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Greta Thunberg: 2023 Nobel Peace Prize Winner?

If there was ever a time for a climate activist to win, it’s now.

Greta Thunberg.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It’s Nobel Prize week, which means it is once again time to make a complete fool of yourself by trying to read the minds of the inscrutable Swedish Academy. On Monday, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman won the first of the week’s prize, for physiology or medicine, for their work on the mRNA vaccines that helped curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Which, good for them, but also the Academy spent two years trolling everyone by awarding the researchers who discovered temperature and touch receptors (2021) and the sequencer of the Neanderthal genome (2022) in the immediate aftermath of the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. In the medicine category.

So that’s about the level of chaos and unpredictability you can expect from the Nobels, which on Friday will announce the most prestigious and closely watched award of them all: the Peace Prize. Bookmakers currently have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the favorite, although such a pick would be controversial since he is “a war leader,” even if it’s a defensive one, Reuters explains.

I think there is a simpler reason to discount Zelenskyy (and, by that token, jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, another bookie favorite) from the running: The Nobel committee already checked the “Ukraine war” box by giving the Peace Prize to human rights activists in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus last year. Though the Academy potentially could do so again — I cannot emphasize this enough, never discount Nobel chaos — it seems much more likely to me that we could have a climate-related winner this year.

The Swedish Academy has nodded to the climate crisis before, but it’s been a while: The 2007 Peace Prize was jointly awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former Vice President Al Gore. In the years since, there have been no climate-adjacent winners, but 2023 seems a natural time to acknowledge the work of activists. It was Earth’s hottest summer on record, and possibly in 120,000 years. There have been a number of major climate protests, actions, and marches around the world. In the U.S. alone, it has been the worst year on record for billion-dollar weather and climate disasters. Canada is experiencing its worst fire season ever, and the EU had its largest wildfire ever. Thousands died in Libya’s floods. And the list goes on.

We also know that both Greta Thunberg and Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate are among the 212 individuals and 93 organizations that were submitted as 2023 candidates (Thunberg in particular has been nominated four times, including last year). Jani Silva, an Indigenous rights and environmental activist working in the Amazon, is also a known nominee and could be a clever way for the Academy to give props to the climate cause while not cutting too close to its 2007 message.

One thing’s for sure: It definitely won’t go to the ruckus-causing Extinction Rebellion or Last Generation, which have been behind some of the year’s most high-profile protests.

... Right?

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Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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