Valve Turners FAQ

Emily Johnston

How long have you been fighting  climate change? What has that involved?

About seven years. I got involved when James Hansen said development of the tar sands was “game over” for the climate, and Bill McKibben and 350.org asked people to come to the White House and get arrested in protest of Keystone XL. Then I came back and started organizing with a couple of friends, and a year and a half later was one of the co-founders of 350 Seattle. Since then, it’s been a guiding force in my life, and I’ve learned a lot about organizing, and leading, and communicating about climate change.

Why did you become a valve turner? Why direct action?

Nothing else we can do--testifying at hearings, sending emails and making phone calls, organizing protests, educating people--is working anywhere near quickly enough to address the overwhelming threats of climate change. That’s mostly because of the financial and political power of the fossil fuel industry, and the willingness of its executives to lie and deny for decades. People have been working in all those legal avenues for decades, and there’s no time anymore for incremental change. I engage in direct action, because to stop business as usual, it turns out we have to….stop business as usual. We have to be disruptive in a way that makes people think about the threats, think about their lives, and their kids’ lives, and then ask themselves who they want to be in this moment.

Can’t we achieve change without breaking the law? Do you still work within the system at all?

We can achieve quite a lot without breaking the law. I work upwards of 50 and 60 hour weeks most of the time, doing perfectly legal work on climate change. But it’s not enough.

Why do you think the necessity defense is important?

Because it allows us to change the context of the question of our guilt. Yes, we did this thing--but if you listen to why, you might agree with us that it was the right thing. If a jury of our peers agrees with us that it was the right thing, that will be revolutionary, in the best sense.

What would it mean if you were acquitted after using the necessity defense?

It would mean that the power of the fossil fuel industry is not controlling the narrative anymore. It would mean their days of destroying our futures for profit are coming to an end.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I want everyone reading this to ask themselves, knowing what you know about the risks of climate change, on your deathbed, or looking at your grandchild, or speaking to a child from a place that’s already becoming unlivable due to climate change….what will you wish you had done? Do that thing.

 

Annette Klapstein

How long have you been fighting climate change? What has that involved?

I think I got involved with climate change issues around 2011. The Raging Grannies (internationally) passed a resolution at our 2012 Unconvention making climate change our top priority. Initially we wrote to and tried to meet with legislators at every level from city to federal, asking them to address the grave and imminent threat of climate change. Their response was mostly nice words and no action. I personally, and the Grannies collectively testified and sang at dozens of hearings against fossil fuel infrastructure, and participated in many marches and rallies around climate issues. I have signed probably hundreds of petitions on climate- related issues, written to my representatives too many times to count, all with very little to show for it.

Why did you become a valve turner? Why direct action?

As it became increasingly clear to me that our political system is totally unresponsive to the needs and concerns of ordinary people and rigged in favor of corporate interests, direct action appeared to be the only viable option left. The first direct action I participated in was blockading an oil train outside the refineries in Anacortes, Washington in 2014. The Grannies helped to shut down the Department of Ecology, Burlington Northern offices, and the Port of Seattle during the Shell No campaign, often chained to our rocking chairs. All of these actions contributed to tangible results - eventually the expanded oil train terminal for the Shell refinery was defeated, due to a variety of tactics, including our action. At the end of the summer of 2015 Shell pulled out of the arctic drilling business, in part because of the bad publicity they got from the Shell no campaign. So - direct action works. I became a Valveturner because climate change still has not been addressed in any serious way, and we need to do a lot more and we need to do it soon. Tar sands are the worst of the worst, so when I heard about this action, I felt called- in almost a religious sense - to do it. I am 66 years old and feel strongly that it is my job as an older person to step up and put my body on the line to protect future generations.

Can’t we achieve change without breaking the law? Do you still work within the system at all?

See above. I still attempt to push our current political system into taking the critical actions necessary to protect a livable future for all our children, but I have zero faith that they will do what is needed without us stopping their business as usual, over and over until they cannot operate without making the radical changes needed. There are no longer any non-radical solutions- the current political- economic system which values profit over all has insured that climate change has been ignored until it is the ongoing catastrophe we are now in.

Why do you think the necessity defense is important?

The necessity defense allows us to bring climate science into the courtroom and inform a jury, as well as the local (and often broader) community about how dire the situation already is, how the fossil fuel industry’s criminal disregard for human life, all other life and the water, land and air we all depend on is the biggest contributor to catastrophic climate change. And it recognizes the reality that sometimes it is necessary to break a law to protect a higher good. Any decent morality would recognize that the lives and future of our children are more important than the profits of fossil fuel companies- but our current legal system does NOT recognize that!

The recognition of the necessity defense gives the climate justice movement another tool to use in our ongoing fight to protect ourselves and future generations from catastrophic climate disruption.

What would it mean if you were acquitted after using the necessity defense?

It would mean that 12 out of 12 citizens of the small rural town of Bagley, Minnesota heard our evidence and realized that what we did in shutting down the pipelines was necessary to prevent the far greater crime of the ongoing climate destruction caused by the ordinary operations of the pipeline operators and the tar sands industry across the board.

 

Ben Joldersma

How long have you been fighting climate change? What has that involved?

I got involved in 2015 just after the Shell NO! Campaign. I’ve mostly been a rank and file type in direct actions. I’ve participated in around a dozen or so actions, been arrested in 4 including the Shut It Down action, Break Free 2016, and one of the Chase actions (with my partner Nicky! So romantic!). The DA stuff has fit well in my life because they start out initially as fairly small, isolated events from a timing stand point and then the court elements (which are not insignificant) end up being easy to explain to my work as things I have to attend to.

Why did you become a valve turner supporter? Why direct action?

I remained compliant and obedient for decades, waiting for those in power to address the problem of climate change. Nothing would make those in power happier than to see us effectively halt climate change by staying in line and obediently sending our letters to our editors and our elected officials, testifying at hearings and marching in the streets (all good things by the way that work really well in conjunction with higher pressure components like DA). I was drawn to this action, and am drawn to direct action in general because it became clear to me that those who hold the power in our society believe they can protect themselves and their families from the effects of climate change and have exhibited a complete and total disregard for the welfare of everyone else. And if we are to have any chance of ensuring a somewhat stable climate for as much life as possible we are going to have to break out of boundaries the power-holders have confined us to.

Can’t we achieve change without breaking the law? Do you still work within the system at all?

See above. I think, on it’s own, civil obedience will not force the kind of change we need in the time we have. It’s certainly important, if just to clearly articulate our vision for a better future, which can be harder to do in the midst of obstructing the kind of future we don’t want to have (does that make sense?)

Why do you think the necessity defense is important?

Because it establishes innocence for the participants of the action being argued, protecting them from serving time, paying fines, restitution, avoiding adding charges to permanent record and other hardships in addition to the positive impacts of being found not guilty.
I believe it adds to the legal legitimacy to the scientific truth of climate change, something particularly important in a time the EPA, NOAA and NASA are being forced to suppress climate science.

What would it mean if you were acquitted after using the necessity defense?

It would establish an important legal precedent that participants in other direct actions in the state of Minnesota could use to establish innocence in future direct actions. One can extrapolate that series towards a possible future where the state is forced to change laws that no longer reflect the kind of world it’s citizens have demonstrated a desire to be in.

 

Ken Ward

How long have you been fighting climate change? What has that involved?

I have been working to fundamentally change energy policy, and toward ecological sanity, since 1979, when I dropped out of college to serve as field coordinator for the National Campaign for Safe Energy. I launched one of the first state-based climate campaigns, in 1989, as Executive Director of New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (NJPIRG), developed national campaign policy as the Chair of U.S.PIRG/Environment America Climate/Energy group from 1990-1997, and helped shape international climate campaigns, as Deputy Director of Greenpeace, USA, in 1997-99. After several years as at at-home dad, I returned to climate work as the Director of the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living, co-founder of the Jamaica Plain Green House (winner of the City of Boston Green Build Award), and coordinator of the New England organizing hub in the launch of 350.org. I took part in the Lobster Boat Blockade, in 2013, and co-founded the Climate Disobedience Center. I serve as President of Climate Direct Action, which housed the Valveturners Shut It Down action.

Why did you become a valve turner? Why direct action?

After twenty years of mainstream environmental work, including public education, litigation, municipal, county, state and federal legislative work, international agreements, and electoral campaigns, I concluded that incremental reform was insufficient in the face of fossil fuel industry power, corruption of democracy, and cognitive dissonance. I felt that direct action was the most promising means of creating civic conflict around climate change.

Why do you think the necessity defense is important?

Anyone engaging in climate direct action who chooses not to hide their involvement, has only the necessity defense as a means of explaining why they acted as they did. The only other ethical choice is to stand mute before the court.

What would it mean if you were acquitted after using the necessity defense?

I was convicted in Skagit County, WA Superior Court, on one felony count for my role in the Shut It Down action. That conviction is being appealed on the basis that I was not allowed a necessity defense. In the event that I win and am granted a third trial with a necessity defense, and am acquitted by a jury, I would consider that to be a commonsense outcome.

 

Leonard Higgins

How long have you been fighting climate change? What has that involved?

I awoke to the crisis and need for personal activism beginning in 2007 at Work That Reconnects workshops with Joanna Macy. I retired in 2011 and have been full time focused on climate activism in community with family and friends since then. I co-founded 350 Corvallis, helped organize a Climate Justice Committee at the Corvallis UU Fellowship, lobbied local and state elected representatives to respond to the crisis, testified at hearings, wrote letters, successfully advocated for a city climate action plan, cofounded a Corvallis Act On Climate organization to file a lawsuit to stop tar sands equipment megaloads, co-instructed NVCD classes, organized protests and vigils, and added peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience to my activism beginning in 2013.

Why did you become a valve turner? Why direct action?

Historically, nonviolent direct action has been the most effective strategy to bring about large scale social change along with changes to public policy and law. At a time when our children’s and grandchildren’s well-being requires local, state and federal governments to implement changes to reduce carbon emissions quickly and dramatically, citizens have less ability than ever before to influence U.S. public policy and law. Tragically, we are increasing fossil fuel usage and related carbon emissions. The changes will not happen quickly enough to avoid the worst unless enough citizens join together to demand the changes needed and are willing to put themselves on the line with mass actions like boycotts and blockades. The change needed requires a level of individual commitment and sacrifice as seen in past social justice movements including abolition, union rights, women’s suffrage, and civil rights.

Can’t we achieve change without breaking the law? Do you still work within the system at all?

Yes, direct action including civil disobedience is not a silver bullet. It’s just one of the tools in the activist toolkit. I continue to work within the system now affiliated mainly with 350 Eugene still doing much of the things listed in the second question above. In addition, we need scientists, inventors, farmers, economists, secular and spiritual leaders, systems experts, attorneys, and skilled people in many other areas working (as many already are) helping us to transition to sustainable, fossil free practices.

Why do you think the necessity defense is important?

Again, the necessity defense is another important tool in the toolkit but not a silver bullet. Here’s two excerpts from my statement at the sentencing hearing last March:
“There is strong evidence that we may have already crossed unrecoverable tipping points in our climate systems, in our ecosystems, and in the sheer volume of carbon we’ve already poured into the atmosphere. Many scientists, experts and knowledgeable people have given up hope of humanity being able to change course before it’s too late. Many of them are focused on living the rest of their lives in the best way possible without further regard to future generations. I think they could be right that we are out of time, but there is too much that is precious in this life to give it up without a fight. What’s most precious to me are the lives of my children, grandchildren, family and other loved ones.”
“Today, I am here in part because of my faith in the courts as a last resort to protect the constitutional rights of individuals and their communities. I have faith in the humanity inherent in the law and the pursuit of justice core to the role of the judicial branch of our government. There are many instances in our history where what has been legal is not what was right and just. I say all of this not to seek leniency in my sentence but with the hope that the courts may take a greater role in protecting our individual rights from the immediate harms we face, and the rights of our children and grandchildren to a livable future. I will continue to seek the court’s acknowledgement and protection of individual rights by appealing this court’s denial of my 6th amendment right to a full defense of my actions.”

However, similar to other court actions and precedents, despite favorable rulings from courts, the needed changes in public policy, changes in law, and changes in executive branch regulations and priorities (not to mention the delays in actual, effective implementation of needed changes); we cannot rely on the courts to solve this problem. My bias is that the only singular form of action, that can force change as quickly as we need it, is mass resistance and in the form of boycotts, walk outs, general strikes, and other mass withdrawal of consent for business as usual.

 

Michael Foster

How long have you been fighting climate change? What has that involved?

I tracked climate news and my carbon footprint since 1989, but being green wasn’t enough. Since 2012, I presented an Al Gore style slideshow to more than 15,000 people, for schools and churches, any ages. I volunteer to organize kids and families to plant trees, stop fuels, and sue the government to win climate justice.

Why did you become a valve turner? Why direct action?

The only way to achieve justice and solutions, is to expose the urgent need to stop the system immediately, at every level, in every way starting with ourselves. We can no longer burn as much fuel if we want life to go on. We give it up completely in a few years or as much as 90% of life on Earth will perish. Two years ago, before Trump, we turned off Canadian tar sands to the USA in response to our existential Emergency. No government or elected official will alert the public, much less take action. If we are lucky, we might restore a stable climate for our children’s children near 2100. But starting immediately to reduce CO2 enough to do that - 350ppm at the turn of the century - requires 10% pollution cuts every year globally and 1 trillion new trees, or life as we know it ends, civilizations collapse and the world becomes ungovernable. We act now decisively to end pollution, or we eliminate the chance for most species to survive our thoughtless mess.

Can’t we achieve change without breaking the law? Do you still work within the system at all?

Yes to change everything we need to do everything differently. We need every person who cares working within and without our systems, if we hope to change them. I cut my pollution every year, plant trees, educate people and decision makers, and organize.

Why do you think the necessity defense is important?

The necessity defense simply says this criminal act was committed to protect life. It was necessary to break the law in an emergency to prevent a greater harm because the legal alternatives failed to do enough. Presenting the Necessity Defense means being able to bring the full story to the jury: Is it ok to destroy life on earth, but illegal to resist that destruction? What kind of justice punishes citizens who risk everything to defend the commons, air water and land, from destruction? Do pipeline company owners who can only make a profit if they remove life from the planet deserve more justice citizens who are willing to stand up in court to say ‘No, justice defends life not just property’ and are willing to face the punishment?

What would it mean if you were acquitted after using the necessity defense?

If Emily and Annette are acquitted after telling the whole story to the jury, it will mean that our peers in Minnesota, when presented with the facts, were able to understand the peril we face together, and recognize the necessity of taking all steps to prevent the loss of everything we hold dear, everything we are, life itself should not perish.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Alice Lockhart
    published this page in About Us 2018-10-05 13:11:39 -0700

Contribute Take Action Now

get updates