The Amazing Climate Trial (That Never Happened)

Emily's Other 98 article, The Amazing Climate Trial (That Never Happened), tells the story the necessity defense we fought for in Minnesota, only to be blocked by a surprise acquittal.

MN #Climate Trial Oct 8th -11th

On October 11th - two years to the day from the Shut It Down action in 2016 - Emily, Annette, and Ben will await a verdict from a jury of their peers, in their historic necessity defense trial. Expert witnesses from across the country will come to Bagley, Minnesota to testify to the urgency of the climate crisis, the failure of the legislative process to address it, and the necessity of civil disobedience in the defense of life on Earth. We all know that it’s an extraordinary privilege to be part of a trial that brings such stakes to a courtroom, and we feel both the weight and the joy of that. We’re giving it everything we’ve got.

We need your support to make this trial happen. Expert witnesses, lawyers, and defendants all need travel expenses. Please donate to the Valve Turner fund to cover the costs of this historic #ClimateTrial. Please also share our updates on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re able to come and show your support at the Courthouse during the trial, please RSVP and we’ll send out details on travel, lodging, and courtroom logistics.

Stay tuned for Valve Turner events in Minneapolis the week of October 1st, and in Bemidji the week of the trial. We’ll have updates soon!

Here’s an action recap.

Love, Nicky

PS We’re happy to announce that filmmaker Steve Liptay’s trespassing charge has been dropped.



Annette, Emily, and Ben

Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston, and support person Ben Joldersma will argue the necessity defense October 8th- 11th in Bagley, MN. RSVP to receive trial updates here.


"There was a call for International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe this week - this is my prayer and this is my action.  My life is only marginally affected by climate change right now, but there are mothers and children around the world in frontline communities - mostly low-income communities of color - who are being drastically affected right now. This is my act of solidarity." - Annette Klapstein


"I’ve said enough about why I’m doing this: it needs to be done. I feel incredibly privileged to be alive in this moment, when so much is still so beautiful, and there’s still a chance to save it. But for years (decades, for some people) we’ve tried the legal, incremental, reasonable methods, and they haven’t been anything like enough; without a radical shift in our relationship to this Earth, all that we love will disappear. My fear of that possibility is far greater than my fear of jail. My love for the beauties of this world is far greater than my love of an easy life. If others feel the same way, there’s hope for us yet." - Emily Johnston


"Tahlequah carried her dead daughter for 17 days because we have taken all the salmon in the Salish sea. If oil companies and the Canadian government have their way, the 75 remaining orca whales could well die in toxic waters from tar sands tankers.

Supporting Emily and Annette in the Shut It Down action is an act of love for my children, is an act of hope that we can raise awareness of the incredible harm tar sands oil causes to the life of the Salish sea, to the First Nations people in the Athabasca basin, and to our Earth. Shutting off these pipelines in the face of the seemingly limitless power of the fossil fuel complex shows my children and many others that we are the force more powerful. That as the governments of the world bow and scrape to Big Oil, there is no one left but us, and we must reckon with that truth if we're going to have any hope of stopping the worst that's ahead." - Ben Joldersma

Michael is Home!

Michael Foster was greeted at the Greyhound station by his community at midnight -- joyful people, flowers, and hugs abounding. The crowd scooted off to a late night diner where the waitstaff commented they’d never taken so many vegan burger orders. Michael had a chance to share stories and reflections before heading home with sweetie Sue at nearly 3am.

“Six months, went by like nothing. Somebody just got released last month after 43 years of being unjustly imprisoned after a police raid, I think it was Philadelphia, in the 70s. And I got to sit in a retreat center for 6 months. So I feel like the luckiest guy on earth - and I don’t plan on going back, unless it’s for a really good cause. And I’m really really really really glad to see people I really love and people who want to make a difference in the world. Because the city and complicated life, all this stuff, and the pollution and the crap we have to do everyday, I didn’t miss any of that… And I’m really not looking forward to being part of it again. I’m gonna try really hard not to be part of that.”

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Michael is coming home early! And we are going to trial with the Climate Necessity Defense!

Michael will be released from North Dakota Corrections at midnight on August 1st to board a bus straight away that will deliver him to Seattle just 24 hours later. If you would like to be part of his welcome home committee, please email [email protected]. We’ll be popping over to Denny’s for vegan burgers and then ushering him and his sweety Sue home.


Michael wants to thank you for helping him replenish the MRCC prison library. He has received over 100 books. Because he will be home soon, letter writing and the book drive has ended. All the cards, letters and books you sent have made Michael's time in Bismarck much easier. Thank you, friends! To plug in and support Michael and the future of our planet, his request is that we help with the Zero Hour Seattle Youth March organized by the Plant for the Planet kids.

Michael is just finishing six months locked up in the North Dakota prison system, and very few of us can really understand what that's been like. We are all looking forward to hearing about his experience, stay tuned for Seattle events, including a party to Welcome Michael home and a screening of The Reluctant Radical.

Climate Necessity Defense in Minnesota!

We just found out today that the Minnesota Supreme Court has decided not to hear the prosecution’s appeal of the Necessity Defense in the trials of Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, Ben Joldersma, and Steve Liptay. The trial will likely be this October.

We need your support to fund this historic #ClimateTrial, where the Climate Necessity Defense will be heard for the first time in a US court with expert witnesses like James Hansen and Bill McKibben. We will be paying for travel and housing for a three pronged legal team, expert witnesses, Valve Turners, to Clearwater County for about a week. Can you give $20 today to help get us across the finish line and ensure that our experts can focus on this historic case?



Appeals are underway in Washington, Montana, and North Dakota questioning the denial of the Necessity Defense in all other Valve Turner cases. This week at a pretrial hearing of Water Protectors in Duluth, MN a judge decided to allow the Climate Necessity Defense, a decision that is going unchallenged by the prosecutor. We are emboldened by these small victories, when we have a lot to gain, and so very much to lose. 

Necessity Defense moves forward in MN!

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.


No Jail Time for Leonard Higgins


Today in Fort Benton, Montana, Leonard Higgins was given a deferred sentence of three years for shutting down the Spectra Express pipeline, meaning he is on probation for three years and can be incarcerated if he violates it. If he does not, the conviction will be removed from his record; this, the judge said, was due to the nature of his offense, selfless and nonviolent. He will pay approximately $4,000 in restitution and other court imposed fees. This isn’t justice. Justice would have been the necessity defense and a full vindication, which Leonard will continue to seek in his appeal. This is quasi-justice, but quasi-justice without incarceration feels pretty good.

The journey from action planning to valve turning to legal aftermath has been emotionally charged throughout, and having dinner with Leonard, friends and family tonight was one of the most potent times we’ve shared so far.

Leonard remaining free makes the injustice of Michael Foster’s imprisonment in North Dakota sting sharper. Before Michael shut down Keystone, he helped organize Washington youth to sue for action on climate, the state version of landmark federal litigation brought by Our Children’s Trust currently making its way through the courts. The judge in Washington issued the first ever ruling ordering an agency to cap and regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In the subsequent years, Governor Jay Inslee, the ostensible climate governor, has failed to do anything of the sort. Youth involved in the litigation all over the country are gearing up for a day of action, and if you want to support Michael, there’s probably no better way than to help youth take action to make their voice heard in court. For more details about how to help contact Sue Lenander.

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Sentencing in North Dakota

Michael sentenced to 3 years, 2 deferred and taken immediately into custody.


Today Michael Foster was sentenced to three years in prison, two deferred and taken directly into custody. Sam Jessup was sentenced to two years, both deferred with supervised probation.

Reacting to the sentence, Foster said, “It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in jail. What matters is stopping the pollution. If other people don’t take action, mine makes no difference. And if they don’t, the planet comes apart at the seams.The only way what I did matters is if people are stopping the poison.”

At the hearing today, Assistant to the State's Attorney Jonathon Byers pressed the judge for significant penalties to deter future actions, asking the court to "send a message" by sentencing Michael and Sam to five years each, three and four years of those sentences suspended, respectively. The prosecution then bizarrely claimed that the action might have been justified if it would have really made a difference.

TransCanada also wrote a formal letter to the court demanding severe sentences.

Michael's lawyer stated that he initially approached this case in purely legal terms but has come to see the validity of the cause and truly fears for his grandchildren. Michael ended his statement to Judge Fontaine by saying, "My single life isn't worth more than all life to come."

Judge Fontaine acknowledged how unusual the case is and says she spent many hours thinking about the sentence, weighing most heavily the likelihood that Michael would act again. She acknowledged the seriousness of climate change and says that North Dakotan culture *is* about taking care of the land. She went on to say the criteria for the necessity defense was not met, claiming that the action was not effective in preventing harm and that legal alternatives exist to address climate change. The judge suggested a “marketing campaign” to better communicate the dangers of climate change.

This morning in an interview with local press, Michael said resolutely, “I made a decision to commit civil disobedience to defend my family tree and yours, knowing that there is no government, no politician, no corporation, on planet right now, putting forward a plan to defend life as we know it. My kids and yours won’t survive this mess if we don’t clean up all this.”

Donate to the ongoing legal support of Michael Foster and the other Valve Turners.

Michael's attorney Mr. Hoffman and Michael's sweetheart Sue Lenander explain the specifics of sentencing and opportunities for appeal.

Michael Foster

Valve Turner Michael Foster committed no crime. "The crime that was committed that day was when the oil company turned the pipeline back on".  


Orion Magazine: One Good Turn

By Kathleen Dean Moore


The morning of October 11, 2016, was chilly on the northern plains. Low sun glinted on prairie grasses and on the emergency turn-off valves of the five pipelines that burrowed from Canadian tar-sands oil fields into Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington. At 8:30 a.m., people wearing hard hats and yellow safety vests approached each of the pipelines. With bolt cutters, they let themselves into hurricane-fence enclosures. In several locations, one person videotaped the action while another cut the chains that immobilized the valves. These people, men and women, were not burly roustabouts; several were decades past middle age. It took all the strength they had to crank the heavy wheels on the valves. But when they had closed the valves on all five pipelines, the entire flow of crude oil from Canadian tar sands came to a stop.

The shutdown was an act of moral necessity, the Valve Turners explained. Global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is a desperate emergency, so shutting the emergency valves was exactly the right response—an act of sanity in a dangerously surreal world.


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