In 1980 a Swedish-German writer and philatelist, Jacob Uexkull, decided that the Nobel Prizes were too narrow in focus and ignored much of the work that is vital to the survival of mankind. He sold his valuable collection of stamps to provide the initial endowment for the Right Livelihood Awards, often identified in the media as the "Alternative Nobel Prizes."
The Awards seek to identify people and projects whose work contributes to basic needs such as food and shelter, a clean environment, education of the human spirit, and the preservation of the planet. Winners share a $100,000 cash award to be used in furtherance of their projects, and an Honorary Award is also presented to a person whose work the judges wish to recognize but who is not primarily in need of monetary support.
The Awards are presented in the Swedish Parliament on the day before the Nobel Prizes, and the 1988 winners are good examples of the Awards’ values and scope. The Honorary Award winner was Dr. Inge Kemp Genefke, who founded and directs the International Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims in Copenhagen. The cash Award was split between Sahabat Alam (Friends of the Earth) Malaysia (SAM); pioneering Brazilian environmentalist José Lutzenberger; and England’s John F. C. Turner, who promotes self-help housing programs for the poor.
SAM merits particular attention because of the great risks taken by its members to oppose logging in Sarawak’s immense but vanishing rainforests. The director of SAM’s office in Sarawak, 28-year-old Kayan Harrison Ngau, has worked tirelessly with the native Penan people whose homes and lifestyles are threatened. When lobbying proved ineffectual, the Penan successfully blockaded logging camps and roads with SAM’s help until halted by a police crackdown.
SAM and the "Decade of the Rainforest" conference are excellent examples of the grassroots organizing highlighted by the Worldwatch report (see two preceding articles). For more information on the Right Livelihood Awards, write to Ragnall House, 18 Peel Road, Douglas, Isle of Man, British Isles. SAM’s home office is at 43 Salween Road, 10050 Penang, Malaysia.