Future Hope column, July 11, 2010
by Ted Glick
July 20th will be the three month anniversary of the BP oil blowout disaster.
To call attention to this fact–to demand strong climate legislation that reduces carbon emissions and promotes clean energy–to call for getting dirty energy money out of politics, a broad coalition of 19 national, regional and state organizations (see list below) issued a call a couple of days ago for local “Congress: You’ve Got Oil on Your Hands” events around the country on July 20th. The coalition urges that actions be held in front of the offices of members of the Senate or the House who have taken a large amount of money from Big Oil or who have refused to support strong action on climate. More info on Big Oil campaign contributions can be found at http://www.followtheoilmoney.org. MoveOn.org is setting up a website operation where local organizers can register their events and get more information.
Given the continuing ecological and economic disaster unfolding in the gulf, and because the U.S. Senate will be debating and voting on offshore drilling/energy/climate legislation this month or early in August, it is right-on-time that these actions are happening. This is the time to really step up grassroots pressure on the U.S. Senate!!
10 months ago I was doing my part to try to get the U.S. Senate to take action on the climate crisis. I was arrested for helping to unfurl two long “Green Jobs Now” and “Get to Work” banners as part of an action inside the Hart Senate Office Building on September 8th, the first day the Senate returned from their 2009 summer recess. Just a few days ago this week I was finally sentenced for this action in a full-to-overflowing courtroom in Washington, D.C.
Prior to my July 6th sentencing for the two misdemeanors I was convicted of in May, the U.S. Attorney’s office went out of their way to let me know that they could ask for up to three years in prison because of two past convictions in 2006 and 2007 for similar nonviolent civil disobedience actions.Â However, what they asked the judge to do on July 6th was to send me to jail for 40 days, with an additional 4 2/3 months on probation.
After my attorney, Anne Wilcox, and I each made our statements in response (mine is below), Judge Frederick Weisberg pronounced sentence. As he began speaking, I was convinced that I was going to jail. For the week prior to the sentencing I had been telling people that I expected a sentence of from two weeks to a month and a half. So when I heard the government say “40 days,” I felt OK. And as the judge began his statement, saying that the “hundreds of letters” he had received had generally not been very helpful to his decision, my sense was that I was definitely going to jail. As he proceeded, at one point I began to think that maybe he’d sentence me to 20 days. But when he finally came to the punch line, I was very surprised that the sentence included no jail time at all.
1 year on probation, a suspended 30-day jail sentence that I’ll have to serve if I’m arrested for anything over the next year, an $1100 fine and 40 hours of community service in D.C.: that’s what he handed down.
The vast majority of family, friends and supporters who I heard from afterwards were very pleased by this verdict. A few felt that the sentence was too harsh given the nature of the action, and I would agree. However, I am very glad to be able to keep doing my work, working in particular right now on helping to coordinate July 20th actions, and to be spending time with loved ones, family and friends this summer. It’s like I got (most of) my July and August back.
All through this process I’ve kept in mind that, while I did not want to go to jail, there are people like Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal who have unjustly spent decades in U.S. prisons. A truly fair “criminal justice system” would have seen them released many years ago, along with others less well known still imprisoned for political reasons. Attorney Lynne Stewart in New York would not be facing, this week, the possibility of the imposition of a much longer sentence for a dubious and disturbing prosecution by John Ashcroft’s Justice Department earlier this decade.
In 2004 Leonard Peltier, writing from prison, eloquently articulated what we need to be about with our lives, day by day:
“Many times, people call us revolutionaries. I like that, although it often seems used in a negative sense, by the deceivers. Revolution refers to something traveling in a circle. All the Creator’s work seems to be in a circle — the Earth, the Moon, the Seasons, or a person’s life.
“As Native people of this land, we started in freedom & were receptive to others who came here for the same. This portion of our Mother Earth was clean & nature was in balance. I wish to see things revolve back to a situation like that again. If, in my life, I am a part of that process, if my imprisonment in any way has brought a view to the public of how we should stand together, how we need to protect our freedoms & regain what we have lost, then I feel honored. There is no reason why technology can’t ultimately be used to protect our Mother Earth.
“Let us be revolutionaries in such a way that we enhance the circle of life. Let us be revolutionaries so that our children, generation after generation, shall enjoy freedom & a healthy, clean Mother Earth. Let our lives be based in the circle, not some straight line that has a dead end.”
July 20th Initiating Organizations: 1Sky, 350.org, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Climate Crisis Coalition, Corporate Ethics International, Energy Action Coalition, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Gulf Restoration Network, Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters/JPIC, Mobilization for Climate Justice West, MoveOn.org, N.C. WARN, Oil Change International, Price Carbon Campaign, Progressive Democrats of America, Public Citizen, Shalom Center
My Sentencing Statement, July 6th, 2010
Your honor, I’d like to focus my statement on the “why” of the September 8th action, about which I was not able to testify at my trial. I’ll begin with a quote from a March 4th, 2010 press release from the National Science Foundation.Â It concerns the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas 70 times as strong as carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere. Â This release begins:
“A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team. . .
“The research results show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is starting to leak large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”
This melting of frozen methane on the sea floor is one of several climate tipping points that climate scientists have long identified as of great concern. The others are: the release of methane frozen in the permafrost in the earth’s northern latitudes, the accelerated melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets such that sea level rise would be much more rapid than currently expected, and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest because of drought and the release of the estimated 120 billion tons of carbon sequestered there.
What is a climate tipping point? It is a point at which there has been so much heating up of the atmosphere that we experience drastic and runaway heating with truly catastrophic implications for the whole world, especially for the poor people of the world who are most vulnerable to respiratory diseases, heat stress, droughts, floods, major storms, glacial melting, water scarcity and disruption of agricultural production.
We may well be on the verge of one or more of these tipping points. I hope we have not passed one already.
We are literally running out of time to make the dramatic changes, to shift rapidly from fossil fuels to clean energy, that will give us a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
Your honor, I hope that in the thinking you have been doing about my sentence, this dire situation in which we find ourselves has been taken into account. Faced with such a planetary emergency, we must speak up and take action. And as citizens of a democracy, we must nonviolently urge, in the best ways we know how, our elected representatives, our Congresspersons and Senators, to do the right thing. That is what I did on September 8th of last year.
As the country responsible for the highest percentage of greenhouse gases that are up in the atmosphere, the United States must begin to give leadership on this issue. We haven’t done so yet. And time is running out.
To repeat, time is running out. All of us, in our own ways, for the sake of those being affected by climate change right now and for our children and grandchildren, must speak out and take action now.
Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Past writings and more information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.