The Sophie Prize 2013
is awarded to
for building a social movement, fighting to preserve a sustainable planet. To push through the changes needed the Sophie Prize Winner 2013 believes in “the currencies of movement”. Bill McKibben demonstrates how grassroots activism is urgently needed AND can make a difference.
Bill McKibben (1960) is the award-winning American journalist, author and environmentalist who became one of the world’s leading climate activist. In the past few years he has been animating and mobilizing a global movement based on the conviction that if we are to stay below 2°C of warming, we can emit less than 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide. Fossil fuel corporations have more than five times that amount in reserves.
“Unless we rise up to stop them – they’re planning to burn it all”, McKibben says.
The Sophie Prize Winner 2013 has spent his working career informing people of climate change through news articles, opinion editorials, blog posts and a number of books. McKibben is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
His 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, describing 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”.
In spite of strong warnings from scientists that this planet is in unprecedented peril, politics have not changed. McKibben blames the overwhelming power of the fossil-fuel industry.
“They’ve used every tool at their disposal to make sure nothing changed, from funding disinformation campaigns to buying legislators. But that doesn’t mean we are without resources – we have the currencies of movement. Passion, spirit, creativity”, McKibben says. He is inspired by the work of Mahatma Gandhi and this April he was, as the first environmentalist, honoured with the Gandhi Peace Award.
In 2008 the writer-turned-activist founded 350.org, a global movement aiming to solve climate crisis, led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries. The organization name reflects the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the former Sophie Prize Winner and American climate scientist, James E. Hansen, considers safe for humanity. The current CO2 level recently surpassed the historic threshold of 400 parts per million.
McKibben and 350.org has been leading several campaigns to push through political changes, including:
- In 2009, 5200 simultaneous demonstrations were organized in 181 countries. The event was described by the Foreign Policy magazine “the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind”.
- In 2011 and 2012 McKibben has fronted a massive campaign against the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project intended to link the Canadian Tar Sands oil fields with the Gulf of Mexico refineries and distribution centres. James E. Hansen has described an approval of this pipeline as “game over for this planet”. The massive mobilization has so far put the approval on hold. President Barack Obama is expected to approve or reject the pipeline this Summer or Fall.
- A road show in the USA to build a movement strong enough to change the terrifying math of the climate crisis. The Do the Math Tour, starting in November 2012, was a massive success, with sold out shows in every corner of the US.
- In February 2013 about 50 000 people marched past the White House and demanded that President Barack Obama take action to limit greenhouse gases. This was the biggest climate change rally in the U.S. history.
- A fossil-fuel university divestment campaign. By February 2012 more than 300 student groups have formed official campaigns on campuses across the United States.
McKibben and 350.org is now further stepping up their campaigning, mobilizing youth around the world to demand Global Power Shift. This June an international climate leaders’ summit of young people will take place in Istanbul, Turkey. These young leaders will be in charge of national campaigns to force their democracies to act.
This planet desperately needs a global mobilizer for change. The Sophie Prize jury finds that Bill McKibben in only a few years has demonstrated an enormous mobilizing force.
As an activist he is pioneering new methods of social protests, using among others Internet-enabled organizing strategies to increase the intensity of political activity. Fighting immensely powerful interests McKibben has shown that mobilization for change is possible. This brings hope.
This year’s Sophie Prize Winner underlines, however, that fast collective action is urgently needed to avoid an increase in temperature that our civilization can’t handle.
“One could despair, and one probably should. But I’m not quite ready, because I don’t think all the available avenues of democratic influence have been tried”.
“Climate change is the single biggest thing humans have ever done on this planet. The only thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it”.