“We already have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as any scientist thinks is safe to burn.” — Bill McKibben
Deia Schlosberg seems to me to be an exceptionally responsible person. A producer of the Josh Fox film How to Let Go of the World and Love all the Things that Climate Can’t Change, Deia has already helped thousands of people to more deeply understand the very serious risks associated with our continued burning of fossil fuels. To understand it on an intimate, personal level. And for this we owe her not only our gratitude, but the firm affirmation of our voices lifted to support her during her time of unjust persecution.
(Deia Schlosberg [left] and climate activists who briefly shut down TransCanada Tar Sands production on October 11 [right]. Image source: Desmogblog.)
For Deia appears to have earned herself the ire of some of the most powerful and destructive private economic interests on planet Earth. Interests that are apparently now involved in leveraging the loyalty of politically aligned persons within North Dakota law enforcement in an attempt to intimidate and silence this responsible and compassionate journalist.
Journalistic Documentation of an Unprecedented Protest Action
Back on October 11th, Deia provided journalistic coverage of a pipeline protest in Walhalla, North Dakota. The protest involved an act of civil disobedience in which 5 people used shut-off valves to stop tar sands crude transported by TransCanada pipelines from entering the U.S. These five locations were private holdings of TransCanada and represented the main access points for corporate-produced tar sands. When the protesters operated the shut-off valves, TransCanada’s significant flow of greenhouse gas producing syncrude was temporarily halted.
(TransCanada is a corporate producer of tar sands — one of the most environmentally and climatologically destructive fuels on planet Earth. An energy source whose continued use risks extraordinarily damaging climate outcomes. Now that replacement fuels and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biofuels, and electric vehicles are much more readily available, we have an opportunity to turn away from such dangerous activities. For years now, climate activists have been fighting to make the public aware of risks and harms associated with tar sands extraction all while challenging an unhealthy level of economic dominance by fossil fuel interests that prevents and delays access to far less damaging energy sources. Image source: Desmogblog.)
Deia, according to her statements to Desmogblog, was recording the act of civil disobedience by one of the activists operating the shut-off valves — documenting what is likely to become an event of historic importance as a filmmaker and a climate journalist.
Deia noted to Desmogblog:
In general, I felt like this was an extremely important action to document because it was unprecedented — shutting down all of the oil sands coming into the U.S. from Canada. And as a climate reporter and someone who worries about the impacts of climate change and our future, I know that the Canadian oil sands are a pretty scary source of energy to be exploiting at this point.
False Charges That Violate a Journalist’s Constitutionally Protected Freedoms
To be very clear, Deia was both performing a public service by recording an event of historic significance and exercising journalistic freedoms that are held sacred by the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution plainly states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Prosecutors apparently aligned with fossil fuel special interests in North Dakota obviously did not agree. Instead, on October 13th, they brought unwarranted, trumped-up charges against Deia for simply excising her Constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms. Prosecutors claimed that Deia was involved in a conspiracy to steal property, a conspiracy to steal services, and a conspiracy to tamper with or damage a public service.
Ironically, not only do these charges serve to infringe upon the protected freedoms of an American citizen, they also have no legal basis whatsoever. For, acting as an event-documenting journalist, Deia in no way served as an accessory to or conspirator for any crime. Furthermore, the charges leveled by North Dakota do not in any way fit events as they transpired or match the legal definitions of possible crimes as they are technically defined. No property or services were stolen as part of the protest action. Access to tar sands crude was simply briefly interrupted. And since TransCanada is a private corporation that profits from its sales of tar sands to agencies within the U.S., labeling its wealth-seeking activity as a ‘public service’ is the very definition of inaccurate legalistic contortion.
Moreover, Deia’s record of the pipeline shut-off by activists has been unjustly and probably unlawfully confiscated. An action that removes from the public eye a critical piece of reporting related to an event of historic human welfare significance.
The Risk From Continuing to Burn Fossil Fuels is Human Civilization Collapse, Mass Extinction
In the context of Deia’s climate journalism, we should very clearly identify the climate harms and risks that arise from continuing to burn fossil fuels and in expanding that rate of burning. And we should also state plainly that it is these harms, these risks which provide strong justification on moral, survival, and human safety and welfare grounds for the actions made by protesters covered by Deia.
The science is pretty clear on the fact that of the five major mass extinction events that have occurred on planet Earth, at least four were set off or greatly contributed to by large environmental carbon releases and related rising global temperatures. This includes the worst mass extinction event — the Permian — in which hothouse temperatures may have produced a Canfield Ocean that, in turn, wiped out most of life on Earth.
Based on our best understanding, it takes an atmospheric equivalent CO2 level (CO2e) of around 550 to 1000 parts per million under current conditions to generate an appreciable risk of setting off a hothouse mass extinction event. This is particularly true if, as is the case today, such an initial carbon spike occurs following periods of glaciation when Earth’s available carbon stores for providing added warming feedbacks are at their highest levels. Meanwhile, the currently unprecedented rate at which human beings are adding carbon to the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning presents further risks outside the context of past hothouse events.
(Neil Degrasse Tyson — ‘I don’t want Earth to look like Venus.’)
We’ve already pushed CO2 levels, through our burning of fossil fuels and through other industrial activities, to above 400 parts per million (and to around 490 parts per million on the CO2 equivalent scale during 2016). The amount of carbon in the atmosphere already is currently enough to risk raising global temperatures this Century to 1.6 to 2.1 degrees Celsius above 188os values, to risk amplifying feedbacks in which the Earth System produces its own carbon spike that adds to the human sources, and to present serious challenges to the resiliency of human civilization and life on Earth.
But, even worse, there’s presently enough carbon listed as proven reserves on the books of coal, oil, and gas companies across the world to push atmospheric CO2 equivalent levels well above 900 parts per million. If we burn all this carbon, or if we discover and extract even more, we will see between 4 and 9 degrees Celsius warming this century and possibly as much as 9-18 C warming in the centuries to follow. So much burning and resulting heating of the Earth would set off a catastrophe that no current human civilization would be likely to survive. One that could also cause the worst mass extinction event in all of the deep, deep time of Earth’s long history.
These basic facts may be difficult for some to hear and understand — especially when they’ve staked their aspirations for economic growth on the false hope represented by fossil fuels. But, as tough as these facts are to listen to, they remain. Continuing to burn fossil fuels will wreck civilizations, disrupt growing seasons, raise sea levels, generate storms the likes of which we have never seen, evaporate water supplies, and transform our now benevolent and life-supporting oceans into a toxin-producing mass extinction engine.
In the face of such terrible harms, we as American citizens and as human beings have the responsibility to stand up and do what we can to help people avoid them. To help people make the right choices and to shine a light in the dark places where harms are currently being committed. Deia was within her rights to do just that in documenting a climate action by protesters who voluntarily risked arrest so that the rest of us could, yet again, have the opportunity to make the right choices before it’s too late.
Hat tip to Bill McKibben
Hat tip to Seal
Hat tip to DT Lange