October 20, 2016 in Mt. Vernon, WA
I have been charged by the Prosecuting Attorney for Skagit County, Washington with four crimes - burglary, criminal trespass, sabotage and assemblages of saboteurs - for my action last Tuesday, closing a safety valve on the TransMountain pipeline and blocking the flow of Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to the Anacortes refineries.
There is no question about what I did – I livestreamed it, and you can see the video at shutitdown.today and on my FaceBook page, facebook.com/kenward.brightlines. The only question is whether what I did was an appropriate and practical response to what President Obama recently described as “terrifying” climate change conditions.
I am a responsible and law abiding citizen. I have never been charged with a crime until four years ago when I anchored a lobster boat off a pier at the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, and last May, when I joined the Break Free from Fossil Fuels oil train blockade at Anacortes.
I did these things because I believe that it is the obligation of every thinking person to find a way to stave off climate cataclysm, and there is no effective, legal alternative to personal direct action.
Ten years ago, Dr. James Hansen published “A Slippery Slope,” arguing that warming atmosphere and oceans could cause ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica to break off into the oceans, like a bar of soap sliding into a bathtub, causing sea levels to rise by several feet over hundreds of years.
As of last summer, the West Antarctic ice shelf is in “unstoppable collapse” and, combined with other melting, will lead to sea level rise up to five or six feet by 2100, which the New York Times reports, “…is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.”
My entire life, since my first job as the New Hampshire Field Coordinator for the National Campaign for Safe Energy in 1980, I have worked through every legal means available to me to shift our energy system from large scale fossil fuel and nuclear power to decentralized renewable energy, to advance efficiency over increasing energy supply, and to embrace social values of simplicity and ecological sanity over mindless growth and waste.
Last night I watched the third and final Presidential debate, and the fact that the conditions which make civilization possible are collapsing was not mentioned. Donald Trump has declared that he is "not a believer in man-made global warming,” and Hillary Clinton mocks truth tellers, saying “Will [I] promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again? No, I won’t promise that. Get a life, you know.”
We don’t need to shut down all fossil fuel extractions tomorrow, just tar sands oil and coal. Last month Oil Change International released a report which Bill McKibben summarized: “To have just a break-even chance of meeting [the] 1.5 degree goal we solemnly set in Paris, we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted.”
As a father, a patriot and an environmentalist, I don’t think 50/50 odds of keeping to a global target that is already high enough to flood major seaboard cities like Seattle and low-lying areas like Anacortes - during my son’s lifetime - are anywhere near good enough.
I believe that the only means available to responsible citizens who want to slow the collapse of the West Antarctic and other ice shelves and prevent rapid sea level rise that will destroy our nation and the conditions which make civilization possible, is to take effective direct action to stop the extraction, transport, refining and burning of tar sands oil and coal, and block investment and construction of all new fossil fuel infrastructure, and that this must be done in a timeframe measured in months.
That is why I took action last week to stop the TransMountain pipeline, which delivers the most carbon-intensive oil found in North America to the largest carbon emitting source in the Pacific Northwest, where I make my home. When I made my home in Boston, Massachusetts, I took action at Brayton Point, which was the largest carbon emitting source in the Northeast. I’m pleased to say that the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant is now slated to close.
In this context and with these terrible imperatives, my actions of walking across a field and cutting a fence chain are inconsequential and excusable compared to the ghastly affect of continuing to burn tar sands oil. I do not agree, however, that it is reasonable to dust off antique laws designed to suppress labor union organizing (Sabotage and Assemblages of Saboteurs) and use them to shield the very industries that are driving us toward climate cataclysm. These are ridiculous, unconstitutional laws that should be struck from the books and replaced with statutes that hold the owners of fossil fuel companies responsible for their criminal actions.
I look forward to putting these serious questions before a jury.