Speech by the chair of the board of the Sophie Prize

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends

”Climate change is the single biggest thing humans have ever done on this planet. The only ting that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it”.
By Liv Røhnebæk Bjergene
Monday 28 October 2013

The quotation belongs to todays Sophie Prize winner, Bill McKibben. It sums up what today’s award is all about: Mass mobilization to save our planet.

This is a special day: It’s the last Sophie prize award. 16 years ago the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) received the first Sophie Prize for their role in surveying damage inflicted on the environment by oil companies operating in the Niger delta. It is therefore correct to say that the Sophie Prize starts and ends with the fossil fuel industry. But during these 16 years, global warming has become more and more severe.

For the last Sophie Prize the board therefore searched for a global mobilizer for change. We are today honouring a man who spent his whole career working as author and journalist informing about this apocalyptic threat, global warming, through books and a large amount of articles. Bill McKibbens first book The Nature (1989) is recognized as the first popular book on climate change. In 2010 he published Eaarth: Making a Life on a tough New Planet. Here he writes Earth with a double a’, illustrating the onset of climate change.

We’ve built a new Eaarth. It’s not as nice as the old one; it’s the greatest mistake humans have ever made, one that we will pay literally forever. We live on a new planet. But we have to live on it. So we better start understanding what is going on”, he writes.

But as many previous Sophie Prize award winners, Bill McKibben, you realized that writing and informing wasn’t enough. Things didn’t change. Emissions have increased year by year. So has the temperature. With a current temperature increase of 0,8 degrees celcius, the world is facing heavier rainfalls, storms like Sandy, devastating droughts and the melting of Arctic.

Power, not reason, is decisive.

You, reluctantly, decided to become an activist. This is a destiny you share with many previous Sophie Prize award winners. In 2008 you and seven students at Middlebury college founded 350.org – the first big, green movement for the Internet age. Led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in more than 188 countries, you are aiming to solve the climate crisis. 350.org is today the largest, international campaign to stop global warming.

Your track record of rallying is impressive, including among others:

• The largest ever global coordinated rally, when in 2009 350.org organized 5200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries.

• A massive campaign against the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries, a project where also Statoil is heavily involved. James Hansen has described an approval of this pipeline as “game over for the planet”. 1252 people, including you, were arrested for civil disobedience participating in the protest you organized. Barack Obama has not decided whether to approve or reject the pipeline.

• In February this year you organized the biggest climate change rally in the U.S. history when 50 000 people marched past the White House, demanding that President Barack Obama takes action to limit greenhouse gases.

• You have travelled the whole of US with your road show, “Do the Math Tour”, informing people of the terrifying math of the climate crisis: If we are to stay below 2 degrees of warming, we can emit less than 565 more gigatonn of carbon dioxide. Fossil fuel corporations have more than five times that amount in reserves. To limit global warming to two degrees, 80 percent of the fossil fuel reserves will have to remain in the soil. That means writing off assets worth $20 trillion.

As an activist you have worked through the political system and through the UN-system. But things have not changed. Emissions have increased. Now you chase the source of the problem: The fossil fuel industry. Inspired by the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s that helped end the unjust apartheid system in South Africa, you now travel country by country with your Fossil Free campaign. After touring the U.S. and Australia, your campaigning in Europe started yesterday. According to a recent study by the University of Oxford the fossil fuel divestment movement is growing faster than any previous divestment campaign. Hopefully, things are changing.

The Sophie prize board is fully aware that you have made sacrifices. In 2011 you spent more nights in jail than in your home in Vermont. And instead of doing your profession, writing, you travel world wide – mobilizing. And you are good at this. You, more than anyone, have demonstrated an enormous mobilizing force. Fighting immensely powerful interests, you have shown that mobilization for change is possible. You do this for your daughter, Sophie. You do it for all the Sophie’s – human beings of today and the generations to come.

Sophie means ‘wisdom’. Let’s take wise choices so that we save this planet.

Bill McKibben:

I hope you win this fight.

WE MUST win this fight.