Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish activist leading the Youth Strike for Climate, a movement that aims to raise awareness about the dangers posed by climate change by organizing school strikes such as the one Berkeley High School students participated in on September 20.
In March of 2019, Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, though she did not receive it. Instead, it was given to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed Ali. While Thunberg’s activism is awe-inspiring and worthy of recognition, the Nobel Committee decided correctly in not awarding her the Nobel Prize. Thunberg’s wild success comes more because of her heavy coverage by the media and less because of her personal responsibility. While she has worked hard and sacrificed much, other candidates for the Peace Prize have worked harder and sacrificed more, despite receiving less accolades from the Western media.
Take Ahmed for example. He was elected prime minister in early 2018, and once in office aggressively pursued democratic reforms. Thousands of prisoners, many of them held only because they opposed government policy, were released early. Ahmed has met with opposition leaders who were on death row only days earlier and proposed reforms to limit the political power of the military. His selection for the prize was clinched by his June 2018 summit with Eritrea, which formally ended a 20-year war between the two countries. While the actual violence had ended years ago, Abiy’s summit reestablished diplomatic and trade relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Another nominee in 2018 was Raoni Metuktire. Metuktire is an Indigenous Brazilian leader who has fought since the 1970s against the deforestation of the Amazon. Now almost 90 years old, he continues his activism against deforestation and for indigenous rights despite the lack of support from the Brazilian government. The Nobel Prize was created to honor people like Metuktire and Ahmed.
Winners of other years are similarly deserving. In 2018, the award was split between two candidates, one of whom was Denis Mukwege. He is a doctor and minister who has worked 17-hour days to treat victims of rape in the Congolese civil war. In 2012, unknown parties held his family hostage and attempted to assassinate him because of his activism to end the civil war.
While the Youth Strike for Climate has received considerable publicity, it has not yet translated into concrete political change. As of now, no government policy has been changed in response to the strikes. Thunberg’s activism is admirable, but it should not take priority over activism and policy-making that has saved thousands of lives.
There is a tendency in American society — and in all societies for that matter — to focus only on what we know, and to assume that nothing else exists or matters. This is why many believed Thunberg deserved the Nobel Prize. However, so much activism exists beyond just what is covered in the US news media. The Nobel Prize should recognize and uplift that activism, and I am very glad they did so in this case.