Tim DeChristopher Is Convicted: We're Blowing This Moment, Too

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 12:35 By Subhankar Banerjee, Climate StoryTellers | Op-Ed | name.

Exactly a week ago on March 3, young climate change activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted for disrupting oil and gas lease sales on public lands in southern Utah. He is an international celebrity right now. Hundreds of articles have come out on this story: you can read news stories, here and here; opinion pieces, here and here; and interviews with Tim, here and here.

Late last year when the Obama administration was contemplating giving Shell the key to go drill in the Arctic Ocean, I used humor and wickedness as a last resort to stop the permit. Because of sustained activism by the Inupiat activists and efforts of many environmental organizations, we’ve so far derailed Shell’s drilling plan to BP the Arctic. Now, allow me to be cynical and cranky, as I write not about what Tim DeChristopher did with his courageous action, but what we’re doing with it, since he was convicted.

This morning, like every morning, I received the daily email blast from Grist, the well–known environmental blog site. The top post is titled, “Bidding Farewell: Tim DeChristopher found guilty, shows power of nonviolent civil disobedience.” This is a very problematic title, but first, when we go inside the article, we read a recap of the news and then various tweets that people and organizations have sent around—about Tim. For all I know, people might be hooking up right now tweeting about Tim’s story—but love is a good thing in times of trouble. The title, “Bidding Farewell” seems to indicate two things to me: “Adios, Tim, while you eat crappy food in jail, we’ll eat delicious organic tomatoes, grown locally, right here in Seattle,” and most importantly “Adios, Climate Change Movement”—I’ll get to that soon. Now, the subtitle “shows power of nonviolent civil disobedience”—can anyone explain what “power” are we talking about here?

Then, yesterday, Naomi Klein talked about Tim DeChristopher during an hour–long conversation with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. She brilliantly made the connection that instead of “waiting,” which everyone else was doing—waiting on President Obama to do good things, Tim instead acted. He knew Obama was already elected but had not taken office. However, during the last hours of his presidency, Bush was selling off (without proper review) important public lands to oil and gas through fast track lease sales. Tim understood the moment and didn’t wait, but acted. However, Naomi Klein’s interview was a missed opportunity—she could have, but did not, urge a mass protest across the country in support of Tim DeChristopher. You see, books will be written about Tim, translated in numerous languages, become international bestsellers and will surely inspire future generations. But we need action right now, not in future.

We are acting like Tim DeChristopher is doomed, and the best we can do is say “Adios, Tim.” We can and must do better than that. June 23 is the date set for his sentencing, and only then he maybe handed, up to 10 years in prison with a $750,000 fine. All of us seem to be following in the footsteps of our leader, the President, Mr. Barack Obama—we’re all becoming great rhetoricians with speeches and interviews but we’re failing to act—to mobilize action on climate change. Between now and June 23, we must call for mass protests across campuses and communities, because what Tim DeChristopher has done is far more significant than “not waiting.”

Last November I wrote a widely circulated essay pointing out that five extraction projects (coal and oil) in North America, if approved, would lock us in with burning fossil fuels for the next 100 years and devastate the entire planet. I urged action to stop these extreme energy projects as a highest priority of the climate change movement. In 2008, Tim DeChristopher had understood the importance of stopping “new” oil and gas lease sales as a way to fight climate change. So far, we have no intention to move away from burning fossil fuels. Tim realized that and took action to do something to reverse course with a spontaneous, passionate and courageous act.

Poet William Butler Yeats wrote in “The Second Coming”:

        The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity.


Let us salute Tim DeChristopher as one of the worst of the worst whose “passionate intensity” is exactly what we need right now for climate change activism.

From recent protests in the Middle East and North Africa, now across the US, we’re learning that, only when our survival or dignity is so severely degraded that we protest with all our conviction. To put it crudely, only when shit hits the fan and dirties the room, we act to clean it up. Take for example, BP’s criminal oil–and–methane spill in the Gulf of Mexico—pundits have said so much after the spill, so many articles and books have come out, and more will be coming out soon, but those who shouted before the act to stop such extreme drilling—do you know who they are? I don’t. Tim DeChristopher recognized “before” any damage is made to the public lands he cares about deeply. So he acted. You see, with climate change, shit has already hit many fans across the planet and dirtied badly, but we haven’t acted on it yet.

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After India’s most famous political prisoner, physician and human rights activist Dr. Binyak Sen was convicted on December 24, 2010 with lifetime imprisonment with sedition charges, there have been protests across the world, from Boston to Bhopal. There are more protests and rallies being planned right now to demand his release.

What protests are we—environmental organizations, universities and communities across North America—are asking for, to demand that Tim DeChristopher’s charges be removed immediately?

The GOP lawmakers are hellbent on proving right now that Albert Einstein never really understood physics. My mistake, they’re hellbent on proving right now that world’s scientific body really doesn’t understand climate science. Congressman Jay Inslee (D–Washington) said on Tuesday, “if Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein were testifying, Republicans would still not accept the science until Antarctica had melted.” I think Inslee is being polite, after Antarctica melts away completely, the GOP lawmakers will go there for fishing during summer recess, than accept climate science.

What protests are we—environmental organizations, universities and communities across North America—are asking for, to challenge the GOP’s full–frontal assault on climate science?

Tim DeChristopher’s courageous act should be considered a historic moment to mobilize action on climate change across North America—but so far, we’re blowing this moment, too. Only when we see that young people, Tim DeChristopher’s generation, beyond Salt Lake City, and across America, are protesting to remove all charges against him, then only we can comfortably talk about the “power of nonviolent civil disobedience,” but until then let us not say “Adios, Tim.”

Subhankar Banerjee is founder of ClimateStoryTellers.org. He is an Indian born American photographer, writer and activist. Over the past decade he has been a leading international voice on issues of arctic conservation, indigenous human rights, and global warming, and over the past five years he has also been focusing on forest deaths from global warming. He received many awards, including Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Fellowship. Subhankar is currently editing an anthology titled, “Arctic Voices“ (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012) and has been appointed Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for fall term 2011.

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 12:35