Friday, 19 September 2014

Climate change: making a point by blockading a tanker

Many are looking to the upcoming events in New York centred around climate change:
People's Climate March – NYC March
Futures Forum: Climate change conversation: 'informed dialogue' in Sidmouth: Sunday 21st September ..... press release

This is from 'The Nation' from last week:

Charges Were Just Dropped Against These Climate Activists in the Most Stunning Way

Wen Stephenson on September 8, 2014 - 5:35 PM ET

Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter (photo credit: Peter Bowden)

“Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary…” —Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

Henry’s jaw would’ve dropped. This morning, for a moment, at least, a higher law—the law of conscience—held sway in Massachusetts.

OK, I know that sounds a bit much. But something truly remarkable, a kind of blessed unrest, took place today at the Bristol County courthouse in Fall River, Massachusetts, where climate activists Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara (Nation readers will remember them from this piece last year) were going to trial for blockading a coal freighter at Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset—using an old wooden lobster boat christened the Henry David T.—for the sole reason of addressing the climate crisis. In what looked to be an unprecedented case in the United States, they were set to be the first to use a “necessity defense” in a direct-action civil disobedience case centered on climate change, arguing that what they did was justified for the sake of public health and safety. James Hansen, one of the world’s top climate scientists, and 350.org’s Bill McKibben, among others, were lined up as expert witnesses.

And what happened, the truly remarkable thing, was this: the prosecutor, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, not only dropped the charges (which could have resulted in months, or even years, of jail time); he then proceeded out to the courthouse plaza where he made a statement to the media and to the hundred or more people gathered in support of Ken and Jay. Here’s what he said:

The decision that Assistant District Attorney Robert Kidd and I reached today was a decision that certainly took into consideration the cost to the taxpayers in Somerset, but was also made with our concerns for their children, and the children of Bristol County and beyond in mind.

Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking. I am heartened that we were able to forge an agreement that both parties were pleased with and that appeared to satisfy the police and those here in sympathy with the individuals who were charged.

I am also extremely pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that symbolizes our commitment at the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office to take a leadership role on this issue.

The crowd (myself included) went wild.

Then, if possible, it got better. When the cheering settled down, someone asked. “Will you be a model for across the country?”

“Well,” Sutter said, “I certainly will be in New York in two weeks,” referring to the much-anticipated People’s Climate March on September 21, just ahead of the UN climate summit convened by Ban Ki-Moon. “How’s that?”

The crowd thought that was pretty swell, too.

He added: “I’ve been carrying around Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone”—and brandished the magazine (Jack White and all).

OK, maybe this guy’s running for office.

Still, I didn’t think it could get any better, but it did. A reporter then asked if he was sending a message condoning this kind of action violating the law. He said no, that’s not the message. “I’m sending a message that this was an act of civil disobedience, that we had to reach an agreement. I’m not at all disputing that the individuals were charged, but this was the right disposition, it was reduced to a civil infraction.” (To be precise, there were four charges: conspiracy, disturbing the peace, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent operation of a motor vessel. Sutter dropped the conspiracy charges and reduced the other charges to civil infractions. Ken and Jay will also pay $2,000 each in restitution, not fines, to the Town of Somerset).

“Just to be clear,” the reporter asked, “what would you say if people say in fact you’re encouraging other people to blockade tankers?”

“This is one case, one incident, at a time,” Sutter responded. “I think I’ve made my position very clear. This is one of the gravest crises the planet has ever faced. The evidence is overwhelming and it keeps getting worse. So we took a stand here today.”

And so, sometimes we win. It’s a small victory, in the scale of the climate. But it’s something.

Meanwhile, as Ken and Jay are quick to point out, the Brayton Point plant burns on. The announced 2017 closure (which came a few months after their action and a wave of protests they inspired) doesn’t come nearly soon enough—for the climate, or for the plant’s neighbors suffering its pollution.

What’s more, as Ken noted to me in an e-mail, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration, the Brayton Point plant essentially doubled its coal consumption last year, and reduced its use of natural gas, making it the first or second largest source of carbon emissions in New England, New York and New Jersey. And Ken says observed shipments of coal to the plant in recent months were increased over the previous year.

So here’s my message to DA Sutter, should he ever want to run for office as true climate champion: some people may think coal is dying a “natural” (market-driven) death in the Northeast, and therefore not much needs to be done. But if we really want to put an end to coal, we’re going to have to drive a stake through its heart, otherwise it will keep on rising from the grave.

Read Next: Wen Stephenson: “From Occupy to Climate Justice

Charges Were Just Dropped Against These Climate Activists in the Most Stunning Way | The Nation

... although not everyone is pleased with the outcome of the court hearing:


Prosecutor explains why he reduced charges against climate activists | Fox Business Video
Bristol DA overboard on climate change - Opinion - The Boston Globe
DA's Abuse of Discretion Should be Condemned, not Cheered - Jeff Jacoby - Page 1

The idea of 'climate justice' is emerging as a powerful indicator of where the debate might be heading:
Futures Forum: Climate change: "For the love of..."
Futures Forum: Climate change: and 'environmental populism'
Futures Forum: Climate change: the language of framing..."Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change"

From earlier in the year:

From Occupy to Climate Justice

There’s a growing effort to merge economic-justice and climate activism. Call it climate democracy.

Wen Stephenson

February 6, 2014 | This article appeared in the February 24, 2014 edition of The Nation.

(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

In the face of our climate reality, Farhad told me back in Boston, “economic transition is inevitable.” In Appalachia, as coal declines, it’s already happening. The question is: “Will the transition be just or not?”

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, he noted, is part of the recently formed Climate Justice Alliance, a national collaborative effort among more than thirty-five organizations committed to grassroots organizing in frontline communities, especially communities of color. Its recently launched Our Power Campaign focuses on three “hot spots”: in the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation, led by the Black Mesa Water Coalition; in Detroit, led by the East Michigan Environmental Action Council; and in Richmond, California, led by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Communities for a Better Environment. Each of these groups is not only fighting the local impacts of fossil-fuel extraction and infrastructure—coal mines and power plants in Arizona, a coal plant and oil refinery in Detroit, and the massive Chevron refinery in Richmond—but just as much, applying principles of economic democracy to work toward more sustainable and resilient local economies in struggling communities.

Jihan Gearon, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, grew up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. She told me that their approach to climate is “holistic,” addressing not only emissions as they move away from coal but also adaptation—especially as water becomes scarce—and economic transition. “We are not content with parts per million of CO2reduced,” she said. “We also want to ensure that we protect health, water and jobs as we reduce CO2.”

In any likely scenario, Farhad asked, “what are we going to need, no matter what? Local political power and local resilience.” We won’t get where we need to be politically on climate change, at the national and international levels, “without real local base-building,” he added. And if we don’t get anywhere at the national and international levels, “well, then, we’re going to need the local work in place so that we can take care of each other as the old way of doing things slips away.”

Farhad and Rachel both like to think of this work as having three essential pieces. The first is resistance: saying “no” to a corrupt, oppressive, extractive system, whether through legislation and litigation, at one end of the spectrum, and nonviolent direct action or mass protests at the other. The second is “replacement”: creating the alternatives, which can itself be a form of resistance, as Rachel noted. And the third essential piece is resilience.

“So we’re trying to go from ‘no’ to ‘yes,’” Farhad said, “but it’s gonna be a really fuckin’ rough ride. It’s gonna be a rough ride because of climate change. But it’s also gonna be a rough ride politically and economically.”

Resilience becomes crucial, but so does social justice, because the two are intimately linked. Resilience requires strong communities—and there’s no real community without social justice.

“We have this journey, this transition, that we have to make,” Farhad told me. “And we have to figure out how to organize so that we’re not only going toward ‘yes,’ but we’re doing it in a way that’s equitable.” Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, he pointed out, is important right now because of how it intervenes in Kentucky politics, organizes communities and fights the big coal companies. “And when the climate changes and what grows there changes and how they can live there changes—they’re going to need that ability to act collectively to deal with all of that as well.”

Farhad thought of another example. “Occupy Sandy happened not because people responded to Sandy really well; it was because the relationships and tool sets were already built through Occupy Wall Street.”

David Graeber argues in The Democracy Project that Occupy reawakened the radical imagination in this country. To the extent that’s true, it’s possible that the merging of climate justice and economic democracy can matter in a similar way—reawakening the sense of democratic possibility and grassroots power in our communities. But Occupy did something else, too: it reminded us of the sheer speed and unpredictability with which unrest can explode across the country, taking everyone (including the organizers) by surprise.

In Cambridge, I asked Rachel if she agreed that much of the economic left has yet to take on board the full magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis. “I mean, the climate movement has barely taken it on board,” she replied. “There are a lot of folks, even in the climate movement, and certainly in the economic left, who haven’t even made the decision to take on the reality of it—and to recognize that this fight, [which] for them was never really about survival, all of a sudden is.”

When that recognition finally comes, anything could happen.

“It’s interesting,” Rachel said, “because there certainly are parts of the left, not the liberal elite, but parts of the left”—like those, she pointed out, who have fought their whole lives for racial justice—“for whom being engaged has always been about survival.”

“There is a deep, rich tradition of organizing for survival,” Rachel said. “In fact, it’s the only thing that’s ever worked.”

Read Next: Wen Stephenson: “Keystone XL and Tar Sands: Voices From the Front Lines

From Occupy to Climate Justice | The Nation

See also:
Futures Forum: Climate Justice
Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice
Climate Justice Fund - Scottish Government

Futures Forum: Climate change: the Stern Review eight years on ... "Climate change is the greatest market failure the world has ever seen."
This Changes Everything | Forget everything you think you know about climate change. The truth is that it's not just about carbon or science—it's about capitalism.

No comments: