Ecocentricity Blog: And the Award Goes To...

By: John A. Lanier
Jan 3, 2022 5:30 PM ET
Campaign: Ecocentricity Blog
person hiking in the mountains
Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka - 2021 Champion of the Earth for Science and Innovation. Photo credit: UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Ecocentricity Blog: And the Award Goes To...

Every now and again the history nerd in me comes out. Today is one of those days, especially as this is the last blog I plan to write this year. That got me reflecting on the year-end, which led me to think about what have been the best parts of 2021, which got me thinking about awards and prizes that are given out annually, which prompted the question in my mind about what are the oldest awards and prizes in human history, and BAM - history nerd John, reporting for duty.

What follows is internet research, not academic research, so every bit of it could be wrong. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s work backwards in time with a selection of noteworthy awards. I start with the Booker Prize, awarded to novels in the English language and first given out in 1969. Then we arrive at the Grammy Awards for best-in-class music, which date back to 1959. We stay in the entertainment genre and come to film’s Academy Awards, which got their start in 1929. Believe it or not, Michelin Star restaurants are even older, with the first stars awarded in 1926 (fun fact: the Michelin in question is the tire company, and their Michelin Man mascot has been around since the late 1800s, with early depictions being the stuff of nightmares). Then we have the esteemed Pulitzer Prize for journalism, which got its start in 1917. None, however, have roots that grow so deep as the Nobel Prize, first given in 1901. I couldn’t find any older awards, but I see the wheels turning in your head - “What about the oldest sports trophy, hmmmmm? THAT’S a kind of award!” You are right, my dear friend, and so may I present to you the Carlisle Bell. It’s a horse race first run in 1599! Two bells serve as a trophy, and historians believe they were two of four trophies that were given in the early years of the race. Okay, let's zoom on back to the present day, because there’s another award that I want to talk about - The United Nations Environment Programme’s “Champions of the Earth” award. It has been awarded every year since 2005, and the list of winners includes notable names such as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Mikhail Gorbachev, the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, and (my favorite on the list) the ecologist Janine Benyus. This year’s awardees were recently announced, and they are incredible! Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados was honored for her advocacy for climate action. The Sea Women of Melanesia were awarded for their training of indigenous women in Papua New Guinea to protect marine ecosystems. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka was recognized for her work as a wildlife veterinarian with mountain gorillas in Uganda. Finally, Maria Kolesnikova of the Kyrgyz Republic received her award for her entrepreneurial use of technology to improve urban air quality. The best part of this slate of awardees? They are all women! It’s a heartwarming and encouraging recognition of how powerful women can be as environmental activists. I continue to believe that empowering women is one of the most important ways we can solve environmental challenges around the world, and I can’t think of better examples than these women. Congratulations to them all. This blog is available weekly via email subscription. Click here to subscribe.

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