North Dakota Tramples Journalist Deia Schlosberg’s Constitutional Right to Cover Historic Climate Protests

“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 ChangeDeia 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_climate-direction-action-activists

(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.

tar-sands-mordor

(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.

Links:

How to Let Go of the World and Love all the Things that Climate Can’t Change

Petition (Please Sign): Drop Charges Against Deia Schlosberg

350.org Please Support

Exclusive Q&A With Deia Schlosberg on Her Arrest While Filming Activist Shutdown of Tar Sands Pipeline

Fossil Fuel Reliance: Tar Sands

First Amendment of the Constitution

Canfield Ocean

Neil Degrasse Tyson Climate Change

NOAA ESRL

Carbon Tracker

Hat tip to Bill McKibben

Hat tip to Seal

Hat tip to DT Lange

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Renewable Energy and The Fierce Urgency of Now: A Second Call For Fossil Fuel Abolition

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now.”

Though these words were spoken in the noble pursuit of the most just of causes by Dr. Martin Luther King many years ago, they have lost none of their potency or relevance. For though those facing economic and social oppression have been justly elevated by the actions of the equality movement Dr. King so eloquently spoke for, we are now in the process of consigning ourselves and our progeny to an entirely different but no less brutal kind of oppression. A world where danger, difficulty, severe environmental hazard and poverty will come as a result of our failure to make the right energy decisions now.

It is a brutal kind of generational theft in which the current wealth of some is dependent on the enslavement of our own children to the spite of a barren and violent world. A world that could best be seen as a curse. A world of rising seas, expanding deserts, of scarce water, of ruined and abandoned cities, a world where the oceans themselves vent poison gas.

That we could set ourselves on such a path requires the very worst kind of social blindness. A zombie state of denial in which we have willfully hidden our faces from the ever-more-visible harm we are causing. For we must be in such a state to even consider the continued use of the dirty and harmful fuels. For we must be lost if we do not understand the pain we will surely inflict on future generations and even ourselves as we inflame our world to conditions not seen in 10 million, 55 million, or 250 million years. As we, with each lighting of a fossil fire, invoke the names of past great extinctions: Eocene, Jurrassic, Permian.

Mass extinction events

(Mass Extinction Events. Two of the three major mass extinctions and many more of the minor mass extinctions over the past 250 million years have been linked to greenhouse gas driven hothouse and Stratified/Canfield Ocean events. Image source: Biodiversity Crisis.)

There is no excuse for keeping on this path. No justification for the harm that would surely come from our continued burning. No rationale that could lend credence to ensuring our world becomes a place of Great Dying.

On March 22, 2013, a call was made for Fossil Fuel Abolition. Only a few have listened. Some, like the nation of Scotland, have pledged to pursue a true construction of that enlightened ‘City on a Hill,’ by harnessing the glorious blaze of solar radiance or the whispering winds of our world.

So I ask, why not America? Is Scottland to boldly lead in the turning away from the path of harm? Is it for America to come up with a vile excuse not to follow? To delay and to therefore cause more harm?

Some among us have turned their face from environmental oppression and asked others to follow. James Hansen, Rachel Carson, Bill McKibben, Joe Romm, Chris Hayes and ever so many more. Yet others dissemble, making false claims, providing rationales for escalating violence. So, in this most desperate hour, we are a house divided. Divided into those who serve a future in which humankind can rationally live and those who serve the Destroyers of the Earth.

This is an unconscionable state and it cannot stand. So the call must again go out.

Fossil Fuel Abolition!

The Morality of Keystone XL Protests in Context: Why Dangerous, Expensive Oil is Best Left In the Ground

NOKXL

(Image source: 350.org)

NASA scientist and climate activist James Hansen has called the tar sands ‘climate game over.’ And it is easy to understand why. Alberta’s tar sands and other deposits like it around the world are the worst polluting form of oil on the planet. The bitumen burns very dirty and is the most carbon intensive fuel on Earth to extract. Currently, Canada uses about 8% of its entire natural gas supply just to push out 1.6 million barrels per day of the toxic stuff. And if greater and greater volumes of tar sands are produced, more and more of this gas supply will be used — before the oil refined from tar sands is even burned in a vehicle.

Some estimates even show that tar sands is as dirty as some forms of coal. So with an estimated 1.7 trillion barrels of ultimately recoverable tar sands sitting under Alberta’s pristine arboreal forests, it is no wonder why James Hansen has called the exploitation of this dirty and expensive resource ‘climate game over.’

 

Oil Companies Push For Exploitation

AlbertaTarSands3_1

(source: Vancouver Observer)

All that said, there remains an economic argument, no matter how morally flimsy, to be made for the exploitation of tar sands and its ongoing ecocide. And what it boils down to is simply this: oil company profits.

The supply of tar sands is very large. And, oil companies reason, if they can get tar sands oil to the international market, where prices have ranged between 100 and 120 dollars per barrel of crude oil, they can make a pretty decent return on their massive investments in exploiting Canada’s tar sands.

The centerpiece of such a push for exploitation is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Without such a pipeline in place, oil companies would be forced to ship tar sands via rail or truck in order to reach international markets. And such shipping would increase costs as much as 20 dollars per barrel, wiping out much of the profit potential for tar sands.

The reason is that the oil is very expensive to extract. All the mining, baking and crushing necessary to remove and process bitumen results in marginal costs for tar sands oil that are now higher, in some cases, than 95 dollars per barrel. In the North American market, where bidding for tar sands oil is about 60 dollars per barrel, a decent portion of the tar sands resource is too expensive to extract. So oil companies are desperate for a low cost means of transport — the Keystone XL pipeline– to bring their tar-oil the Gulf Coast where it can easily access international markets.

Now, should the pipeline go through, oil companies have a rational means to continue expanding dirty, dangerous, and expensive tar sands production indefinitely. If prices remain high — 100 to 120 dollars per barrel or more — tar sands production from Alberta could  rapidly increase over the coming decades. But, without the pipeline, many projects become uneconomical and would be put on hold or shut down indefinitely. And this would mean that a substantial portion of tar sands ends up remaining in the ground — where it can’t make any money for oil companies, and where it also can’t do further harm to the world’s climate.

Now oil companies are very attached to their profits, no matter how much harm such profits may ultimately cause. And the prospect of much of their potential future profits languishing in the ground beneath Alberta is not an appealing prospect for those already invested in tar sands. The result has been a major lobbying effort by oil companies for the US government to allow Keystone to go through. And, now, it appears that much of US government has been swayed to the oil industry’s way of thinking. In fact, without a broad and popular public protest against the pipeline, the project would, likely, have already been completed and the world shackled to yet another climatologically damaging energy resource.

In the final industry and government push to complete the pipeline, the Department of State has produced an inaccurate study in support of approving the pipeline, making the false claim that failure to approve the pipeline would have no impact on tar sands production. Even to the superficial observer, such claims should seem ludicrous, as the industry, itself, has stated in various reports that Keystone is necessary for increasing flows of tar sands oil. In fact, such a pipeline, as the oil companies intend, would pave the way for the production of ever-increasing volumes of the dirty and expensive Alberta oil. Instead, the misleading report seems to attempt to remove a rationale for public opposition to a pipeline that will, indeed, dramatically increase the delivery to market of dirty and climatologically harmful tar.

A Conflict for Our Age

We have entered an age of expensive, difficult to extract, highly polluting, and less useful oil. We have also entered an age of increasingly dangerous impacts from human caused climate change. Oil companies, whose goal it is to convince us to use every drop of crude they can extract will do everything in their power to increase the economic reach of expensive and dirty fuels, extending as far into the future as possible the lifespan of those fuels.

But for us to have much hope for a stable climate and a prosperous future, we must do all we can to ensure such dirty, expensive and climatologically harmful fuels remain in the ground. And so the effort to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline is a moral one. One in which we make the choice for responsibly working for greater access to sustainable energy sources and against fuels that will ultimately wreck our civilization’s future.

For even as the oil, gas and coal companies are struggling to access ever more expensive and harmful energy sources, they also seek to suppress the alternatives. Wind, solar, biofuels, rapidly increasing efficiency, and vehicle to grid technology all represent alternative choices to dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels. And it is a replacement of fossil fuels with these new energy systems which must happen if we are to have a hope of economic prosperity without a combination of ever-worsening climate impacts and ever-increasing and more volatile energy prices.

So the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline is a fight over which future we chose. On the one hand we have a new energy era reliant on the expansion of a fuel source that will do serious, ongoing harm to the climate. On the other a new beginning. One that turns away from the dirty fuel sources and seeks the energies of a new generation. Energy sources that will begin to enable the healing of our climate and the building of a truly sustainable and prosperous society. Not one shackled to the uncertainties of limited and climatologically harmful fuel supplies. But a future based on a solid foundation of predictable outcomes.

That’s what’s at stake here. Rational hope for dealing with the double challenges of climate change and resource depletion. Or a continuation down the path toward ruin. And anyone saying anything different is simply spreading misinformation.

Articles worth reading:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/11/opinion/when-to-say-no-to-the-keystone-xl.html?_r=0

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/11/1697831/march-11-news-nyt-editorial-makes-the-climate-case-against-keystone/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-swift/rail-is-not-an-alternativ_b_2838058.html

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