The first Nobel Peace Prize given to an environmental activist, Kenyan Wangari Maathai, was officially awarded Friday night in Oslo. Professor Maathai laid out her case for an integrated understanding of the fights for the environment, democracy, and equitable natural resource management in a New York Times op-ed. Her acceptance speech is available on the Nobel site.

As earlier posts discussed, this particular award was not without its critics.An International Herald Tribune op-ed recently criticized the Nobel committee for departing from the historical focus on shooting wars, instead awarding the peace prize for environment and security activism. Co-author Nils Petter Gleditsch of the Norwegian International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, is a well-respected scholar who has contributed for years to the academic literature on environment and conflict links, often providing a skeptical view of the connections.

In many respects the differences come down to one’s definitions of conflict and violence. Critics can be correct in citing the limited evidence that states to go to war with one another over natural resources. Yet the criticism may miss the point by missing the widespread violence that goes on within states, violence that is not necessarily well-organized or by force of arms. The structural violence of poverty, corruption, and environmental degradation affects literally billions every day. The Nobel Prize rightly stretched the prior confines of the award and called attention to these “conflicts.”

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