Thanks to everyone who supported us at #ClimateTrial. It was an emotional week and our friend Ale Blakely did a wonderful job with this wrap up video. The video does a really good job of explaining what the necessity defense is and also includes some interviews with expert witnesses, Dr. James Hansen, and Anthony Ingraffea, who wrote the American Petroleum Institute's pipeline safety guidelines. The great song at the end is courtesy of the The Road Sodas.
Two years ago today, the valves were turned and the flow of Canadian tar sands crude oil stopped, for nearly a day. The Valve Turners demonstrated for that day, a different future. It was the most beautiful, hopeful thing: a reminder that the flow of oil can be stopped; a reminder that we can change course; that we can step forward into a different future.
Yesterday, after a wholly tumultuous week, Valve Turners, Annette and Emily, appeared on Democracy Now! alongside one of the world's preeminent climate scientists, Dr. James Hansen, and Climate Defense Project attorney Kelsey Skaggs.
All three parts of the full uncut interview are are now available:
It has been a long, emotional week. Three days before trial, we were bitterly disappointed when the Judge appeared to eviscerate our case by prohibiting all of our expert witnesses from giving testimony. Then, at the last minute, some of them -- including a health professional, a climate scientist and a pipeline safety expert -- were back in. And then the biggest surprise of all: Our lawyer files a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the prosecutor failed to provide sufficient evidence that the Valve Turners had damaged a pipeline. And the judge agrees.
The Valve Turners damaged a chain and a padlock, he said. They did not damage a pipeline, and the state had provided no evidence that they had. Case dismissed.
We were stunned, baffled, unsure what to think. There were hugs, tears, relief, and disappointment in almost equal measures. Our friends had so dearly wanted to tell the jury the story of why shutting down tar sands pipelines is necessary. And they never got that chance.
And now we are heading home. As we do so, driving through the long, open roads of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, we know two things. We know that White Privilege likely played a role in getting our friend's charges dropped; that where the Valve Turners are coming home, many activists of color and Indigenous activists would not have got off so lightly. We know that while our friends have had their charges dropped many activists from Standing Rock are being sentenced to jail and extraordinarily punitive sentences.
And we know one other thing. Now, more than ever -- even more than two years ago -- we need climate disobedience.
Nicky and Alec
In another shocking turn of events, the Judge acquitted Emily, Annette, and Ben of all charges. The acquittal came before renowned scientists and experts could take the stand and testify about the facts of climate change and the efficacy of civil disobedience to the people of Clearwater County--and the court of public opinion.
We are glad that the court acknowledged that our friends did not damage Enbridge’s Line 4 and Line 67 pipelines. They even went so far as to reunite the defendants with their bolt-cutters. However, while we are heartened by the court’s recognition that our friends acted safely and did no damage to the pipelines, we are disappointed that the court prevented the presentation of the science of climate change - and the urgent need to act.
The expert testimony that the jury will never hear included, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, an expert who authored the American Pipeline Institute pipeline safety guidelines, who told us: “I was to testify concerning two essential elements of the case. The first was whether Emily and Annette damaged the pipelines. They did not, as the judge ruled, damage the pipelines. The flipside of that is the question: Do pipelines and the petrochemical products they deliver damage, increase risk or harm anybody? The answer to those questions is an emphatic yes.”
The defense was also set to include former NASA Chief Scientist, Dr. James Hansen, who told us that it wasn’t “Emily, Annette and Ben that are the criminals, but, the government, especially the Trump Administration, who is guilty of not protecting the constitutional rights of young people. The US should have a plan to phase down fossil fuel emissions, but instead they aid and abet the expansion of fossil fuel mining, which, if not stopped, will guarantee devastating consequences for young people.”
Though we were prevented from arguing the necessity defense, the case establishes two important legal precedents. "First, the climate necessity defense was upheld by the highest court in the State, which ruled that these climate activists had the right to assert the climate necessity defense to a jury,” said Lauren Regan, Executive Director of the Eugene Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center.
“Further, like others of its kind in 31 states, the defendants were charged with felony criminal damage to critical energy infrastructure and pipelines. pushed through the state legislature at the behest of the fossil fuel industry sought to increase the penalties against activists who dared to challenge the profiteering motives of some of the biggest corporations in the world, at the expense of frontline communities in Minnesotans and around the world,” Regan said.
“This allows MN climate defenders to harness the power of jury trials that allow the time to explain the complexities of why people risk their liberty because of the devastating threats posed by climate change."
We are fast losing our window of opportunity to save ourselves and much of the beauty of this world. Annette and Emily turned those valves to #ShutItDown. We are bringing the bolt-cutters home with us because we know that the need to disrupt the oil-soaked business-as-usual has absolutely never been greater.
In love and solidarity,
Nicky Bradford and Alec Connon
We’ve got a jury and some exciting developments. We began the day holding onto our seats and we end the day heartened and encouraged.
When we entered the Courthouse this morning, huddled deep inside our rain jackets, we believed that the Judge would prevent all of our expert witnesses from testifying; but, for now, former NASA chief scientist, Dr. James Hansen, Professor of Neurology, Dr. Bruce Snyder, pipeline safety expert, Dr. Ingraffea, and author, Bill McKibben, are still scheduled to testify.
We lost a roster of respected scientists and scholars. Harvard Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig, and Dr. Martin Gilens, Professor of Politics, Princeton University were to speak about the failure of lawful alternatives to address climate change. Jamila Raqib, Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution was to testify to the efficacy of civil disobedience in bringing about political and policy change. And Dr. Mark Seeley, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota was to provide testimony on the impacts of climate change in Minnesota.
Their combined testimonies would have made a very solid legal justification for Emily, Annette, and Ben’s actions. But we are still hopeful that the defendants’ compelling testimonies paired with the testimonies of the remaining expert witnesses will create the strong necessity defense our friends deserve.
We are also hopeful after meeting so many Minnesotans who are deeply aware that the climate is changing. We’ve heard from locals about the warming winters, the changing crops, the droughts, and the real fears that the pine bark beetle will kill the treasured forests in Itasca State Park in the foreseeable future. It is hard to witness these changes and not come to the conclusion that we must stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as we can.
We hear, too, that people understand we are challenging not the choices of individuals, but the greed of foreign corporations like Enbridge and the political system that provides incentives for fossil fuel extraction instead of for the renewable energy we need to survive.
Whatever comes over the next few days, we are grateful to the people of Bagley for welcoming us ― and we look forward to opening arguments that will explain and inspire.
Nicky Bradford and Alec Connon
This week is not starting as we had hoped.
The truth is, we’re reeling here in Bagley. Three days before trial, the Court has threatened to eviscerate our case by preventing many of our expert witnesses from testifying. And this is after two rounds of appeals where the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld their right to a necessity defense, and the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision.
Our legal team, the defendants, and the expert witnesses are all equally stunned: Emily, Annette, and Ben’s decision to shut down the emergency valves on Enbridge’s Line 4 and Line 67 was rooted in their understanding of climate science and the role of civil disobedience in bringing about social change. Yet now, the Court is going to prevent the jury from hearing testimony from the experts whose careers are dedicated to the science of climate change, the study of lawful alternatives, and the academic field of social change.
The jury will, in other words, be prevented from hearing the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether or not the Valve Turners actions were necessary.
But still, we are hopeful.
Emily, Annette, and Ben are still allowed to argue the necessity of their actions. They will speak to the climate emergency, to the failure of our society to address it, and to the ability of civil disobedience to provoke rapid change in society. This is important.
Together, our three friends have the combined experience of decades worth of climate change activism. They have founded organizations, lobbied politicians, written letters and op-eds, drafted and delivered petitions, spoke at marches and rallies, given lectures at universities and in high school classrooms. They carry a lot of wisdom ― they may not be climate scientists, Harvard law professors, or Princeton social science scholars, as their planned expert witnesses are, but they are smart as hell and ready to present their own knowledge of the necessity to act.
The next few days we are looking forward to standing with our friends as they bravely hold the torch of truth high, illuminating the dusty shadows of our broken legal system.
We’ll be sending out daily email updates, and you can also follow Climate Direct Action on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our trial blog for all the latest twists and turns from the trial.
With bold, unyielding hope,
Nicky Bradford and Alec Connon
We are all in Minnesota preparing for the climate necessity trial beginning next Monday, October 8th. It’s been a profound honor to be welcomed by robust communities of Minnesota fossil fuel resisters - from Minneapolis-St. Paul, to White Earth Reservation, to Duluth. We’ve met with legendary activists, screened the Reluctant Radical, toured sustainable farms, and even ridden a few horses. And this feeling of bustle and solidarity is experienced amidst the autumn setting of changing leaves, first frosts, and so many fields of drying sunflowers bent to the earth in their late season exhaustion.
You can share the Valve Turner story and updates throughout trial. It’s through our mutual voices giving word to our friends and communities that we continue to magnify the impact of the Valve Turner action and the historic occasion of the necessity defense.
Wen Stephenson at the Nation goes deep with the climate necessity defense with great quotes from Annette; see the defendants on the cover of Common Dreams; and don’t miss this great piece from the Eugene Weekly, or this one from KUOW.
If you plan to attend trial, we implore you to read and strictly follow the Courtroom Decorum. We have a judge who has made it clear that decorum is very important in the courtroom and we need to respect the rules so that we have the best chance to win our case. In Bagley we plan to conduct ourselves with the utmost respect, and take care not to overwhelm the community. Keep updated on trial schedule and evening events throughout the week on our website.