OPED: Citizens will respond to the climate crisis
“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” — Pope Francis
“Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to U.S. national security.” — U.S. Department of Defense
"The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify taking steps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." — U.S. National Academy of Sciences
“Nobody really knows” if climate change is real. — Donald Trump
Climate change is a moral issue, a national security issue and an economic issue and according to the experts, it is a clear and present danger to all of us. A recent Gallup poll shows two thirds of Americans now worry “a great deal”, or “a fair amount” about climate change. Americans are worried and want action, and rightly so.
As Donald Trump rolls back climate policies meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pledges to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, and stocks his cabinet with appointees who do not acknowledge the threat of climate change, a growing number of Americans are addressing the problem with an American tradition which goes back to even before the founding of our nation – non-violent civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is a deliberate violation of the law to protest an injustice. Those who commit civil disobedience do so to bring about a change in law or public policy. There are many examples of civil disobedience in American history.
In 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists boarded three British tea ships in Boston Harbor and dumped 342 chests of tea overboard. The midnight raid, popularly known as the “Boston Tea Party,” was in protest of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773.
Henry David Thoreau, who, in 1849, literally wrote the book on civil disobedience, protested the Mexican War, the Fugitive Slave Act, and slavery in the South by refusing to pay the state poll tax, an act for which he was arrested and briefly jailed.
Martin Luther King used civil disobedience in the civil rights movement in the form of sit-ins at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, and violating laws and court orders prohibiting marches and boycotts.
The climate movement is full of stories of people who selflessly put their freedom on the line to spur the transition to a carbon-free economy. From Tim DeChristopher (Bidder 70) disrupting a 2008 auction of Utah wildlands for oil drilling, the Native American tribes standing up to the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, to the hundreds of people arrested in front of the White House in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline; regular citizens are responding to the threat of climate change to our planet and to all the life it supports.
Locally, hundreds of Lancaster residents have pledged to resist the construction of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline through Lancaster County. With concerns ranging from climate change, seizure of private property through eminent domain, health and safety risks, and the export of American natural gas via this pipeline, hundreds of Lancaster residents have pledged non-violent civil disobedience to block its construction.
While the President is busy signing executive orders to develop fossil fuel resources that will ultimately worsen climate change, growing numbers of Americans are showing their disagreement with our current laws.
This is evidenced in the trial of Ken Ward on January 30 in a courtroom in Skagit County, Washington. Ward, 60, was one of 5 non-violent protesters facing felony charges after turning the emergency block valves on oil pipelines in Washington, Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota. According to Inside Climate News, “Ward had planned to use what's called the necessity defense in trial, which would have involved calling climate experts to testify the climate crisis is so dire that he had to break the law to protect other citizens from global warming.”
The remarkable part of the trial was even though the presiding judge disallowed the necessity defense, Ward called only himself as a witness, and video evidence showed Ward turning the valve, a jury failed to convict him. "In five hours, the jury was unable to decide that with all of the evidence against me, including the video of me closing the valve, that this was a crime” Ward said in a statement. "This is a tremendous outcome." Mistrial was declared, and on Feb. 14th Ward was ordered to face a new trial.
Climate change is seen by most of the world as a grievous injustice we are committing against future generations and a moral crisis like Dr. King faced in the time of segregation and Thoreau faced in the time of slavery. Thoreau once wrote, “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”
The Trump administration and some in Congress are rolling back climate regulations which would protect the planet while they are attempting to enact new laws to protect polluters. Americans want alternative solutions to climate change, not alternative facts about it. Thoreau’s question weighs heavily on many Americans. As long as Congress offers no solutions, citizens will seek their own.
Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster. He is a member of the York Dispatch Editorial Advisory Board.