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Environmental Gore: A Nobel Argument

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Monday, 22 October 2007

When Bill O’Reilly, denizen of that dream factory Fox News, sees merit in an award to Al Gore, it is perhaps time to hang up one’s ideological hat.  All isms, as a British official in the Foreign Office wrote after Hitler and Stalin cuddled up for a pact of non-aggression in 1939, are wasms.  O'Reilly would like a "cleaner planet" and was not shy to share that with his muddled audience.  He was happy to applaud the Nobel Prize committee's choice of recipient Gore as glorified street (or green) cleaner, that spurned American presidential hopeful of 2000. O'Reilly, a shock impresario of the right, a stream-rolling personality who prefers to shout his opponents into submission than ponder on a peripatetic walk, confronted bemused - nay shocked - conservative pundits with his views.

Needless to say, the choice of Gore has not been a popular one.  While viewers and politicians crammed cinemas at lightning speed to be fed inconvenient truths about melting ice caps and drowning Polar bears, the Noble Prize committee decided to wade in the rising waters.  American (and other) conservatives, along with an assortment of liberals, reached for their assorted arsenals of opprobrium.  Reasons for their disagreement varied, but met at some point.  Citizens of Fortress America (the conservatives, that is) felt ruffled: this provocative gesture was Oslo taking a pot shot at the Bush administration. After all, why shouldn't the Nobel peace prize be given to a man who has specialised in the art of disrupting peace?

Liberals were no less happy: for them, the choice was shallow, and had nothing to do with peace in the first place.  Alexander Cockburn fretfully told his readers in CounterPunch (October 13) that Gore ought to run a "gauntlet of widows and orphans, Serbs, Iraqis, Palestinians, Columbians, and other victims of the Clinton era".  In the same magazine was Jan Oberg of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, based in Lund, who argued that the choice for Gore was "populist".  It is invariably hard to pin point a time when a peace prize was not populist, but Oberg does not elaborate.  Cockburn does give Gore a not undeserved dusting down, but perhaps misses the point of the "peace" prize in the first place.


Such sentiments risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater, not to mention the tub.  Peace prizes have always been tinged by a sense of the duplicitous: to get peace, we must indulge in a fair share of violence.  Though hard to imagine, this would be much like Gandhi exchanging his supporting stick for a gun.  To assume that such a prize was actually created for the pursuit of peace, exclusive of war, is a grand misunderstanding.  To get peace, one needs to have war.  Terrorists and politicians have not disappointed, stacking the honour roll for peace prizes for decades.

One of the early recipients of the prize was President Theodore Roosevelt, a specialist in disrupting peace when he could.  He only got the prize as a mediator between Japan and Russia in their war of 1904 but that was after he had had his fair share of warring.  Bush had himself been touted at one stage by a Nobel committee member and academic Geir Lundestad as a possible recipient for that very same award, but historical reflection is loose in Rupert's dream factory.

The absurdity of the Nobel has always been palpable (when an inventor of dynamite proceeds to talk peace, ears should prick up), but the question must be asked whether it can be overcome.  Either abolish it, or continue it with acknowledged limitations.  Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, possible war criminal, took a child-like delight at accepting the Nobel for his slippery manoeuvring over ending the Vietnam War while simultaneously encouraging bombings on North Vietnam and destabilising the entire Indochina region.  It was a delight that came plummeting to earth when the joint choice, North Vietnamese official Le Duc Tho, did not turn up for the party.  As Duc Tho sternly claimed, there could be no peace award where there was no peace in the first place.

The choice of the Nobel committee was, on the surface, a balanced one: a dual award that shared the political pamphleteering shock tactics of Gore’s inconvenient truths with the sagacious body of scientists at the ICCP.  Notwithstanding this, some scientists are miffed at Gore’s choice: this Nobel has been given for exaggeration, alarmism, hysteria.  One has called it another version of the Eurovision song contest, without similarly bad singing. But thank goodness these belly-aching number-crunchers have finally woken up to the fact that science is politics; that the study of environment is a pursuit that is far from an indulgence within an ivory-tower lab free of implications.  The moment science became the hand-maiden of government, it became a political endeavour.

In time we should hope that Gore's predictions are alarmist – to wish they were not might suggest mental ill-health.

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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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