The Right Livelihood (RL) Award Foundation, also commonly referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize, will be hosting the first North American RL continental conference at UC Santa Cruz May 15-17. This year’s conference will exhibit a series of teach-ins and events to engage the public in discourse about climate change.

Featured speakers include Amy Goodman, co-founder of independent media source Democracy Now!, Bill McKibben, author of the 1989 book “The End of Nature” — which is credited with ushering in the global climate change movement — and Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, among many more. The conference will focus primarily on water protection, nuclear threat and environmental justice.

“The Right Livelihood award tends to be more focused on activism and ordinary people causing extraordinary change,” said David Shaw, coordinator for the Santa Cruz campus of the Right Livelihood College (RLC) system.

The laureates are people who are at the front lines in their fields, and often with personal relationships to  the issues themselves, Shaw said.

Kresge College, and by extension UCSC, was designated the flagship RLC in North America by the foundation in 2013 for the school’s commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement. There are eight RLCs worldwide and just one in North America. Among the ranks are Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Argentina, the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria and Lund University in Sweden, each representing their respective continents to emphasize a global activist perspective.

When applying for the designation for Kresge, Shaw was inspired by the university’s history of social activism and environmental progressiveness.

“There [is] a synergy between UC Santa Cruz and the [RL] award. UC Santa Cruz has a long history of social justice, human rights and sustainability, which are the very same values as the RL award,” Shaw said. “It was not a tough sell.”

The RL award was established in 1980 by writer Jakob von Uexkull as an alternative to the Nobel Prize. Von Uexkull proposed to add a Nobel prize for ecology and one relevant to low-income communities, but when his suggestion was rejected he went on to found Right Livelihood. This alternative award strives to recognize the efforts of those who address issues directly with practical answers, according to its website.

The speakers will focus on their own practical solutions to a range of macro-scale issues like cultural effects of climate change and  Virginian class-action lawsuits regarding polluted rivers. The conference is completely free and open to university affiliates and the public, but requires an RSVP.