Rejoice! The Day after Earth Day, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the ruling allowing Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston, Ben Joldersma, and Steve Liptay to argue that shutting down two tar sands pipelines was necessary to prevent the greater harm of climate catastrophe. We can expect a court date soon, and are beginning preparations for this historical battle. Click here to donate to the necessity defense finally being presented on climate in an American court.
The importance of this case goes well beyond justice for the defendants. It forces a public, evidence-based process of deliberation on the climate crisis, and the lack of response to it, within a formal institution of the United States government. Fossil fuel money has proven an insurmountable barrier to policymakers addressing climate, but the courts, with their emphasis on evidence and expert testimony, are uniquely capable of engaging with science.
The legal system is often where we see the work of direct action movements translate into institutional gains, from Brown vs. Board of Education ending segregated schooling in America to rulings on federal lands logging allowing weary blockaders to go home. We are losing on climate everywhere else in the political system, but Shut It Down is just one of many complementary strategies seeing fundamental gains in court. New York City and Massachusetts’ lawsuits against fossil fuel corporations threaten the social legitimacy of ending life on earth as a business model, while the landmark federal and state lawsuits brought by Our Children’s Trust raise the prospect of court-ordered climate plans.
If you attended or watched Leonard’s mock trial in Missoula, MT, where we heard testimony from climate scientists, national security experts, and political scientists alike, you have a sense of the material we will try to cover in court. We can’t just make the case to a jury of our peers that climate change is a real catastrophe. We also need to prove the system isn’t responding, and perhaps most difficult of all, we need to convince people that when the system is broken, people’s actions can be impactful. In other words, we need to transcend the cultural and political divide on climate, and then we still need to overcome people’s cynicism.
It won’t be easy, but much like shutting off the tar sands in the first place, we’ll do it because it’s, well, a necessity. And because you gave us enough money to get to Minnesota, and bring lots of political scientists, climate experts, and media along with us.
Climate activist, author and a potential expert witness in the Minnesota trial Bill McKibben said, "The whole planet will be inside a single courtroom the day this trial begins -- it's a rare chance to explain precisely why we need to act, and act now.”
Preeminent climate scientist Dr. James Hansen is also expected to testify in support of the Minnesota defendants. In a brief submitted to Minnesota’s Ninth District Court, Dr. Hansen outlined testimony he expects to offer: “It is my expert opinion that global warming from persistent high fossil fuel emissions is in the danger zone, that CO2 emissions from all such sources must be reduced with all deliberate speed, that the situation is becoming worse with each passing day, and that we are likely approaching climate tipping points from which there is no reasonable prospect of return….[The] defendants by their actions, as I understand them, aimed to prevent the urgent and growing danger, and to turn around the government’s failure to date meaningfully to address it.”
See the full press release here.