• VIDEOS: MICHAEL FOSTER guest sermon at UU Church, Goleta CA
(Recorded February 12, 2017)
While many churches have thus far served as local venues for climate activist groups to host events featuring the VALVE TURNERS in Washington, Oregon, and California, Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Goleta CA stepped forward to be the first church to welcome a Valve Turner into the pulpit at a Sunday morning service. The entire 7-minute Valve Turner Video was played during the service, prior to the sermon; this set a crucial context for the speaker.
• 57-minute Joint Sermon with Rev. Michael Dowd|
Click on timecodes to go directly to that segment of the video:
00:02 Title, guest speakers, 12 February (2 min)
00:16 Welcome by Drew Carter & bio of Rev. Dowd (2 min)
02:20 "Hieroglyphic Stairway" poem by Drew Dellinger (3 min)
05:00 Message for All Ages - Michael Dowd (3.5 min)
08:27 VIDEO:"Shut It Down Today" & intro by Michael Dowd (8 min)
16:47 Reading: Quote by Terry Tempest Williams (1 min)
17:49 SERMON pt 1 - Michael DOWD (6 min)
24:00 SERMON pt 2 - Michael FOSTER (15 min)
39:40 SERMON pt 3 - Michael DOWD (10 min)
49:52 Michael Foster - Closing words (2 min)
52:18 Michael Dowd - Closing words & Benediction (1 min)
53:20 Musical Postlude - "We Hold These Truths" - music & lyrics by church members Carrie Topliffe & John Douglas (4 min)
• February 13, 2017 - "Without Consent: Tar Sands Valve Turners visit UC Berkeley", by Steve Masover, Daily Kos
• February 13, 2017 - "Climate Disobedience in the Time of Trump", by Wen Stephenson, The Nation
Editor's note: The journalist begins with five paragraphs of background, and then a long Q&A with two of the Valve Turners, presented by this tagline: "Ken Ward and Emily Johnston are willing to spend decades in prison for shutting down tar-sands oil pipelines. They want you to understand why."
"VIDEO: 'Valve turners' discuss value of civil disobedience", reporting by Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego Tribune online.|
February 14, 2017.
TEXT EXCERPTS: "SanDiego350, the local affiliate of the national grassroots group 350.org, hosted four of the Valve Turners on Monday night in a free event to facilitate a conversation about the value of such protests. Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston, Leonard Higgins and Michael Foster spoke to a crowd of local activists."
Editor's note: The VIDEO includes interviews of the 2 women who shut down tar-sands pipelines in Minnesota: Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston, plus documentary footage of the action, and comments by a SanDiego350 leader.
NEWS: "'Valve Turners' Get Warm Welcome", reporting by Bennett Hall, Corvallis Gazette-Times, 27 February 2017.|
"The crowd stood and applauded when the six took the podium, cheered loudly at several points during the presentation and gave the speakers a standing ovation at the end of the two-hour event."
"I think now is the time when direct action and civil disobedience is particularly needed," Leonard Higgins said. "We do need to change the concept of what's politically possible." ... "If you're an older white person, this is your job," Annette Klapstein said. "It's up to us to take these risks."
Editor's note: This is a superb article for accessing quotations by each of the Valve Turners. Kathleen Dean Moore served as moderator. The event attracted an audience of 150 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Corvallis.
Two videos of the Corvallis event were livestreamed onto Facebook: Video 11 minutes and Video 10 minutes. Key quotes:
Annette: "If you're and older person, this is your job" • Michael: "I still can't believe it; this hand shut off the Keystone 1 pipeline!" • Emily: "We really have no choice; we have to stop it and we can stop it, because those pipelines come through our communities."
• March 6, 2017 - AUDIO: "Meet the Standing Rock Pipeline Protesting 'Valve Turners' Facing Criminal Charges", on The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC. Valve Turner Ken Ward and documentarian Steve Liptay are interviewed on radio for 17 minutes.
• March 10, 2017 - "As Their Trials Begin, Climate Protecting 'Valve Turners' Say 'Shut It Down' Is 'Necessity'", by Jeremy Brecher, Common Dreams (website). Lengthy background article (and supportive advocacy) focuses on the Necessity Defense and the history of how its practice has brought about pivotal changes in America (and is continuing to do so for re-stabilizing climate). Highly recommended for educational purposes in classrooms, churches, and activism meetings.
EXCERPTS: The Valve Turners are asking to present what is called a necessity defense. Though not widely known, this defense is well established in Anglo-American common law; as early as 1550, an English merchant who dumped passengers' cargo overboard was acquitted on the grounds that his action was necessary to prevent their ship from capsizing. While judges very often resist such necessity claims, since the 1970s hundreds of people who have committed civil disobedience in service of the public good have been acquitted on the grounds that their actions were taken to prevent a greater harm.
To make a necessity defense, the accused must prove that they believed their act was necessary to avoid or minimize a harm; that the harm was greater than the harm resulting from the violation of the law; and that there were no reasonable legal alternatives. As the state of Washington Supreme Court put it, the necessity doctrine provides that an act is justified "if it by necessity is taken in a reasonable belief that the harm or evil to be prevented by the act is greater than the harm caused by violating the criminal statute."
So first of all, the Valve Turners will have to prove to the court that the harm of climate change is greater than that of shutting a pipeline. They will seek to call expert witnesses who will have no difficulty laying out the catastrophic current and future effects of fossil fuel emissions. They can point out that in a recent federal court case the U.S. government acknowledged that climate change poses "a monumental threat to Americans' health and welfare" by "driving long-lasting changes in our climate," leading to an array of "severe negative effects, which will worsen over time." As Ken Ward has put it, "In this context and with these terrible imperatives, my actions of walking across a field and cutting a fence chain are inconsequential and excusable compared to the ghastly effect of continuing to burn tar sands oil."
Many of the Valve Turners have had direct experience with the effectiveness of such actions. In 2013 Ken Ward blocked coal shipments to the Brayton Point power plant in Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter the new owners of the plant announced its closing. Annette Klapstein participated in a in the Shell No! civil disobedience campaign against arctic drilling, including blockading the Port of Seattle for a day, which contributed to Shell Oil's decision to cease operations in the Arctic.
In a case brought by Our Children's Trust on behalf of 21 young people against the federal government, Judge Aiken ruled that if "governmental action is affirmatively and substantially damaging the climate system in a way that will cause human deaths, shorten human lifespans, result in widespread damage to property, threaten human food sources, and dramatically alter the planet's ecosystem," then those affected have a claim for protection of their life and liberty under the fifth amendment. "To hold otherwise would be to say that the Constitution affords no protection against a government's knowing decision to poison the air its citizens breathe or the water its citizens drink." Judge Aiken also ruled that if the government was knowingly destroying the earth's climate, it was in violation of the public trust doctrine, which requires governments to act as trustees for essential natural resources. She quoted a judicial opinion that that the right of future generations to a "balanced and healthful ecology" is so basic that it "need not even be written in the Constitution" for it is "assumed to exist from the inception of humankind."..."We don't all have to do the same thing," [Emily Johnston] emphasizes, "nor should we." But "we all have to do something." Because otherwise, "we're passively consenting to the devastation of most life on earth."
VIDEO: Guest sermon by Ken Ward at Northshore UCC|
Woodinville WA, delivered 19 March 2017
"Love in a Time of Cataclysm" is the sermon title.
Sermon text is available online.
Excerpt: "By our action we hope to serve as a pivot point on which the course of history turns, but those odds seem long. Given the choice, however, none of us would act differently. This is our expression of love for all living things, for our children, for all peoples, for our enemies, and for life."
• March 23, 2017 - "Activists employ 'necessity' strategy in pipeline trials", by Alex Sakariassen, Missoula Independent.
EXCERPTS: ... The months since Higgins, Ward and their cohorts broke into remote pipeline valve stations with bolt cutters have been packed with shifting trial dates, court hearings and, in Ward's case, a hung jury. Higgins is currently scheduled for a pretrial hearing in Fort Benton in May, with a tentative trial date of July 18. According to 350 Montana chair Jeff Smith, whose nonprofit hosted an event with Higgins late last year, Higgins plans to return to Missoula May 13 and 14 for speaking appearances that will double as a pitch for support in his legal battle. He's facing charges of misdemeanor criminal trespass and felony criminal mischief for breaking into a Spectra Express Pipeline station several miles south of Big Sandy and manually closing the shut-off valve.
There's no debating the facts of what Higgins did. All the valve turners' actions were livestreamed on social media, and Higgins has talked openly about the months of planning and preparation that went into the shutdown. Higgins doesn't plan to refute any of this in court. Instead, he plans to enter a so-called necessity defense, arguing that given the responsibility to protect innocent people from the ravages of climate change, he had no choice but to take illegal action.
The strategy is not without precedent. Six Greenpeace activists used it in 2008 after they shut down a coal-fired power plant in Kent, England, by scaling its 200-meter smokestack. All six were cleared by a jury, prompting international news outlets to speculate that the tactic would catch fire in the environmental community. In 2014, Ward and another climate activist employed a necessity defense to fight criminal charges over their use of a lobster boat to block delivery of a 40,000-ton coal shipment to a power station in Somerset, Mass. That case never made it to trial. Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter dropped the charges and took the opportunity to proclaim climate change "one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced."
"When activists take these actions, they mean it," says Jay O'Hara, Ward's partner in the coal blockade and a founding member of the nonprofit Civil Disobedience Center, which is now supporting the valve turners with legal and financial assistance. "So how do you say, 'I meant it?' [The necessity defense] is less about publicity and more about embodying the convictions of, 'This is the right thing to do. I'm not going to evade responsibility.'"
"Montana is as good a place as any to have that conversation [on climate change]," he says, "and this is exactly where these conversations should be happening. It shouldn't be a liberal elitist conversation. It's a conversation we need to have in the heart of America with average, everyday citizens."
FILM TRAILER: "The Reluctant Activist (on Ken Ward)|
April 3, 2017 - Although the trailer has been released, filming will continue through Ken Ward's retrial in Skagit County WA in late May, with anticipated late summer opening of this documentary.
Click the link above to watch the 02:31 trailer and to read the film's synopsis, which centers on a short bio of Ward.
"Skagit County Jury Refuses to Convict Six of Those Arrested During 'Break Free' Climate Protests", by Sara Bernard, Seattle Weekly.|
April 17, 2017 -"Last May, thousands of people flocked to Anacortes to stage a massive, three-day climate protest at the site of the two largest oil refineries in Washington state. Hundreds pledged to commit civil disobedience there, and sure enough, 52 were arrested in the wee hours of the final morning for refusing to leave the oil-train tracks they'd occupied for 36 hours.
Most of the 52 were ultimately charged with second-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor that carries a light penalty: A $250 fine and an eight-hour community service requirement. This spring, as their Skagit County trials began (there will be seven in total), jury after jury served each set of defendants their small convictions, regardless of any climate-crisis or legal arguments they or their lawyers made. But on Friday, during the fifth trial, two jurors refused to do so despite what Joldersma [far left in photo] describes as an unsympathetic judge and aggressive prosecutor. "The presumption of guilt was palpable" in the courtroom, he says. From his point of view, "The judge clearly thought we were guilty. To me, it seemed like she felt like she was going through the motions."
The facts of the case were never in question; all defendants claimed they were sitting on those train tracks at that time. They just said they did so because the climate crisis demands it. And two of the jurors, including Skagit County resident Karen Swan, believed them. "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your stand and your risk, I'm honored to have been a juror in your case," Swan said, in a statement to the defendants. "I can very much relate to you in regards to the emotional pain I feel about our world and the destruction of people and the environment."
VIDEO: Higgins & Foster - From Climate Despair to Direct Action|
April 17, 2017 - Two Valve Turners, along with the documentarian facing charges for filming the action in North Dakota (Steve Liptay), spoke at a college-wide seminar for the Earth Week theme of Climate Direct Action. The event took place at Highline College (Des Moines, Washington on the south side of Seattle).
This reworked video is just the 9-minute segment of responses given by Leonard Higgins and Michael Foster on the issue of acknowledging one's despair, working through the process, and then initiating action.
The full 37-minute video recorded by the college can be accessed here.
• May 7, 2017 - "Spinning the Wheel: Corvallis 'valve turner' gambles climate protests will pay off", by Bennett Hall, Corvallis Gazette Times.
Editor's note - This lengthy news article is perhaps the most in-depth article presenting not only Leonard Higgins' background and perspective but also the details of the shut-down pipeline actions of all five of the 'valve turners', including safety considerations (and oppositional arguments).
EXCERPTS: Leonard Higgins is a foot soldier in the fight against global warming.
In late 2012 he helped launch 350 Corvallis, the local chapter of an international organization that pressures governments to take action on climate change. The following year he was one of about 40,000 people who took part in the Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C., and that fall he helped lead a demonstration against the Keystone XL oil pipeline at the Corvallis office of the Environmental Protection Agency.
He signed petitions, attended legislative hearings, toted protest signs and reduced his personal carbon footprint. He shackled himself to an 18-wheeler at the Port of Umatilla to halt a drilling equipment "megaload" destined for the Canadian oilfields, fought against the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay and blockaded railroad tracks in Anacortes, Washington, to prevent oil shipments from reaching refineries there.
None of it worked...."Despite what Obama was saying, we weren't taking the aggressive action that was needed, and we weren't taking a leadership role in the world," he said. "It was obvious that something more needed to be done."
EXCERPTS cont: After closing the valves, the activists locked the wheels in the off position and placed flowers or leaves as a token of respect for the environment, then waited for the authorities while supporters outside the enclosure live-streamed their actions on social media and independent filmmakers videotaped the events. None of them tried to leave the scene. "We didn't want to do that and just run away, like fugitives," Higgins said. "We wanted to demonstrate what we believe is the responsibility of all good citizens, what patriotism looks like now."
• May 11, 2017 - "Havre judge denies valve-turner Leonard Higgins' 'necessity defense'", by Alex Sakariassen, Missoula Independent.
FULL TEXT: Leonard Higgins is preparing to go to prison. The wind dishevels his white hair as he talks about swinging by Deer Lodge between speaking engagements in Missoula and Bozeman this month, just to scope things out. He's already spoken with his partner back home in Corvallis, Ore., about how they'll stay in touch if he's incarcerated, about how often she'll be able to visit.
"I think the odds are against me," says Higgins, 65, "so I'm preparing for being convicted and serving whatever sentence the judge decrees." Even so, this soft-spoken activist, who until last year balked at the thought of public speaking, isn't exactly giving up. Higgins committed to the possibility of jail time well before he broke into a Spectra Express Pipeline station south of Big Sandy last October and shut down the flow of oil. His actions aren't disputed in the case now headed to trial in Fort Benton on July 18, and he says he isn't shirking responsibility for his civil disobedience. "There couldn't be anything further from the truth. I'm asking people and the court to step up alongside me to take responsibility for what's happening."
That's not how Judge Daniel Boucher viewed the situation in Chouteau County last month. On April 12, Boucher issued an order denying Higgins' request to present a necessity defense an argument that Higgins' actions were necessitated by the immediate danger that climate change poses to his family, his friends, and every other human on earth. Boucher asserted that in attempting to enter such a defense, Higgins "cringes from the individual responsibility that historically accompanies protest and social change." And Boucher didn't stop there. "It is clear from his memorandum that Higgins expects to attract publicity through his trial," Boucher wrote, "and in turn, to place U.S. energy policy on trial."
Higgins has already attracted a significant amount of publicity. He and several fellow valve-turners have spoken at universities and Unitarian fellowships along the West Coast, and are beginning an East Coast tour in early June. Higgins Skyped into a house party in Montreal in April, recently attended a direct action workshop in Bozeman, and has upcoming appearances in Whitefish and Missoula (the latter hosted by 350 Montana on May 13). "I'm hoping to impart a sense of emergency, a sense of personal responsibility to respond," Higgins says.
Higgins and his legal team are also busy crafting an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, in the hopes that the justices will disagree with Boucher's assessment and allow his necessity defense to proceed. Without it, Higgins says, he's unsure how much latitude he'll have to explain the motivations for his actions. "It's an act of desperation," he says. "I don't think that there's a direct cause and effect that my taking this action will carry the day, but it contributes, just as in other acts of civil resistance in other movements in the past."
VIDEO: Withdrawing Consent - Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston on shutting down tar sands pipelines|
(posted) May 11, 2017 - Dec 2016 Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein joined with the three other 'valve turners' in speaking to an enthusiastic audience in Seattle two months after the group had shut down all five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands in the USA. The two women worked together in shutting down two tar sands pipelines in a remote location in northern Minnesota. Here they speak about the underlying imperative.
Note: This short video contains excerpts from an hour-long video filmed by Ed Mays at the Seattle event, and then posted on his youtube channel here: https://youtu.be/00twEWG1T2w
• May 12, 2017 - "In Landmark Climate Activist Trials, Judges Deny Defendants' Requests To Let Juries Hear Evidence About Climate Change", MenaFN.com, via Investorideas.com Newswire.
EXCERPT: In the landmark case of Ken Ward, one of several climate activist facing severe felony charges for shutting the emergency valves on pipelines carrying oil sands, Judge Michael E. Rickert of Skagit County Superior Court in Washington state yesterday for a second time denied the request for a "necessity defense." Note: 13 paragraphs follow.
• May 18, 2017 - "Canadian Prime Minister Wrapping Up Seattle Visit" - KUOW FM Radio, Seattle. In this 1-minute audio (with text transcription), valve turner Michael Foster, supplies the quotation representing the group of Seattle residents protesting Trudeau's support for development and foreign sale of Canadian tar sands oil. "We're here to pray, and to sing, and to make noise, and let Prime Minister Trudeau know that these pipelines must not be approved and will be stopped by the people," Foster said.
VIDEO: Leonard Higgins - What Can I Do About Climate Change?|
(posted) May 14, 2017 - Dec 2016 Leonard Higgins joined with the four other 'valve turners' in speaking to an enthusiastic audience in Seattle just two months after the group simultaneously shut down all five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands in the USA.
Higgins shut down the tar sands pipeline in a remote location in Montana. Here he talks about why; given the severe climate crisis, he felt "called" to do so. He explains that climate activists who undertake direct action are fulfilling a public necessity and thereby defending the right of future generations to a livable planet.
Note: This short video contains excerpts from an hour-long video filmed by Ed Mays at the Seattle event, and then posted on his youtube channel here: https://youtu.be/00twEWG1T2w
VIDEO: Emily Johnston - Withdrawing Consent from Catastrophe|
(posted) May 31, 2017 - On May 21, Emily Johnston presented an invited sermon at Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church in Kirkland, WA.
Ms. Johnston's sermon text is available in full online. The youtube caption excerpts her conclusion, which begins on the video at timecode 19:27
Her last paragraph: "We face a profoundly uncertain future, but all we really need for the road ahead is our moral compass and our deep and abiding love. I am asking you I am begging you to think about what that means to you, and what you can do rise to the challenge. My life, and your life, and all the life around us they're worth fighting for."
• May 31, 2017 - Op-Ed by KEN WARD: "In praise of Trump pulling out of the Paris climate pact", The Hill.
EXCERPTS: "...The value of the Paris Agreement is in its aspirational goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, not in its implementation mechanisms, which are voluntary, insufficient, and impossible to monitor. But that modest goal will be breached shortly, which makes the agreement a kind of fig leaf, offering political cover to those who would soft-pedal the runaway climate crisis a while longer... In fact, since the agreement lacks teeth, breaking it won't have any effect on the climate in the short term. But in the longer term, the shock and rethinking it will cause in some circles just might precipitate political and cultural changes we need to stave off climate cataclysm.
"...I welcome pulling out of the Paris agreement because it will disrupt our complacency and strengthen the most vigorous avenues of climate action left to us, which are through the courts and direct citizen action. It lends much more credence to the Our Children's Trust legal argument that the federal government has utterly failed in its responsibility to consider the long-term impact of carbon emissions. It advances the arguments of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in their federal lawsuit for the right to a livable climate. And it strengthens the case for climate activists attempting to raise the 'necessity defense' as a justification for citizen climate action, as I and my fellow 'valve turners' are doing as we face criminal charges for shutting off emergency valves on oil sands pipelines..."
• Summer 2017 - Essay by KEN WARD: "No Regrets", Earth Island Journal.
EXCERPTS:"October 11 of last year was a crisp, clear day in Skagit County, Washington. I left my motel room an hour before sunrise and drove a couple of miles to a TransCanada pipeline maintenance site in Burlington. Carrying bolt cutters and a bundle of sunflowers, I walked across an open field just as the sun rose. Reaching a chain link fence surrounding the site, I cut a chain securing a gate, entered the facility, cut another chain on an emergency block valve, and then manually closed the valve, stopping the flow of oil through the TransCanada pipeline, which runs from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Anacortes and outside Bellingham.
"... I went to trial in January on two felony charges of burglary and sabotage. The court refused to permit a necessity defense. That defense would have allowed me to argue that I broke the law in response to an emergency, in this case, climate change, and to present expert witnesses to testify to the gravity of the climate crisis, as well as evidence of the efficacy of nonviolent direct action in addressing precisely this kind of socio-political problem.
"... Denied a necessity defense, I was allowed some small leeway to introduce a barest minimum of climate science in my direct testimony, as it related to my state of mind. That was sufficient for at least one juror to refuse to convict, and the trial ended in a hung jury. My four fellow 'valveturners' also face felony charges, along with three supporters, who took no direct part in the actions, and one videographer.
"... Since the action, I've been asked a number of personal questions: How did you feel? Do you have regrets? Would you do it again? And, as a parent who still has kids at home: How do you balance the risk of incarceration against your parental responsibilities?..."
• June 2, 2017 - "'Valve Turner' from Oregon Faces Trial in Washington for Pipeline Protest", by Ellis O'Neal, KUOW RADIO, OPB FM.
EXCERPTS: An Oregon man is set to be tried Monday in a Western Washington courtroom after for turning off a pipeline that brings Canadian oil into the U.S. It's his second trial for the shut-off; the first trial, in January, ended in a hung jury... "We are trying to create a public ruckus around the reality of what's happening to our earth," said Ward, a resident of Corbett.... "Nonviolent climate direct action is the last thing that's available," he said.
Ward wanted to bring climate scientists before the court to argue that climate change is imminent and turning off the pipeline was therefore necessary, but the judge denied him that defense. So Ward says, if he's found guilty, he'll appeal.
• June 7, 2017 - "Split Decision: Valve-Turner and Climate Activist Ken Ward Convicted On One Count", by Sara Bernard, Seattle Weekly.
EXCERPTS: On Wednesday, a Skagit County jury found climate activist Ken Ward guilty of one of the charges brought against him for closing an emergency shutoff valve on a tar sands pipeline near Anacortes last October. While the jury deadlocked on the question of 'sabotage,' they ultimately determined that Ward was guilty of second-degree burglary, a charge that carries up to a decade in prison, and/or up to $20,000 in fines.
• June 8, 2017 - "Finding Arguments About Climate Change's Urgency Compelling, Jury Renders Split Decision In Criminal Trial of Climate Activist Ken Ward", (source: Shut It Down Today) MENAFN.com.
...It was Ward's second trial. In January, a different jury was unable to reach any verdict at all a surprising, temporary win for the defense team. In both trials, Ward's attorneys were not allowed to use the 'necessity defense,' a legal principle that says a crime can be necessary if it's done to prevent greater harm (in this case, the greater harm of climate change). Jurors were instructed only to see the facts of the case and to hear Ward's arguments about his own motivation, which stems from decades of working on climate policy via legal means..."My expectation going into this all along," Ward says, "was that unless we were able to include the necessity defense, it was highly unlikely for a jury to find me anything other than guilty."
...A former deputy executive director for Greenpeace USA and former president of the National Environmental Law Center, Ward says breaking the law for the climate now is "a result of everything else failing."
He feels optimistic about an appeal, too, because when he spoke with some of the jurors after the verdict, "what was quite clear [was] if we'd had any opportunity to offer a necessity defense, I think they would have found me innocent, or at least a hung jury. They describe the whole group as being quite convinced by even the small amount of climate information that I was able to get across..."
EXCERPTS: Today a jury reached a split decision in the landmark trial of "valve turner" Ken Ward on charges of second-degree burglary and sabotage...There is no dispute about the facts in the case. Ward freely admits he closed an emergency valve on a tar sands pipeline to prevent harm to the climate, as part of a coordinated action in four states taken in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock. In fact, Ward's supporters called the company in advance to allay any safety concerns over closing the valve, Ward livestreamed his action, and waited for the police to come and arrest him.
• June 12, 2017 - "Rhode Island Native Guilty on 1 Charge; Hung Jury on Sabotage", by Tim Faulkner, Eco Rhode Island News.
What is disputed is whether it is just or legal to convict Ward of felony crimes for acting peacefully and responsibly to prevent greater harm to the climate. In both trials, Ward was denied the right to a "necessity defense," which means he was barred from calling expert witnesses and submitting expert testimony on the severity and urgency of the climate emergency that prompted him to act.
..."It was illuminating to talk to the jurors after the trial," said Ward, "because they made clear that if we had been able to offer necessity defense and give them a legal basis not to convict we would have had a hung jury for both charges, not just for sabotage. The jurors found the conversation about where we are with climate change compelling and convincing. I'm leaving this trial heartened, knowing that we are bringing these arguments into the jury system, and I look forward to arguing before a higher court that necessity defense should be allowed for citizen climate action. That will make all the difference."
"We thank the jury for their service; they did the best they could with what the court provided them," said Lauren C. Regan, attorney and Founder/Executive Director of the The Civil Liberties Defense Center. "We recognize their ability to judge the case was limited by the court's denial of the necessity defense. We will appeal and we hope to try the case again."
..."Especially in a situation like this, where Mr. Ward took courageous action in the public interest, the jury must be allowed to hear both sides of the story not just the government's biased view of what acceptable activism looks like," said Kelsey Skaggs, a staff attorney at the Climate Defense Project and a member of Mr. Ward's defense team. "Even though Mr. Ward's constitutional right to defend himself was violated which we will address on appeal the prosecution failed twice to convict Mr. Ward of sabotage, which is a big win against the criminalization of protest."
Recently, Judge Daniel Boucher of Montana's Twelfth Judicial District Court similarly denied a necessity defense to Leonard Higgins, another "valve turner" who acted simultaneously with Ward. Higgins faces charges of criminal trespass and criminal mischief (a felony), carrying up to 10 years in jail and fines of up to 50,000, for shutting the emergency valve on the Spectra Energy Express oil sands pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Montana. Like Ward, Higgins notified the company in advance, documented his action and waited for law enforcement. As in Ward's case, the judge also ruled testimony about climate change and civil disobedience "irrelevant" in Higgins' case. Higgins trial is currently scheduled to start July 18.
But the necessity defense has been deemed relevant and used successfully by climate activists before, and some legal scholars say the case for applying it to climate action is getting stronger all the time as climate change becomes more obvious and scientific evidence mounts, while US government doubles down on subsidizing and deregulating the fossil fuel industry, defunding climate programs and research, and withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. Increasingly, citizen climate action looks like the only effective kind, and more and more "necessary."
..."The actions of Ken and many others aren't some aberration of disobedience," wrote Anthony Rogers-Wright, US coordinator of The Leap, "but a concerted strategy at this late hour to save what chance we have left for a livable future."
EXCERPTS: Providence native Ken Ward continues to skirt harsh penalties for committing unlawful acts in the name of climate change. In the so-called 'valve-turner' trail that concluded June 7, Ward was found guilty of second-degree burglary. The jury, however, was unable to reach a verdict on the more serious charge of sabotage. The district attorney in Skagit County District Court in Mount Vernon, Wash., hasn't said if Ward will be tried a third time.
The trial is a second attempt to convict Ward for cutting the lock on a valve station in Burlington, Wash., and closing a valve on the Kinder Morgan-owned Trans Mountain Pipeline...The sentencing for the burglary charge is scheduled for June 22. Ward, however, is appealing the conviction on grounds that the judge refused his necessity defense. The legal reasoning posits that Ward's crimes were done out of a moral obligation to combat climate change. By blocking the argument, the judge denied testimony from climate-change experts and research showing its impact on the environment. "I relish the opportunity to return to Mount Vernon and retry the case with a full necessity defense when we win on appeal," Ward said after the trial.
"These trials, rather than being an obscure legal argument, are an opportunity to open the floodgates on a nonviolent movement of climate disobedience," wrote Jay O' Hara, who co-founded the Climate Disobedience Center with Ward, Tim Dechristopher and Marla Marcum. O'Hara said that jurors he spoke to after the valve-turner trail were looking for a legal path to acquit Ward.
• June 22, 2017 - "Dissidents Ramp Up Direct Action Against Climate Destroyers. Who Will the Courts Defend?", Op-Ed by Ted Hamilton, co-founder of Climate Defense Project, Truthout. (Lengthy educational+advocacy Op-Ed published on the day of Ken Ward's sentencing and that puts the Valve Turner trials in context of other climate direct actions and the overriding need of securing the 'Necessity Defense'.)
EXCERPTS: This month a group of climate activists were convicted in district courts in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Wawayanda, New York, for committing acts of civil disobedience against fossil fuel infrastructure. Each defendant (one in Washington and six in New York) had attempted to present a 'climate necessity defense,' arguing that their nominally illegal actions were justified by the threat of climate catastrophe in other words, that the real crime is continuing to pollute the atmosphere, not interfering with corporate property. The courts weren't having it: The activists were convicted on June 7 on charges of varying seriousness, although they anticipate appealing their rulings.
...The Washington trial began with an October 2016 protest in which Ken Ward a long-time environmental leader who pursued conventional climate policy avenues for decades before turning to civil disobedience in recent years entered a Kinder Morgan pipeline facility in Anacortes, Washington, and turned a valve to cut off the flow of tar sands oil entering from Canada. His action was coordinated with other "Shut It Down" activists in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, who were responding to a call for action from the Standing Rock encampment, and together succeeded in temporarily halting the flow of all tar sands oil into the United States. At the time of his protest (which was preceded by a warning call to pipeline operators), Ward called upon President Obama to make this interruption of tar sands oil permanent, citing the fuel's particularly carbon-intensive nature and the need for much more aggressive federal action to curb emissions.
...These trials are part of a growing wave of climate protest cases in which activists have taken their on-the-ground resistance into the courtroom. Climate necessity defendants have made the justification argument in Utah, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, New York and Oklahoma, taking as target both the physical infrastructure of the fossil fuel system pipelines and coal trains and its legal infrastructure industry-friendly environmental agencies and criminal laws that protect polluters. In nearly all cases, judges have decided prior to trial that the defendants have no right to present their necessity evidence to the jury, perhaps fearing that, as often happens, juries will accept political necessity arguments. Being blocked from presenting the necessity evidence then results in nearly unavoidable guilty verdicts for activists who have admitted to the charged conduct.
...The criminal prosecution of nonviolent climate activists which, in the case of the Ward trial, featured felony charges that are rarely, if ever, used against protesters is part of a broader criminalization of dissent that has accelerated since the election of President Trump. Many states have recently passed reactionary laws restricting the right to protest, including some that specifically target opponents of the fossil fuel industry, and prosecutors in Washington, DC, are seeking unprecedented sentences against participants in the peaceful protests on Inauguration Day. This shared exposure to government repression will likely strengthen the bonds of solidarity between climate activists and other social movements, and will underscore the point that climate change is as much a political issue as it is a scientific one.
...The idea that such a system should be challenged is actually relatively new for the climate movement, which for decades eschewed direct action and looked for salvation in mainstream policy solutions. By cribbing from the playbook of past social movements like the Vietnam War resistance and anti-nuclear power campaigns which used political necessity trials to educate the public and to ratify the idea that social progress required working outside of established channels climate necessity activists have pushed their cause away from wonky, inside-baseball environmentalism and toward grassroots, social justice insurgency.
...Bad policy and self-interested policymakers aren't the fundamental problem, though it's the conditions that create and coddle them. With that in mind, climate necessity activism challenges the idea that we'll be able to effectively address climate change through technical fixes within our existing political and legal frameworks. One important lesson from the dismal track record of institutional efforts to tackle global warming failed carbon tax legislation, inadequate regulations, non-binding treaties is that we need a fundamental reworking of the basic structures in which the fossil fuel status quo operates, and that modest policy reform is insufficient. By directly targeting harmful fossil fuel infrastructure and challenging the legal prohibitions against such action, activists like Ward call into question the institution of private property, which allows oil companies to recklessly pollute the atmosphere as a matter of right, as well as our system of political representation, which encourages politicians to serve moneyed interests and short-term goals over the long-term interests of the public.
...By flipping the script of who's acting illegally and seeking to reverse the targets of the law's protections and prohibitions, climate necessity activists are slowly steering the ship of the legal system away from the icebergs ahead and back toward calmer waters. (In this way, the climate necessity movement is linked to efforts to recognize an affirmative government duty to protect the climate and the push to ratify the rights of nature).
...Finally, climate necessity activism forces an official reckoning with climate science, which is sadly still necessary at this advanced stage of the climate crisis. Even as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency denies that CO2 significantly contributes to global warming, protester defendants can use rules of criminal discovery and evidence to force courts to recognize that the burning of fossil fuels does in fact cause climate change and its resulting harms, moving climate science from the contested realm of political contention to the domain of legal objectivity. Immediately following his guilty verdict, Ward noted that "beyond advancing necessity defenses and other specific precedents that we're trying to achieve, it's very useful for us at this point to try to take climate change into the courts, because for all the downsides it's a fact-based venue. And that's a very valuable thing when facts are in jeopardy in the broader political sphere ... Americans understand that serious matters get dealt with in courtrooms, and so it's very important for us to be in here and testing these things in a variety of ways."
...Climate necessity activism is a rejection of such complacency. It's a wedge in the armor of the fossil fuel state, as well as the state of institutional and ideological affairs that insulates climate criminals from accountability...
• June 23, 2017 - "Valve-Turning Activist From Oregon Won't Serve Prison Time", by Jes Burns, OPB
EXCERPTS: A climate activist from Oregon will not serve jail time for his part in an oil pipeline protest last fall. A Washington judge instead sentenced the so-called 'valve turner' to a month of community service and six months of probation.
..."It was pretty lenient sentence, given the possible range of outcomes. Especially given the prosecutor had asked for the maximum," Ward said. Ward faced up to 20 years in jail. Ward was part of a protest looking to hold up the delivery of fossil fuel, a primary driver of climate change. Ward says physically stopping the flow of oil was their only realistic option. "A lot of what we were putting before the court system, it seems to me, is a real struggle between the questions of what's law and what's justice," he said.
Ward plans to appeal his conviction because he feels the judge was wrong in not allowing his lawyers to make the 'necessity defense.' This line of defense says a criminal act can be justified if you have already tried other legal means to achieve an outcome. "We strongly believe if he had been given the opportunity to present that defense to the jury, he may have well have been acquitted," said Ward's attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center.
• June 23, 2017 - "Ken Ward: Corbett's judicious lawbreaker", Q&A with Ken Ward by Zane Sparling, The Outlook.
EXCERPTS: Q: What inspired you to act?
Ken Ward: It's out of a sense of desperation. I am, for whatever reason, not constitutionally capable of saying, 'Oh well, I can't do anything about it.' I have to try. It wasn't a very happy decision. This isn't something I want to be doing.
Q:Why break the law? Couldn't you just write a blog or an Op-ed piece?
Ken Ward: I did all that stuff. I mean, I've been working on energy policy since 1977 and we have gone backward. It didn't work. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think we were facing a threat to the conditions that make civilization possible.
Q: Any advice for stopping climate change?
Ken Ward: It's incredibly complicated. The problem is not merely that we're burning fossil fuels. The problem is that (we're part of) a society that wants to own a lot of stuff. The very first thing we're trying to do is make a near-immediate switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but that's sort of obvious. Beyond that, we need to have almost a spiritual change that accepts the ecological limits that we have to operate within.
Q: What consequences do your foresee if the climate continues to warm?
Ken Ward: We're going to see desertification of the whole southern part of the country, and people will have to move north. (We're also seeing) the rapid collapse of the ice shelf in Antarctica, which is already happening. Sea-level rise is not something that civilization can easily handle. Too many people live too close to the ocean.
• June 23, 2017 - "No added jail time for climate-change protester in Burlington pipeline case", by Lynda Mapes, Seattle Times
EXCERPTS: ...Climate activist Ken Ward, one of the 'valve turners' who shut off the flow of tar-sands oil to the U.S. from Canada in October 2016, walked free Friday without fines, restitution or jail time. Skagit County Superior Court Judge Michael Rickert imposed a 30-day sentence with credit for the two days already served by Ward when he was arrested after shutting off a valve on the TransMountain pipeline in Burlington. The judge suspended the rest of the sentence in lieu of 30 hours of community service to be served in Skagit County which Ward said he was looking forward to.
Ward is the first of five defendants who shut off oil valves and face trial in various states. Juries deadlocked twice before Ward was convicted of a single, second-degree burglary charge, for cutting the lock and entering a fenced area to shut off the valve. Ward never denied his actions and indeed at the trial showed video of his action. His only defense was that the acts were necessary to defend the Earth because all other options to combat catastrophic climate change, including political action, had failed.
...Ward called the sentence fair, and said he will refrain from further direct action during a six-month period of probation also imposed by the judge. Beyond that, he wasn't certain. Ward had faced up to 90 days in jail.
Since his action, the flow of oil actually stopped for four hours not only was quickly resumed, but the TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to the coast has been approved by the Canadian federal government for doubled capacity, with a twin line planned for construction by Kinder Morgan.
..."I can only hope for vigorous, concerted action everywhere fossil-fuel projects are proposed," Ward said. "Not only for new projects but to question the validity of existing projects." Ward said he feels deep pessimism about the fate of the Earth, which he argued is hurtling toward catastrophic climate change because of fossil-fuel burning. "To feel anything else is another form of denial."
It is the second time Ward has escaped a jail sentence for climate actions. The prosecution against him for using a lobster boat to blockade delivery of coal to a power plant in southeastern Massachusetts in 2013 was dropped after the district attorney declared the planet was at risk of climate change and announced he would join Ward at an upcoming climate march.
• June 24, 2017 - "Sentence for "Valve-Turner" Climate Activist Ken Ward: No More Jail Time", by Climate Disobedience Center, in Common Dreams.
EXCERPTS: ...Judge Michael Rickert used the "First-Time Offender Waiver" and sentenced Ward to 32 days, including 2 days in custody (served when he was arrested) and 30 days (240 hours) community service in Skagit County, plus six months' community supervision. The state may still file for restitution. The judge dropped bail, and released Ward on his own Personal Recognizance. The State declined to re-file the sabotage charge.
"Given we weren't allowed allowed to offer the defense that makes any sense, i.e. that climate change necessitates citizen action like mine, this was a remarkable outcome in both trials," said Ward. "Juries considered these two charges twice, and three of the four deliberations ended in a hung jury. In the fourth, they gave me a minimalist conviction of burglary. But after the trial the jurors told us they were reluctant to hand it down, and that if they had been given more leeway by the judge they probably wouldn't have convicted me. The conviction is not final. We are appealing it with full confidence that we will win. I expect to be back in court trying these issues all over again."
"It was also interesting to listen to Judge Rickert, who found this a very difficult sentencing decision to make," Ward said.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Rickert, who retires in five days, said, "I've thought about this a lot since the first trial." He pointed out that "we abandoned the head-on-the-pike sentences hundreds of years ago," but said he believed there is validity to sending a message that might influence the actions of others. He noted that Kinder Morgan, though unpopular, "has to be protected too." But he said he viewed Ward's case as a rarity: "No monetary motive, no greed or addiction. If I was going to break into something I'd at least have a beer with me."
During the sentencing hearing, Lauren Regan, Ward's attorney, reminded Judge Rickert that Ward's action was highly principled. It was planned months in advance, and Ward took painstaking safety precautions. She also pointed out that continuing to pump tar sands every day exacerbates climate change and endangers the community. Ward believed so strongly in that danger, Judge Rickert said, that "he was willing to throw the tea off the boat into the harbor....Will jail change his behavior? Will it change other people's behavior? No."...
PROFILE ARTICLE: "Michael Foster Is Defiant", by Kathryn Robinson, July 2017, Seattle Met.|
Lengthy (6,000 word) profile of Michael Foster (with photos by Mike Kane).
Tagline: The Seattle climate activist who turned off the North Dakota Keystone Pipeline gave up his livelihood, his family, and quite possibly after the upcoming trial his next two decades of freedom. What drives someone to risk it all?
Via storytelling craft, senior writer Kathryn Robinson has produced an emotionally powerful literary masterpiece that tracks key moments in Foster's life that shaped his motivation to undertake the ultimate in climate activism and that molded him into a highly effective spokesperson capable of touching the hearts of his audiences young and old.
Ken Ward, as the first valve turner to face trial, is also featured and quoted toward the end of this article.
SHUT IT DOWN TODAY
Climate Disobedience Center