How nice of the Sydney Peace Prize people to award its Gold Medal for Human Rights this month to Christiana Figueres, top negotiator of the toothless 2015 Paris climate accord.
The Sydney Peace Foundation, backed by the City of Sydney and Sydney University, somewhat incoherently cited the good lady’s ‘relentless drive to ensure we don’t sleepwalk into an environmental nightmare by keeping our outrage alive.’
But Figueres is just the appetiser. Who’s going to win the $50,000 Sydney Peace Prize in May? The Foundation claims, ‘Since 1998, Sydney Peace Prize recipients have shown us how to share our planet peacefully, justly and sustainably. But most of all, Sydney Peace Prize winners lead by example. They remind Australia that a fair, equitable and just world is possible and starts with our own actions, in our own families and communities.’
Spellbound, I raced to their website and donated $5. Vice-Principal (Advancement) Rosalind Ogilvie congratulated me for supporting ‘exceptional scholarship and brilliant students’ at a place where ‘ideas and new thinking are ignited’.
While online there, I also nominated hard-working Middle-East peace activist Donald Trump. He’s at least as deserving as past winners Julian Burnside, Noam Chomsky, anti-capitalist Naomi Klein and John Pilger, who wrote shortly after the Twin Towers fell, ‘The current threat of attacks… is the latest stage in a long struggle against the empires of the West, their rapacious crusades and domination.’
Last year’s co-winner Tracey Spicer became author of Australia’s Me Too disaster. Last November, she allowed ABC TV to publicly identify women victims who had given Spicer their details. She earlier told the Guardian ‘It’s humbling to be entrusted with their stories, especially shared for the first time.’ According to the Australian Financial Review, she’s now exited the Me Too scene after flinging legal threats at three female critics.
The Foundation won’t name its ‘independent jury’ and in any event does its own final pick. 2018’s Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist from the Socialist International, sounded like the Raving Loony Party. ‘The climate emergency is our third world war,’ he told Sydneysiders. ‘Our lives and civilization as we know it are at stake, just as they were in the second world war.’
Will my 2020 nominee Trump enjoy the $50,000? Or at least make the short list? Meanwhile, back to the Gold Medal. An earlier winner was Julian Assange. Then-chair Stuart Rees praised Assange’s work as ‘in the tradition of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man.’
2020’s Christiana Figueres, an older but not wiser version of Greta Thunberg, enjoys a ‘fantastic plant-based hamburger’ and wants us all to go meat-free. Restaurants are to make meat-eaters dine outside, like smokers, because meat is ‘bad for the planet and our health. Very, very provocative, but why not?’
Plebs must pedal, share rides and take buses instead of ‘highly-irresponsible high-carbon vehicles’. Meanwhile, she criss-crosses the skies picking up environmental prizes. Indeed, she’s flying to Australia this month for the Sydney prize and to promote her ‘passionate call to arms’ titled, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis. Therein she calls for Gandhi-style insurrection. ‘Civil disobedience is not only a moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics,’ she writes.
She achieved perpetual quotability with this ripper from 2015: ‘This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.’
A year earlier she praised the Chinese leaders for ‘doing it right’ with their can-do approach to climate, ‘because [China’s] political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles seen in countries including the US.’ She’s happy to see the West’s growth halted. ‘Developing countries must continue to grow… but you can’t do it with disgusting fossil fuels that those [Western] guys use.’
She recommends in her chummy way that ‘those of us of a certain age’ who have chalked up some savings should invest only in green-fronded companies: to do otherwise ‘is irresponsible to the planet and to yourself’. Last year her own Senior’s Card was augmented with a $US1 million Dan David Prize for climate-change heroics.
She staggers under her load of honors for tightening other people’s belts. There’s the Shackleton Medal, the Grand Medal of the City of Paris, the Legion of Honour, the German Great Cross of Merit, the Guardian Medal of Honor and the 2015 Hero of El Pais award. Since the UN, she’s lofted onto boards and advisories including Formula E grand prix racing, Unilever and six-legged Italian energy giant ENI.
Palace-raised, the champagne socialist is from the ruling dynasty of Costa Rica (pop. 5m). Her father was president for 12 years, while her brother, Jose Figueres, was president for four. Her mother was ambassador to Israel and her half-sister an ambassador to the US.
Climate Home News has noted, ‘Her passion for tackling climate change has many times spilled over into tears.’ She addressed 1,000 girls at ritzy St Catherine’s in Sydney’s Waverley a few years ago. Bare moments into her speech she broke down: ‘I have tissues here because it always pains me… [a pause] to see [a suppressed sob]… the evidence of what we’ve done.’
At the UN’s Conference of Parties (COP) at Cancun, she dabbed the tissues as she told kids she ‘had inherited a severely diminished planet [sobs]… I just can’t look my daughters in the eye and not do what I can [more sobs].’ I doubt her two daughters, now in their thirties and ex-Yale and LSE, will actually do it tough in middle age.
She campaigned against the Adani coal project before the 2017 Queensland election. Last month the ABC reported her as ‘deeply pained’ that Prime Minister Morrison wasn’t stopping the ‘unprecedented’ bushfires by taxing emissions. The bushfires, she said, were ‘the worst disaster that has ever hit the planet’ and climate is ‘the most important challenge that humanity has ever faced’. She’s not nicknamed ‘Tinkerbell’ for nothing.
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Tony Thomas launches his new book ‘Come to think of it – essays to tickle the brain’ at 6.30pm Tuesday March 10 at Il Gamberos, 166 Lygon Street, Carlton. All welcome. firstname.lastname@example.org
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