The Century Foundation announced today that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth “Betsy” Kolbert will be this year’s recipient of the Peter A. A. Berle Environmental Integrity Award, which is given to up to two U.S. citizens each year who, through action or scholarship, provide innovative leadership in helping the United States and the world confront the challenges of climate change, renewable energy, depletion of the oceans, species extinction, air, water and soil contamination, and the urban environment. Along with Kolbert, Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, former director of science and technology in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water, will receive a Special Recognition award for speaking out against the EPA’s assault on environmental science and scientists. 

“Elizabeth Kolbert and Elizabeth Southerland embody many of the qualities that defined Peter Berle’s life and work: courageous leadership, an unwavering commitment to the environment, and a deep belief in speaking truth to power,” said Mark Zuckerman, president of The Century Foundation.  “At a time when our climate crisis is worsening, thanks in part to the actions of the current administration, those qualities are needed more than ever. The Century Foundation is honored to recognize these tremendous leaders.” 

“These are perilous times for many reasons, but for the global environment, we are truly at a tipping point that requires ordinary citizens to rise to a new level of leadership in order to reverse the dangerous path our current leadership has put us all on,” said attorney Stephen Kass on behalf of the Berle Award Committee. “Elizabeth Kolbert and Elizabeth Southerland both exemplify the courage, integrity, and best qualities of Peter Berle as a New York lawmaker, environmental commissioner, head of the National Audubon Society, and an environmental advocateprincipled and willing to confront, head-on, those who believe only in the status quo. We are truly honored to recognize these outstanding individuals.”   

About the 2019 Award Recipients

Elizabeth “Betsy” Kolbert, who will be presented with a $10,000 grant along with her award, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999. Previously, she worked at the New York Times, where she wrote the Metro Matters column and served as the paper’s Albany bureau chief. Her three-part series on global warming, The Climate of Man, won the 2006 National Magazine Award for Public Interest and the 2006 National Academies Communication Award. In 2010, she received a Heinz Award and won the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. She is the editor of The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 and the author of The Prophet of Love: And Other Tales of Power and Deceit; Field Notes from a Catastrophe; and The Sixth Extinction, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015. She received the Blake-Dodd Prize, from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 2017.

Upon hearing of the honor, Kolbert said: “It’s a tremendous honor to be receiving an award named after Peter Berlea true environmental hero—and to be appearing with Betsy Southerland, another environmental hero.”

Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Southerland, who will be presented with a $5,000 grant along with her award, worked for forty years in environmental protection, most recently as the director of science and technology in the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. After EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took over the reins of the agency, Southerland resigned from her position in August 2017, famously explaining her decision to leave in a letter published by a nonprofit group for federal resource professionals, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Since resigning, Southerland is still applying her years of expertise in scientific analysis to fight against the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies.

Said Dr. Southerland: “I am honored to receive this Special Recognition for speaking out against the Trump administration’s repeal of seventy public health and worker protections at the direction of his political donors who seek to increase their profits by exploiting the natural resources and people of this country. I will continue to work with the Environmental Protection Network and other environmental advocacy groups to push back against these assaults on our health and welfare.”

About the Peter A.A. Berle Award

Peter A. A. Berle, who died in 2007, was one of the pioneers who created (and then led) the modern environmental movement locally, nationally, and internationally. He believed that the environmental challenges facing mankind required creative thinking, principled action, commitment to the rule of law and social justice, and personal integrity in defense of those values. The Peter A. A. Berle Environmental Integrity Award is intended to honor those public officials and private citizens who, by their conduct or scholarship, exemplify these qualities.

In 2009, The Century Foundation established, in cooperation with the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Law Section of the New York State Bar Association, and former colleagues of Peter A. A. Berle, a new award intended to recognize environmental integrity demonstrated by public officials and private citizens in the United States. This year’s honorees were selected by a panel comprised of former and current representatives from these organizations and the Berle family.

The inaugural award was presented in 2009 to Dr. James E. Hansen, director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and David Foster, executive director, Blue Green Alliance. Past recipients include former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and former New York State Department of the Environment commissioner Pete Grannis.