350.org Founder Bill McKibben Accepts Inaugural Environmental Prize

The activist will return to campus in the spring of 2013 for a short residency

Environmental activist, author and journalist Bill McKibben accepted the inaugural Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism.  McKibben received the $100,000 prize at Dickinson’s Commencement on Sunday, May 20. 

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) co-founder John H. Adams and President William G. Durden ’71 presented the prize to McKibben. Just before the prize was awarded, Sam Rose ’58 had assisted in presenting Adams with a doctor of public service honorary degree.

Adams and Julie Walters serve on the seven-member recipient selection committee. In discussing who should be the inaugural recipient of the prize, Walters had stressed the importance of advocacy. “Our recipient, Bill McKibben, is the leading advocate for environmental action action to stop the Earth hurtling into climate change from an over dependence on fossil fuels,” said Adams. “In November [2011] I joined him in a demonstration at the White House in opposition to the Keystone pipeline. Over 12,000 citizens, young and old, standing 10 deep in a circle around the White House—Bill called it a hug—a few days later the pipeline was halted by the president. Through it all, Bill has been a friend to me and to our planet.”

In accepting the prize McKibben thanked Rose and Walters for their leadership, and called Adams the “lion of the environmental movement.” Turning to the class of 2012, McKibben said that climate change is not only the greatest problem of their lifetime, but also the greatest problem civilization has ever faced. “I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with many of you in the years ahead,” McKibben said.

McKibben is the founder of 350.org, the world’s largest grassroots climate campaign, with activists in every country but North Korea. Since 2009, 350.org has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries. Time magazine has called McKibben “the planet’s best green journalist” and The Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was “probably the country’s most important environmentalist.” McKibben’s first book, “The End of Nature,” is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change.

In 2006 McKibben helped lead a five-day walk across Vermont to demand action on global warming that some newspaper accounts called the largest climate-change demonstration to date in America. In 2011 he led the largest civil-disobedience action in 30 years in the U.S., as part of a protest against proposed pipelines to the tar sands of Canada. McKibben received the Guggenheim and Lyndhurst fellowships and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. In 2011, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rose and Walters created this prize to focus attention on the need to reduce the impact of human lives on the planet, particularly given the rising population predictions for this century. “Education is a necessity if we are to understand the problems facing the natural world and its inhabitants,” said Rose. “Julie and I wanted to endow the prize at Dickinson because we fully support the curriculum, which promotes student awareness of the environment and training for professional careers in the sciences as well as responsible living for the protection of all life forms.”

Rose and Walters endowed the prize to honor Adams and his 40 years of dedication and service to environmental causes.

“In our opinion, the most important issue of today is not politics, is not jobs, is not Wall Street, is not Facebook. It’s the planet, stupid,” said Rose. “We’ve established this prize to honor John [Adams], because the environment needs defenders like him. We’d love to see someone in this graduating class achieve this award in the future.”

Published May 21, 2012