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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Climate Change Heroes

There are too few heroes anymore. But, when it comes to Climate Change, we have two heroes who prove that blocking fossil fuel combustion has its rewards. In How 2 Guys, A Lobster Boat, And A District Attorney Just Made Climate History, we have the seeds of a strategy that could pay huge dividends:
On Monday, outside of the Fall River Justice Center near the border of Rhode Island, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter addressed a gaggle of eager reporters gathered for what they thought would be a multi-day hearing for two men who blocked a 40,000-ton shipment of coal from reaching New England's largest power station last May. However, Sutter shocked everyone by dropping the charges in under an hour, leaving the group anxious to understand what led to his decision to reduce the conspiracy, disturbing the peace, and two other civil disobedience charges against the climate activists. Having anchored a lobster boat in the freighter's shipping channel, the climate activists delayed the delivery of coal for a day in an effort to delay the impacts of climate change by raising awareness. Facing up to nine months in jail, they were suddenly off the hook. "Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced," Sutter said after explaining that the decision was made with the interests of the people of Bristol County in mind. "In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking."
The defendants, Jay O'Hara, 32, and Ken Ward, 57, who accepted all charges for blocking the tons of Appalachian coal that the "Energy Enterprise" was bringing to port, had submitted an uncommon and unused defense for their actions: the necessity defense. They argued that they had no choice but to act because the consequences of climate change are so dire. It just so happened that Sutter agreed with them. "As in all instances, I first had to consider the people of Bristol county," Sutter told ThinkProgress on Tuesday. "In addition to that, I had to give strong consideration to the cause that led to the act of civil disobedience. And I agree that climate change is one of the greatest crisis the planet has ever faced and that we have to act more boldly now."
Sutter had emerged from the justice center with a copy of a recent essay by climate author and activist Bill McKibben in hand. He said he found McKibben to be inspirational and that he believes "sand is moving through the hourglass" when it comes to climate change. Having come of age in the 1960s, Sutter said he is "acutely aware" of the acts of civil disobedience that took place in the fights against racial injustice, the Vietnam War, and South African apartheid, and that he placed the actions of Ward and O'Hara in that long and storied history.
Had Sutter allowed the prosecution to continue, McKibben was prepared to testify along with three other witnesses, including NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, to support the argument of necessity defense. Sutter said he wasn't sure if the lawyers would have been able to meet the burden of proof in front of the judge, which includes meeting four legal standards in what amounts to an emergency situation requiring necessity defense. "I was concerned that they were going to great lengths of preparation and costs and would be thwarted by the judge saying no, you cant present defense," he said. "Fortunately we were able to come up with a negotiated decision."
Civil disobedience worked in the civil rights movement a half-century ago. Maybe it's time to bring it back for an encore.