McKibben wins $100k environmental award, pledges half to college — if it divests

RIPTON — Author and activist Bill McKibben on Tuesday was awarded the $100,000 Sophie Prize, one of the world’s largest environmental awards, for his work in building 350.org, the first widespread global climate campaign.

The Norway-based prize jury cited McKibben for “pioneering new methods of social protest,” from Internet-based organizing to the widespread civil disobedience confronting the Keystone XL pipeline. Past recipients of the award include Nobel laureate Wangari Mathaai and Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.

“This is really an award for the millions of people who make up the growing climate movement,” said McKibben, adding that he would donate half the proceeds of the prize to 350.org, and half to Middlebury College in Vermont, where he is Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies and where 350.org was founded.

“I’m hopeful that by the time the prize is awarded in October, Middlebury will have announced plans to sell its fossil fuel stocks,” said McKibben, who has spearheaded the divestment campaign that has now spread to 380 campuses and seen cities like Seattle and San Francisco move to sever financial ties with the fossil fuel industry. “If not, I’ll ask the college to hold it in an escrow account until they take that important step, joining the five New England colleges that have already done so. Middlebury has always been an environmental leader, and it is a great honor to support its work.”

Middlebury College officials applauded the choice of McKibben for the award, but they declined to discuss his linking the prize money to college divestment from fossil fuel companies saying the college doesn’t discuss individual gifts.

“We congratulate Bill on winning the award,” said Bill Burger, vice president for communications at Middlebury College.

The Sophie Prize was established in 1997 by the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder, in the wake of his novel “Sophie’s World,” an international bestseller.

“It’s a special pleasure that this honor has literary roots,” said McKibben, whose 1989 book “The End of Nature” is generally regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. “It’s also a delight because my only child is named Sophie!”

“In certain ways this has been a depressing spring,” McKibben added. “We’ve watched the planet’s carbon concentrations move beyond 400 parts per million for the first time since the evolution of humans. Against that, however, there’s real solace in the emergence of a global movement. At least humans are starting to fight back against the fossil fuel industry.”

McKibben has won several other prizes this spring, including the Gandhi Prize (first awarded to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948), the 2012 literary prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the “Steward of God’s Creation” award from the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care. In addition he’s received honorary degrees at commencement ceremonies Eckerd College in Florida and the Rhode Island School of Design, the Dean’s Medal from the University at Buffalo, and the Anvil of Freedom Award from the journalism school at the University of Denver. 

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