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A Nobel Prize for Sweden's Greta Thunberg?

Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg sails on the Malizia II racing yacht in New York Harbor as she nears the completion of her trans-Atlantic crossing in order to attend a United Nations summit on climate change in New York, U.S., August 28, 2019.
Swedish 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg sails on the Malizia II racing yacht in New York Harbor as she nears the completion of her trans-Atlantic crossing in order to attend a United Nations summit on climate change in New York, U.S., August 28, 2019.
A Nobel Prize for Sweden's Greta Thunberg?
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Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s shaming of world leaders and air travelers over climate change has won her millions of supporters. She has also gained many new followers to her cause.

But it just might cost her the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thunberg is one of only a few people whose nomination has become known before the Nobel ceremony. Prize experts consider her to be the favorite to win the award this year.

At 16, she would be the youngest recipient of the award. She would also be the first to win the prize for environmental work since Al Gore. The former American vice president shared the prize in 2007 for spreading knowledge of climate change.

But Thunberg’s youth, directness and resolve – among the causes of her popularity – could be seen as problems for the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Her sometimes sharp criticism of those who choose to travel by airplane has upset some people. The denunciation of world leaders by a teenager can be divisive, also.

Most liberals see Thunberg as a speaker of the truth about climate change. Most conservatives, however, see her as a liar, or a trickster. Some have suggested her parents have misdirected her.

Thunberg, who does not usually take media requests directly, did not immediately answer requests for comment.

She has denied accusations that she is paid for her activism or is being “used” by anyone. She wrote on Facebook earlier this year that “there is no one ‘behind’ me except for myself. My parents were as far from climate activists as possible before I made them aware of the situation.”

'How dare you?'

Thunberg won international fame last year by taking time off school each Friday to demonstrate about the lack of action on climate change. She would sit -- alone at first -- outside the Swedish parliament.

Last Friday, millions of young people protested around the world to put pressure on governments to act. The huge demonstrations were inspired by Thunberg’s activism.

Climate Rally 2019
Climate Rally 2019

This week, Thunberg accused leaders at the U.N. climate meeting of stealing her dreams and childhood with “empty words” on climate change action.

“How dare you?” she asked throughout her speech.

Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Sept 2019
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Sverre Lodgaard is a former deputy member of the award committee. He told Reuters that committee members would consider Thunberg’s age and the method she uses to share her message.

“The problem is that the principle of ‘flight shame’ brings her chances...down. Shame is not a constructive feeling to bring about change,” he said.

Five years ago, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai won the award at the age of 17. But her candidacy was less divisive than Thunberg’s.

Asle Sveen has written several books about the peace prize. He said it can be a “burden” for teen-aged winners. Even so, both he and Lodgaard say Thunberg has a chance of winning.

The award committee could choose to reduce the weight of expectation on Thunberg by awarding a shared prize. But it also could decide that the young activist’s behavior shows she is wise beyond her years.

“They would have seen and heard her and she would have come across as thoughtful and effective. She could be a very good candidate,” Lodgaard said.

The definition of peace

Also possibly counting against Thunberg is a debate among thinkers about whether environmental activism counts as working for peace.

“The argument ‘for’ is that the science shows we are experiencing a dramatic change of climate and we could have extreme conditions, with consequences in terms of war and refugees,” Sveen said.

“The argument ‘against’ would be: does a prize to the environment fall outside the boundaries of Nobel’s will?” he added.

Apart from Thunberg, other leading possible nominees for the award include Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for his country's peace deal with Eritrea last year.

Abiy, who took office in April 2018, is pushing Ethiopia towards new democratic freedoms. However, rights groups say more needs to be done to deal with many years of government repression.

The Nobel committee also could choose to recognize Reporters Without Borders or the Committee to Protect Journalists. Both groups fight for press freedom.

Pope Francis and the head of the United Nations Refugee Agency are also possible nominees for the prize.

The winner will be announced on October 11.

I'm Dorothy Gundy.

The Reuters news agency reported this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

shamingn. the activity of showing little or no respect for someone in public

aware adj. showing knowledge or recognition

principle – n. a rule or way of doing things

constructiveadj. helpful to someone instead of upsetting and negative

burdenn. ​someone or something that is very difficult to accept, do, or deal with

dramaticadj. sudden and extreme

consequencen. something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions

boundaryn. a point or limit that indicates where two things become different

journalist n. a news reporter