By Kevin O’Connor
Vermonter Bill McKibben knows students at central Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College will remember Sunday’s graduation for diplomas and a speech by CIA director and retired four-star Gen. David Petraeus. But the Ripton resident and Middlebury College scholar was there for another reason: To accept Dickinson’s inaugural $100,000 Prize for Global Environmental Activism.
“Our recipient,” said presenter John Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “is the leading advocate for environmental action — action to stop the Earth hurtling into climate change from an over-dependence on fossil fuels.”
McKibben — author of “The End of Nature,” a 1989 bestseller and the first book about global warming written for a general audience — is now making news as founder of 350.org, the world’s largest grassroots climate action campaign.
Since its start four years ago, McKibben’s group has coordinated 15,000 rallies in nearly 200 countries. Adams told the crowd how McKibben convinced him and 12,000 other Americans to form a circle 10-people deep around the White House last November in opposition to the proposed cross-country Keystone oil pipeline.
“Bill called it a hug,” Adams said. “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.”
Accepting the prize, McKibben said climate change wasn’t only the greatest problem of his generation but of any civilization. Calling for assistance in calling for action, McKibben told graduates, “I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with many of you in the years ahead.”
Dickinson, a 2,400-student private liberal arts college, bills itself as “a national leader and innovator in sustainability education.”
“In our opinion, the most important issue of today is not politics, is not jobs, is not Wall Street, is not Facebook,” said Dickinson alumnus Sam Rose, who helped create and endow the prize. “It’s the planet, stupid.”