Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Wild & Scenic activist workshop - Tim DeChristopher

Five activist workshops today at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, of which I managed to see four. The following is from memory; corrections please.

The most powerful and inspiring session today was the final one, with Tim DeChristopher (see Peaceful Uprising).

Tim's a young guy who wouldn't look out of place at a CABPRO gathering - a muscular man, with close-cut hair and a quiet voice - but he's committed to protecting a livable future and when he saw an opening to act toward that goal, he seized it, putting his freedom on the line. He faces trial next month for bidding on - and winning - $1.8 million in "public lands" oil and gas leases during a BLM auction, with the intent to disrupt it, not to drill or to pay. If found guilty, he could face 5 years or more in prison and a $750,000 fine.

He spoke to us about how he came to take this action, and said putting his future on the line to fight for a livable future reached people, got their respect, let them see his concern. Too often, protests are designed to be "safe", and any legal confrontations get resolved by a plea bargain; which gives the actions almost a fake, "performance art" air. Whereas if you care enough to risk your life, freedom and livelihood for a cause, it gets through to people.

He made a number of points that stressed my neck with all the nodding - such as that, contrary to the shibboleth(?) that global warming has no human face & "the enemy is physics", in fact our enemy is human - it's the people running the fossil fuel extraction industry. When these people are happy - which they were, after Waxman-Markey passed the House, since coal and oil stocks rose - that's a sign that the rest of us shouldn't be.

And he said working with the enemy diverts you from the path you need to take, and undercuts those who are taking it - e.g. when Rainforest Action Network was taking on Chevron, other "big green" groups were taking Chevron's money, and their silence acted to support the company.

One audience member made the "my carbon footprint makes me the enemy too" mea culpa (reflecting the message of a previous workshop); DeChristopher pointed out the fundamental difference between acting as a citizen and acting as a consumer, that acting as a citizen is far more powerful, yet 90% of green groups' "take action on climate" suggestions involve the "consumer/footprint" role - even though consumer-oriented calls to action, e.g."choose the right seafood", generally don't succeed. He illustrated the citizen-vs-consumer distinction with a tale about one time he'd missed a government hearing, in which a bill that mandated(?) an oilco-sponsored classroom energy curriculum managed to pass without opposition. This outcome was likely avoidable, and made any personal failure to recycle utterly trivial in comparison- yet people routinely beat themselves up for the latter, while giving themselves a pass on the former. And he calculated that the amount of fossil fuels that he'd kept in the ground with his $1.8 million in leases translates to about 25,000 years of driving.

Afterward I asked him what had first moved him to action on climate change, and he said - which runs counter to received wisdom - that it was hearing the projections, the unadorned news, that we're expected to blow past 2 degrees C(?) even if we do start acting now(?); and then being patted on the shoulder by an IPCC scientist who told him, "I'm sorry that our generation has failed yours."
That was when he realized he had nothing to lose, by taking on this fight.Image adapted from On the way to phasing out emissions: More than 50% reductions needed by 2050 to respect 2°C climate target