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Rocking the Planet

Nobel Peace Prize Concert Oslo Spektrum Oslo, Norway Pictured L-R Melissa Etheridge, Al Gore , Kevin Spacey and KT Tunstall, backstage at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert
Nobel Peace Prize Concert Oslo Spektrum Oslo, Norway Pictured L-R Melissa Etheridge, Al Gore , Kevin Spacey and KT Tunstall, backstage at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert (Sandy Young - Sandy Young - For The Washington Post)

The Nobel Prizes have been around since 1901, and the Peace Prize concerts began in 1994. The concert drew an enormous audience in 2001, when Paul McCartney took the stage, and stars like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have hosted since. Now organizers say the concert is broadcast in 100 countries with an estimated audience of more than 400 million people.

Despite the eager global following, the concert is far less known in the United States. The Nobel laureates are often big names globally, but not household names in America -- such as last year's winner, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh. And sometimes the causes that earn the honor are not well known in Middle America, such as Yunus's specialty, micro-credit loans in the developing world.

But this year, the winner is a famous American and the cause, climate change, is becoming a dominant topic in politics and daily life across the country. Organizers said this year's concert would be shown in January on Fox's My TV, a network started last year.

"The Nobel is a global award, not a Norwegian award, so we want a global audience," said Odd Arvid Stromstad, the concert's executive producer. "U.S. TV is more commercialized than European TV, and it's harder to get substance on the big channels. I was brought up on TV being an intellectual means of communications, and it's hard to find that on the main channels in the United States."

Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said he hoped the increasingly popular concerts are helping to expand the reach of the prizes, and the causes they honor, particularly among the young.

"Alfred Nobel would have been very surprised," he said. "This is a more modern way of spreading the word of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Performers at the concert were invited by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, although Gore was allowed to choose one, and he picked Etheridge. But most of the others interviewed said Gore was a key reason they came. Gore had also asked Tommy Lee Jones, his former roommate at Harvard, to co-host with Thurman. When Jones had to back out for personal reasons, Gore picked up the phone and called Spacey, a longtime friend.

Interviewed before the concert, Spacey said he believed Gore's persistence on climate change after his 2000 defeat shows that "you cannot spend your time and your energy worrying about whether what you are concerned about is popular.

"You have to just keep your head high, march on and beat the drum until someone starts to hear the music," he said. "Fortunately people are starting to hear the music."

Etheridge said she first met Gore in 1994 at the White House, where one wall of his office was dominated by a large photo of Earth taken from space. She said it was clear that the environment was his passion, but that "people were telling him, shhh, please don't talk about global warming."

Thurman said she didn't want to think about how the world might be different if Gore had defeated Bush in 2000. "It's too painful to think about. Like pulling bandages from unhealed wounds," she said.

Washington and the Bush administration came in for heavy fire on a night when they were portrayed largely as obstacles to the climate-change cause.

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