Why Should We Live With Problems We Can Solve?

Thanks to the mass media we are all aware of the Nobel Prize, awarded every year in six categories: chemistry, physics, medicine, economics, literature, and peace. 89% go to candidates from the ‘global North’ (North America and Europe) and 95% go to men. The first four categories recognize individual technological innovation and the latter two are heavily skewed by politics.

In the 1970s Jakob von Uexkull approached the Nobel Foundation to suggest two new awards, one for ecology and one for work aiding the poor majority of the world’s population. He offered to contribute financially, but the idea was turned down. So he sold his stamp collection for about $1 million, and in 1980 began the Right Livelihood Awards.  see http://www.rightlivelihood.org

The Right Livelihood Award presentation takes place in December in the Swedish Parliament on the evening before the Nobel Prize ceremony. The RLA has a completely open nomination process and no categories. Rather than searching the world for yet more technological innovation, the RLA jury screens the nominees with the question in mind, “Why should we live with problems we can solve?” The other criterion is that the recipients must be addressing the roots of global problems, not merely symptoms.

As a side note for those not familiar with the term, right livelihood is an ancient concept. It reflects a belief that a person should “follow an occupation consistent with the principles of honest living, treating with respect other people and the natural world. It means taking responsibility for one’s actions and living lightly in the world.”

Many wonderful people and groups have been Right Livelihood Award recipients. Some you may have heard of include Plenty International (USA), Leopold Kohr (Austria), the Self-Employed Women’s Association (India), Wangari Maathai (20 years before she got the Nobel Peace Prize), the Seikatsu Club Consumer’s Cooperative (Japan), Mary and Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone Nation (USA), Ken Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria), the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP of India), Wes Jackson (USA) Amy Goodman (USA 2008 for developing a model of independent journalism), and of course, Bill Mollison (1981 Australia) co-founder of permaculture.