Time for a New Nobel?

Though it’s too early to make bets, many are tipping former US Presidential candidate Al Gore to win the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace. Gore indeed deserves plaudits for increasing environmental awareness, most famously in the film "An Inconvenient Truth". He has already won major awards for this (including an Oscar) and is likely to win many more. But the Nobel Prize for Peace?

Like any major award, the Nobel Peace Prize has had its share of controversy. It began when the first Nobel Prizes were handed out in 1901, and one of the Peace prize winners was Swiss philanthropist Jean Henri Dunant. Dunant, though admired and respected by all, was a contentious choice, simply because of the nature of his achievements. He had founded the International Red Cross, formed to ease the plight of war casualties. It was a noble aim, but was he a suitable winner of a peace prize? Though he was no scientist, many suggested that he deserved the Nobel Prize for Medicine instead.

It has been a constant dilemma. Many Nobel Peace Prize laureates won for their charity work, rather than the cause of world peace. American scientist Norman Borlaug won in 1970, for developing a high-yield strain of wheat (thereby speeding up the “green revolution”). Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai won in 2004 for her contribution to, among other things, sustainable development. Nobody can begrudge such winners (especially those such as Dunant, who donated his prize money to charity), or suggest their work was anything less than worthwhile, but was the Peace prize an appropriate honour?

Perhaps it is time for two new Nobel Prizes, to honour environmental and charity work, much as a new award – for economic science – was devised in 1969. In the meantime, however, the Peace prize is still being used to cover all such categories. Unlike Dunant’s victory, which was greeted by protests, it is now accepted with hardly a word said. Surely there is room for annual awards to go to a peace-maker, a humanitarian, AND an environmentalist.