I  never would have dreamed that the next time I would see Bill McKibben in person might be Bagley, Minnesota.  Or that there would be potential to meet James Hanson ~ yes, the dude who challenged NASA for suppressing his work on Climate Change ~ in this tiny county seat!  But Bagley, a town of less than 1400 people, may very well become the place where Climate Change Activists make their next major step forward.

I had no idea what I was getting into when Dan and I agreed to attend the hearing for a couple women in Clearwater County.  I actually thought it was two young ladies who had been hanging with Winona LaDuke, one of whom I’d met, so I was anxious to show support.  If I hadn’t been so busy, I might have actually read the event, Googled the names, and realized how major this case was going to be.  And if I’d thought about it for a second, I’d have realized the girl I’d met was facing an issue in North Dakota, not Minnesota.  But I showed up, believing I was supporting folks in the Anti-Tar Sands Pipeline Climate Change movement.  And once things got rolling, I was amazed.

When the hearing began, it was to arraign a fourth defendant in the case, Benjamin Joldersma, who was late in being charged with a felony crime.  His role in the event would become clear in later testimony but first we walked through his getting consolidated into the case with the three other defendants, Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston, and Steve Liptay.

Valve 1

So, what did these people do to warrant felony charges?  They carried out an act of civil disobedience in the name of protecting the planet.  They put their lives on the line to help increase awareness, among the rest of us, that the world is running out of time to make the changes necessary to prevent even more catastrophic climate events.  They put themselves at risk for arrest to show that we need to act now if we’re going to prevent the 100,000+ lives lost every year to Climate Change.

On October 11, 2016, the two women reportedly entered the Leonard, Minnesota valve station and started to shut down the pipeline.  This action was planned to coincide with the International Days of Prayer and Action With Standing Rock.  Along with their cohorts, they were able to shut down every tar sands pipeline entering the US in an act of love & solidarity.  In Leonard, Minnesota, a shut down of Enbridge’s line 4 and 67; TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline was closed in Walhalla, North Dakota; Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Montana was eliminated; and Kinder-Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline in Anacortes, Washington, reportedly offline anyway, was also stopped.  Democracy Now! had a brief report.

Here’s the report from the industry… sounds like they are saying, if you use the Emergency Shutoff Valve, you could rupture the pipeline.  I think that is something we might want to investigate, don’t you??  Since Enbridge has shown us that they can take up to 17 hours to “realize” a ruptured line is a ruptured line and not a bubble they need to push from the system with increased pressure, it might be nice to think we citizens could, should a spill be happening, turn off the valve and save our town.  What we really need is to stop relying on fossil fuels and move to renewables with intensity.  NOW.

Back to our hearing…

Annette Klapstein took the stand and explained her history with the Climate Change movement.  She became active in 2009 and was one of the Seattle Raging Grannies that chained themselves together in rocking chairs to stop a Shell oil rig from heading out for Arctic Drilling. By the end of the summer, Shell sent ships back to Norway and abandoned drilling efforts in the Arctic.  Annette testified that she realized, in order to fight for social justice, it would require work in the arena of climate change.  In 2014, she was part of an effort to block oil trains in Anacortes, Washington and Shell subsequently dropped plans to add a rail spur… once an EIS was required.  Annette’s position: Civil disobedience is the only option citizens have left with a government beholden to banks and fossil fuels.

She explained that their intent in closing the line was to stop Tar Sands oil flow to prevent ecocide.  The operation was done safely by giving notification to Enbridge 15 minutes prior to closing the valve and again 5 minutes before the action happened.  In fact, when they began to turn the valve to close it, they could see the screw turning down as Enbridge closed down the line remotely.  When asked if there was an imminent threat, Annette explained that there is.  We have super typhoons increasing in the Philipines, Washington has had the worst air quality for the last two weeks, and there are fires raging in British Columbia.  Over 100,000 people are dying annually due to Climate Change, we’re in the middle of the 6th Great Extinction, and each year, the scientists explain that the trends are looking worse.  Climate Change is happening faster than we predicted every year.  Coastal cities are facing crisis and droughts continue to intensify.

On cross-examination, the Prosecutor asked a few main questions to each Defendant.  Side note, just after the Judge accepted a motion to join all the cases as one for efficiency,  the Prosecutor made a request to sequester the Defendants.  This means that they would not be able to hear each other’s testimony.  A discussion ensued with the Defense Attorney noting that allowing each Defendant to hear the other would prevent reiteration of details already explained by the other Defendants.  The Judge agreed that sequestration would defeat the purpose of joining all the cases and prevent the Defendants from their right to be present at each critical stage of their trial.  The Prosecutor’s request was denied.  I’m thinking he didn’t want them to hear his questions as he basically had the same questions for each Defendant:

  • Are you a Scientist?
  • Was there an active oil spill present?
  • Were there individuals in immediate danger on the site?
  • Have you engaged in letter writing or legislative contacts in Minnesota prior to this action?
  • How much carbon dioxide did you prevent with the shutdown?

Annette also got extra questions: Can you define ecocide? and When will the world end?  Oh, yeah, and How did you get here? (implying that she is a fossil fuel user).  Annette had an excellent response to this question in noting that the system is set up to require her physical presence but that she was able to secure a ride from Seattle with a friend who was delivering a car to Minnesota.  So basically, she had very little carbon footprint above what was already needed for the friend’s original journey.

Emily Johnston was our next Defendant.  She has been active in Climate Change work since 2011 when she got involved with 350.org and participated in the Keystone XL protests.  KXL was subsequently denied by President Obama.  Sounds like that civil disobedience worked!  By the way, 350.org was named based on the fact that, if we want to keep the Earth viable, we need to remain below 350 ppm of CO2.  Where are we now?  About 410 ppm.

Emily was a part of the Kayaktivists who rode kayaks to prevent the Shell oil rig from leaving port.  This is not only risking arrest but literally putting her life on the line.  Emily was willing to risk a felony charge because when Activists take a personal legal risk, they show their vulnerability and this increases the chance that people will take their actions seriously.  She noted the science that says we have about 3 years until we hit 4.5°F (2°C), the point of no return… the point where we can’t really make a difference that will allow our planet to remain viable.   She contends that we have no time for small changes.  The solution is to reduce emissions by 15% each year as we begin reforestation and regenerative agriculture.

Emily also explained that Civil Disobedience is a derivative of English Common Law which allows if, say, a house is burning and a baby is inside, you to override the law of breaking and entering the private residence to save the life of the baby.  In other words, it’s acceptable to break the law for a greater good, a higher law.  [On cross-examination, the Prosecutor would ask her if there were any “babies attached to the pipeline”.]

Emily made clear that the Activists are not “fighting Enbridge”, they are “fighting Tar Sands”.  She believes that civil disobedience is required to increase consciousness of the danger of Tar Sands.

Benjamin Joldersma was our third Defendant to take the stand.  Benjamin has three children from 2-7 years old.  His most compelling testimony regarded explaining the tough decision he and his wife made in him being a part of this work.  I was in tears as he noted that he wanted to be able to look his young daughter in the eyes when she one day asked what he did to try to stop Climate Change.  I cried because I too feel an obligation to my son when I think about the work I do in water protection.  Ben discussed the effect the Paris Climate Talks had on him: even with agreement by 197 countries that we must to something, we will still bypass 2°C.  All legal efforts have been exhausted.  Civil disobedience is our only option.  He told a story of a 2015 camping trip where he met some climate scientists and, based on their stories, he realized we were out of time.  Ben’s role on October 11th was to call Enbridge with a notification of the pending action at 15 minutes out and 5 minutes out.

Steven Liptay was our final witness and he was simply a cameraman documenting the activity.  He believed he was within his First Amendment rights to document the happenings and share the information with media outlets.  He had a pretty impressive array of Climate Change work to date including work as an intern on Everything’s Cool, cameraman on Do the Math, and he worked on the HBO documentary How to Let Go of the World And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.  And, he IS a scientist, having an MS in Environmental Policy and working as a Biologist for Audubon.  He believes that when mainstream media is not telling the story, it requires independent media to inform people on what is happening.  There is a Climate Change Emergency and he wants to inspire others to take action.

I was so impressed with each of these four people.  Not only for their courage to take a strong stand in fighting Climate Change, but for their coherent and articulate explanations of what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Their passion to save our planet from its imminent destruction is admirable.  Their commitment to civil disobedience is commendable.

In the end, each of the four Defendants plead Not Guilty to the charges.  They are claiming their actions are “Necessary” as the legal means for addressing climate change have been exhausted without response from our government and corporate leaders. As citizens, our only recourse remaining is civil disobedience.

I think the fact that 45 just disbanded an Advisory Committee on Climate Change is a good indication that they are on the right track.

Photo credit to Daniel Gaither.