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Environmentalist McKibben to speak at architecture commencement

By RACHEL TEAMAN

Published May 9, 2013

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben, author of a groundbreaking book on global warming and founder of the global grassroots climate action campaign 350.org, will deliver the 2013 commencement address for School of Architecture and Planning on May 10.

The commencement ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. in the Center for the Arts, North Campus. McKibben will speak shortly after graduating students enter in a procession.

As part of commencement weekend, McKibben also will engage faculty members in an open discussion on the school’s diverse portfolio of sustainability research.

A leading American environmentalist and author, McKibben has written a dozen books about the environment on topics such as human population growth, the environmental consequences of the growth economy and how we can live more lightly on earth. In his first book, “End of Nature” (1989), McKibben makes an impassioned plea for radical change in how we relate to nature. It is regarded as one of the first books on global warming written for a general audience and has been printed in more than 20 languages. 

In 2007, McKibben was lead organizer of Step It Up, a coordinated series of 2,000 rallies at iconic locations across the United States, including melting glaciers in Alaska, the levees of New Orleans and endangered coral reefs in Key West. That movement, which called upon the U.S. Congress to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, was the foundation for 350.org, a global grassroots movement to address the climate crisis.

350.org refers to the atmospheric threshold of 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide that scientists say is the safe limit for humanity (the current level is 392 ppm, according to 350.org). It operates through online campaigns, grassroots organizing and mass public actions led largely by volunteer youth organizers in more than 188 countries.

“We are honored to bring to our graduates, faculty and community one of the most influential environmental thinkers and activists in the U.S. if not the world,” says Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “It’s a fitting sendoff as our graduates begin their futures as architects and planners who will need to shape our world in ways that are beautiful, healthy and sustainable.”

In 2009, 350.org coordinated 5,200 simultaneous rallies and demonstrations in 181 counties in what CNN called the “most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” McKibben and 350.org have organized a relentless political campaign to stop the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, an oil conduit that would stretch 2,000 miles from Canada through America’s heartland.

As part of the School of Architecture and Planning’s commencement activities, McKibben and members of the faculty will talk about elements of  the school’s diverse portfolio of sustainability research. Featured work will include research on regional food systems planning by Samina Raja, associate professor of urban and regional planning, and efforts on climate action planning by Himanshu Grover, assistant professor of urban and regional planning. Raja and Grover currently are applying their research to a federally funded initiative to build a sustainable development roadmap for Buffalo Niagara. That effort, One Region Forward, which is being led by the UB Regional Institute and Urban Design Project, also will be a subject of discussion with McKibben.

However, McKibben’s connection to UB and the School of Architecture and Planning goes beyond a shared commitment to sustainability to a personal level.

Subhashni Raj, a Fulbright Scholar from Fiji who will receive her Master of Urban Planning on Friday, has been involved with 350.org since 2009. As a volunteer, she organized demonstrations in Copenhagen in front of the United Nations Climate Talks. Before coming to UB, she helped lead 350 Pacific, a 350.org hub that works with Pacific Island nations, and worked to train young environmental leaders across the Pacific Islands.

Raj, who will introduce McKibben at commencement, says her passion for climate action began with McKibben and 350.org.

“He is the inspiration behind my climate activism. He is the reason I am here at UB. It is very fitting that he be there when I graduate. It is my life coming full circle,” says Raj, who will enter the school’s PhD program in urban and regional planning in the fall to advance her research on food systems and climate action planning.

Shibley also will present McKibben with the Dean’s Medal in recognition of McKibben’s lifetime achievements in advancing sustainable development across the globe. The highest honor bestowed by the School of Architecture and Planning, the Dean’s Medal is awarded annually to individuals in recognition of extraordinary service or accomplishment in planning, architecture or environmental design. The award recognizes the powerful roles these and allied fields play in supporting the ability for all to live life well on an increasingly urbanized planet.

Previous winners include architect, futurist and author R. Buckminster Fuller; John P. Eberhard, the school’s founding dean; and Barbara Campagna, chief architect for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a 1984 graduate of the School of Architecture and Planning.

Provost Charles F. Zukoski will present degrees to the 216 graduate and undergraduate candidates from the Department of Architecture and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.