s more important than climate action?

Maria Ressa and Dimitry Muratov, brave campaigning journalists, have won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Many congratulations to them. They are worthy winners of the prize. However, I can’t help thinking that the Nobel Committee has missed a trick and lost an historic opportunity.

Possibly the most important conference the world will ever have seen is about to begin on 1 November in Glasgow. COP26 will decide whether or not the world’s “leaders” are serious about trying to prevent eco-driven civilisational collapse. The Nobel Prize could have been given this year to some of those who have been working most brilliantly to stabilise our climate.

The most obvious such candidate, who was nominated, is Greta Thunberg. Let’s listen to her for a minute: “We kids most often don’t do what you tell us to do. We do as you do. And since you grown-ups don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either. My name is Greta and I’m in ninth grade. And I am school striking for the climate until election day.”

The date was 20 August 2018 and with this tweet, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg launched what would grow into a worldwide movement, catapulting her centre stage in the fight to save people and planet. Election day came and went and still, three years on, Greta continues her strike. Only now, she is very much no longer alone.

Thanks to “the Greta effect”, she hasn’t just woken up fellow young people to the plight of the planet. She has also used her growing platform to challenge politicians with her straight talking, no nonsense speeches.

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I first met her in October 2018, when she came to London to support the launch of Extinction Rebellion (XR). I had the honour of eulogising her after her speech, as we undertook the first ever XR action, blocking vehicular access to parliament.

I met her again at the great April 2019 Extinction Rebellion in London, when I got the chance to ask her publicly whether she supported XR, and she replied with her customary straightforwardness, in a one-word answer: “Yes”. I last met her when we were together in Davos in January 2020, at the World Economic Forum. Since then, unfortunately, Covid-19 has of course made travel and in person events more challenging.

Now that this has started to change, it’s important that we get back into public citizen action as much as possible. The climate isn’t hanging around waiting – it is continuing to deteriorate. I look forward to seeing Greta again at the Glasgow climate conference this November.

In my not-entirely-humble opinion, she is a world historical figure on a level with the Pankhursts and Martin Luther King. Her wit, her deep intelligence, her endlessly courageous truth telling and her willingness to show the emotional toll of the escalating climate and ecological emergency on herself and so many other children and young people, are changing the world in real time.

Greta was first nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and again in 2020 and, once again, this year. But still no cigar.

Greta, who was TimeMagazine’s youngest person of the year, has shown time and again that she has the strength of character to lead the world against the biggest challenge we will ever face. She shames our elected so-called leaders.

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And while she should be celebrated for her courage and insight, the rest of us too should feel some shame. We should feel ashamed that it has come to this. Young people like her have to devote their time and energy to doing nothing less than begging for their lives.

It’s a real shame that those deciding on the Nobel Peace Prize have missed the chance to make a massive pitch for real climate action, at this vital moment. There were many worthy candidates for this year’s prize, including the winners, but unless we prize climate truth, climate justice and climate action sufficiently, everything else, including all other worthy causes, will be swept away. This includes the very futures of our children.

Professor Rupert Read teaches at the University of East Anglia. He is a former spokesperson and strategist for Extinction Rebellion. His book Parents for a Future – How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse, was partly inspired by Greta Thunberg


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