July 27, 2011
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"The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders." --Ed Abbey
"The Eyes of the Future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time." --Terry Tempest Williams
There's something about the redrock canyons that seems to inspire great writing -- I was lucky enough to know Ed Abbey and to count Terry Tempest Williams as a great friend. Both wrote -- and both fought. They fulfilled the duty they owed that great landscape. They fought to protect great chunks of land.
And they're joined by Tim DeChristopher, sentenced yesterday to 24 months in prison for a creative act of resistance straight out of the Monkey Wrench Gang. He didn't damage anything except the pride of the Bureau of Land Management, when he posed as a bidder and won 14 parcels of land at an oil-and-gas lease auction. They were gorgeous pieces of land that he protected -- but far more, he was acting on behalf of every landscape left on the planet.
Because the oil and gas under that ground needs to stay there. The carbon it contains is, we now know, ruinous -- it's what is heating the atmosphere, setting new temperature records every day. If you sweated through last week's record heat, if your crops are withering in the southwest's epic drought, if you watched the Mississippi swallow your town -- then Tim DeChristopher acted for you.
And it's time for you to take the same kind of responsibility. In a few weeks, those of us at tarsandsaction.org will be gathering in Washington DC for two weeks of civil disobedience against the proposed Keystone Pipeline, that will carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta down to the Gulf of Mexico. Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist, says that if those tar sands are fully exploited it's "essentially game over for the climate." If those words don't inspire you to act, nothing will -- and so far more than a thousand have signed on, meaning this will be the largest civil disobedience action in the history of the country's climate movement.
This action won't be as risky as Tim's. People are signing up to come to DC for three days. On the first they'll attend nonviolence training, and on the second they'll sit down in front of the White House. No one knows for sure how the police will react, but the legal experts say jail time will likely be measured in hours, not years. Still, it's a very real way to say to President Obama (who will make the Keystone decision all by himself) that this is the great moral issue of our time.
DeChristopher acted before he wrote. But he's a writer too -- in court he read an essay before his sentencing, which ended with these words about civil disobedience:
At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.
I think he's right.
You can read Tim DeChristopher's words to the court here.
Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign.