Marlboro College

News Honorary Degree Citation: Bill McKibben

For more than 20 years, you have brought the compelling realities of global climate change and other social and environmental issues to light for millions of readers. You said, “There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.” You give us a clear map to navigate the perilous crossroads of our changing world. 

With your characteristic journalistic tenacity, you have published a dozen books and many more articles that jolt the complacence out of readers, alerting them to global perils ranging from genetic engineering to human population growth. Author Tim Flanner called you the “most effective environmental activist of our age.” He said, “Anyone interested in making a difference to our world can learn from [you].”

But your impact goes far beyond words to the grassroot actions you inspire. In 2007 you launched a national campaign to curb carbon emissions and you are founder of 350.org, the international climate campaign that emblazons in the global consciousness the fateful turning point of atmospheric carbon dioxide, 350 parts per million.

Your message is taken to heart here at Marlboro, where we have active community groups dealing with environmental issues, a student-managed farm, a faculty-driven environmental studies program, and a class on reducing our carbon footprint. Like you, we affirm that addressing global environmental challenges will take poets and psychologists and historians as well as engineers.   

You recognize the importance of arts in the environmental movement because, as you said, “We need to reach people who don’t respond to bar graphs and pie charts.” You even appeared with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra this month, interspersing readings with composer Robert Paterson’s “A New Eaarth,” inspired by your most recent book on global climate change.

We honor you as our neighbor in Vermont, where you live in Ripton and serve as Schuman Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. Middlebury President Ron Liebowitz said, “Few writers have had so great an impact on public perception of a critical issue in contemporary society.”

You say, “What actually makes people happy is full engagement. You are most alive when working at the limit of your abilities.” Your admirable commitment to environmental engagement and community-scale economies resonates strongly with the academic ideals upheld here at Marlboro. Bill McKibben, it is our pleasure to confer upon you the degree: Doctor of Letters.

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