Climate activist sentenced to 2 years in jail for civil disobedience

Jeremy Hance
July 27, 2011

Yesterday a federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah convicted climate activist Tim DeChristopher of defrauding the US government, sentencing him to two years in jail and a fine of $10,000, reports the Associated Press. In December 2008, Tim DeChristopher, won the mineral rights for 22,500 acres of US Interior Department land at a Bureau of Land Management auction with a $1.8 million bid. The only problem was: DeChristopher did not have the money to pay for his bid nor did he ever intend to pay for his drilling rights. Instead, he was committing civil disobedience in order to draw attention to the oil industry and government's complacence on global climate change; in his words, DeChristopher meant to 'expose, embarrass, and hold accountable the oil industry to the point that it cut into their $100 billion profits'. However, his actions have now landed him in jail.

"I'm not saying there isn't a place for civil disobedience. But it can't be the order of the day," the judge, Dee Benson, said during sentencing.

Yet, DeChristopher made an impassioned 35 minute speech [transcript] in the courtroom urging others to join in civil disobedience to wake the world up to the impacts of climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions.

"You have authority over my life," he told the courtroom, "but not my principles. Those are mine. I'll continue to confront the system that threatens our future."

The US government sought a strong enough sentence to dissuade others from doing similar acts, but did not ask for the maximum of 10 years.

The land DeChristopher bid on was near Arches and Caynonland National Parks in Utah. Some of the land was later deemed by the Obama Administration as not eligible for oil and gas drilling.

"I understand that prison is a very horrible place, but I've been scared for my future for a long time," DeChristopher told the New York Times in 2010. "And I think the scariest that I see is staying on the path that we are on right now. Obedience to me is much scarier than going to prison."

During the 20th Century, the global average temperature rose about 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit (0.74 degrees Celsius). Expected impacts from climate change include more frequent and worsening extreme weather events, greater precipitation events (both rain and snow), worsening droughts for parts of the world, global sea level rise due to polar melting, large-scale species extinctions, ocean acidification, a rise in massive fires, changes in the range of diseases, and many others. Water supplies, food production, societal health, the global economy, and international stability are all predicted to be imperiled by climate change.

Following the sentencing, around 100 protestors blocked a street outside the courthouse, leading to the arrest of 26 people.

Known as 'Bidder 70' to his supporters, DeChristopher was compared to Gandhi and Rosa Parks by his lawyer.

"He understands that part of the roots of civil disobedience are that some people go to prison...the problem is we only impose the rule of law on people like Tim DeChristopher," Ron Yengich told the AP. "We never impose the rule of law on people who steal from poor people, destroy the banking systems or destroy the earth."

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (July 27, 2011).

Climate activist sentenced to 2 years in jail for civil disobedience .