Thomas Merton Award goes to climate change activist

Author started worldwide divestment campaign to combat global warming


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The Thomas Merton Center gave its annual award to environmental author and climate change activist Bill McKibben Monday evening and publicly kicked off its campaign to get Pittsburgh City Council to divest all of its fossil fuel investments.

The Merton Center's campaign is an outgrowth of an international divestment campaign started a year ago by Mr. McKibben and 350.org, the global grass-roots organization he formed to combat global warming.

Mr. McKibben, who teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont, said the campaign has grown quickly. Divestiture groups have formed at 380 universities, including 10 that have moved to divest their fossil fuel holdings; several religious denominations, most prominently the United Church of Christ; and more than a dozen cities, including Seattle; Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.

"I'm very glad to see my friends at the Thomas Merton Center start this campaign," Mr. McKibben said at a news conference Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh. "Pittsburgh has cleaned up its air and water. But there is no way for Pittsburgh to continue to take care of its own environmental affairs without also recognizing what is happening elsewhere. If the globe continues to warm, Pittsburgh, like other cities, will pay a heavy price."

The Merton Center has been gathering electronic signatures on its petition for about a month and has collected 300 names, said Wanda Guthrie, chairwoman of the center's Environmental Justice Committee.

She said plans are for the campaign to run for another month before the signatures are submitted to City Council.

"When we do that, we're hoping the people who signed will come to the council meeting to voice their request for divesting the city's coal, oil and gas investments."

Mr. McKibben said the goal of the divestment campaign is not to bankrupt Exxon and other fossil fuel corporations but to make them "politically bankrupt" and unable to block policy changes needed to slow down and reverse climate change.

"There will be no climate change action in Washington, D.C., in the near future," he said. "But we have to start to weaken the political stranglehold."

Mr. McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with "The End of Nature" in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. His most recent book, out this year, is "Oil & Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist."

The Thomas Merton Award has been given annually by the Garfield-based organization since its founding in 1972 to honor a nationally or internationally known activist with a lifelong passion of working toward the goal of a better world. Past winners of the award include Joan Baez (1975), Daniel Berrigan (1988), Molly Rush (1992), Studs Terkel (1998), Wendell Berry (1999), Noam Chomsky (2010) and Martin Sheen (2012).

For more information about the divestment petition: thomasmertoncenter.org/marchwithus/.


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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