Tim DeChristopher is a free man. Somehow, putting an exclamation point after that sentence seems redundant. Because DeChristopher has always been free. It’s just that the federal government locked him up for two years because as an act of conscience he bid $1.8 million for oil and gas leases on public lands. He didn’t have the money, and it was felonious to say that he did.
Yesterday, he was released from the half-way house in Salt Lake City where he has served the last few months of his sentence. Before that he was in prison, where he was disciplined for sending an email with a stint in a restrictive housing (SHU). An economics major in college, DeChristopher knew he was challenging not only the federal government but the oil and gas industry’s power over it and our entire economy. They’ve made a movie about him, Bidder 70, and he’ll make his first public appearance at its release today, Earth Day. His plans call for enrollment in Harvard Divinity School, after which he plans to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Peaceful Uprising, the environmental organization he helped found, is thriving.
We’ve run a jagged course since the first Earth Day in 1970. For a while, it seemed that the United States was determined to break its dependence on fossil fuels and clean up Earth’s atmosphere. We passed legislation to curb toxic emissions into our air and water. We bought smaller cars. We learned to recycle materials like plastics that depend on oil as a base. We harnessed energy from the sun and wind to create electricity. We pushed back our thermostats and bought more efficient light bulbs.
Many of us have changed our habits. Some of us concentrate on what we eat—little or no animal products and organic produce. Others drive more efficient cars, take public transportation, ride bicycles or walk more. Still others focus on building more energy efficient structures in which to live and do business. We may teach our children to respect the Earth. I know individuals who do all these things, and I myself do some of them. I believe they are an important part of modern spiritual practice. But our economy and our nation’s government keep steamrollering past us, and that’s a paradigm DeChristopher is trying to change.
In 1980, we elected a president who was once a spokesman for General Electric. Rather than attack the environmental movement, he scoffed at it and dismissed it as alarmist. He took down the solar panels his predecessor had erected on the White House roof. He gave the green light to larger and larger vehicles. And his administration began to dismantle the regulations that had been placed on manufacturing and business as unnecessary and even harmful to the economy.
I wish I could say that the Democrat we elected in 1992 set things straight, but that is not the case. Instead, we hoped that a burst in technological innovation would get us out of our predicament. His vice president took the planet’s precariousness far more seriously, but he was defeated when he ran for the presidency, and his efforts as a private citizen have met with mixed success.
It seems unnecessary to recount the disgraceful record dominated by oil and gas interests of the administration that followed except to say that we still do not know what the vice president who called industry officials to the White House agreed to. But the public paradigm suddenly shifted from intention to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels to reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
Yesterday, driving across a vast and haunting landscape that includes both Ute and Navajo reservations, I turned on the radio to hear an address given by Japanese Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki. Suzuki is interested in how whole societies can ignore the advice of half the living Nobel prizewinners to take drastic steps to stop climate change. He’s particularly appalled by Alberta’s decision to extract oil from its tar sands. And yet, he asked doomsayers who maintain it’s too late to save the human race to shut up. He’s hopeful that it’s not.
Right now we stand on the cusp of decisions that could further tilt Earth’s carbon dioxide balance toward toxic human levels. Our State Department still weighs approval of the Keystone Pipeline that will take dirty oil from Alberta across a vast swath of our nation to the sea. You can still register your comments here http://act.350.org/letter/kxl-sprint-day-4/?akid=3007.883890.S9-Axv&rd=1&t=1
In some states, the process known as fracking is being used to extract natural gas from below the surface that also shelters our ground water. Yet the chemicals used for this process have never been revealed and governments that permit fracking have not even required them to be listed. New York State is still considering fracking, and you can call Governor Andrew Cuomo at 518-474-8390 or 212-681-4580.
Maybe you’re not as brave as Tim DeChristopher. I know I’m not, but I am grateful for his sacrifice, and believe that private conservation is now too incremental to arrest climate change. I hope you’ll find a way to take a public stand.
The California cognitive scientist George Lakoff http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/08/25_lakoff.shtml has urged Democrats to resist Republican attempts to influence policy by “framing” it in language that obscures its true nature—death tax rather than inheritance tax, entitlement programs rather than veterans’ benefits and social security, and, of course, “pro-life” to cover a whole lot of issues that are less than life-enhancing to many sentient beings.
Democrats attempted this with some success, but most of the time, the Democratic problem has been a lack of imagination and courage. As Team Obama gears up for a new beginning, here are some of my ideas for them:
It’s time for Barack Obama to get angry. Not as a black man, but as an American. Because too much is at stake if he doesn’t. The Bush Administration, with Dick Cheney in the role of the Wizard of Oz, has taken us down a path that menaces not just our own people but the entire world, and they are not turning back. Righteous anger is the correct response, and the only one that can save us.
It’s been a long time since I’ve rested as well as I did last night.
Thank you, Bill Clinton, for delivering a ringing, unequivocal endorsement of Barack Obama. Thank you, Barack Obama, for choosing a running mate who is not afraid to speak truth to power. Joe Biden finally confronted the debacle that Republicans have visited upon the American people. And he addressed directly the “issue” of Barack Obama’s patriotism by introducing his great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald. Nice touch.
Random reflections on politics, the media, political activism, women's lives and spirituality, often inspired by travel, cultural events or what I read.
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