For a long time—decades—I’ve been doing all the traditional stuff that we do as environmentaiists: the good and necessary work of attending public meetings and writing letters. Publishing articles, books, etc. on various crises. And there is still, as ever, such a need for that, and such a place: the slow grind of democracy.
But there is another aspect of democracy, another freedom, which is that of peaceful civil disobedience, and it feels to me now in middle age as I look back at the wreckage, the wake, of my and all the generations before mine passage through the world’s bounty, and the consequences of that passage, that if global warming (what we used to call a few short years ago “the threat of global warming”) is not the moral issue of our time, then none exists. In the last year, I’ve had the privilege of being arrested at the state capital in Helena while protesting the giant proposed Otter Creek coal mine, and at the White House, protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which threatens to come through Montana en route to the Texas Gulf Coast, leaving the obscenity of Alberta’s tar sands. I also had the great pleasure of working with David James Duncan on a book, Heart of the Monster, a protest book against the use of Montana highways to transport Exxon’s “megaloads” through Montana to service those Albertan tar sands. Through the work of incredible activists, we were able to re-route those shipments, keeping them out of places like Lolo Creek and the majestic Rocky Mountain Front.
As a former oil and gas geologist, I feel also that I know some things about the industry that should be shared with the general public. Basic stuff, about just exactly how awful coal is, and how oil and gas development might be less harmful in one location, while devastating in another.
I’ve written several essays about the arrest process—about how empowering it is—and I hope that in the coming year tens or hundreds of thousands of people will come to agree that given the severity of the situation it is imperative that “mainstream” or “regular folk”—non-enviros—step forward and take on the cuffs as protest, to get our leaders’ attention, as was the case during the last civil rights crisis. I cannot imagine that any of us want to be looing back 30 to 50 years from now and find ourselves unable to answer the question, What did you do during this time, What did you do to change things?
This is not an issue where we should leave anything on the field. This is the one where we should spend it all, and now.