On October 23rd, 2017, 84 members of congress submitted a letter to Attorney General Sessions regarding nonviolent direct action on crude oil pipelines. The letter, backed by American Petroleum Institute, Association of Oil Pipe Lines, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, is a dishonest effort to smear the climate movement, and fabricate a threat in order to legitimate further criminalization of dissent against one of Congress’s largest clients: the fossil fuel industry. Rather than doing their job and protecting current and future generations from civilizational collapse caused by run-away climate change, members of Congress are working to protect their funders at the risk their constituents.
The letter begins the official process of expanding the Patriot Act and domestic terrorism laws to target those who resist fossil fuel infrastructure. The accusation of terrorism hinges on violence to human beings, which has never been even a fringe element of the climate movement. The only violent reference which this Congressional letter could find was Tucker Carlson’s creative interpretation of a letter to the editor of a local newspaper in Boulder, Colorado. On that single thread hangs this attempt to defame a mass movement in order to repress dissent and free speech.
Unlike every right wing movement, the climate movement has never engaged in violence against human beings in pursuit of political aims. From colorful marches with hundreds of thousands of people to actions disrupting fossil fuel infrastructure construction and blockades of coal trains and ships, the climate movement has been disciplined and intentional about protecting life. Citizens placing themselves in the path of destruction, placing themselves at risk in order to avert climate catastrophe, cannot be equated with violence.
In order to make their case, these fossil fuel industry supported Representatives make blatantly false statements regarding anti-pipeline activists and their actions. No one has burned holes in active pipelines. Pipeline pump stations have never been tampered with.
Instead of protecting the public from climate change, the largest threat to human well-being in the 21st century, these 84 members of Congress are doing the bidding of those perpetrating the unfolding disaster for short term profit. Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) initiated this letter. “Oil and gas” was the number one industry contributing to his 2016 re-election campaign to the tune of $62,950 (including $10,000 from Koch Industries).
If this attempt to expand domestic terrorism laws is allowed to succeed, activists who resist fossil fuels would spend the rest of their lives in prison. Under “terrorist enhancement” labels, activists would be locked up in facilities that are more repressive than maximum security prisons, such as Communication Management Units. These conditions are torture. The essential message of this Congressional letter is that citizens who stand in the way of the profits of the fossil fuel industry should be tortured. This legislative agenda of increased persecution of activism should be resisted in the strongest possible manner not only by social movements, but also by any legislators who still value the basic freedom of dissent.
Funded by millions of dollars of fossil fuel money in election campaigns, and corrupted by the influence of industry in the environmental regulatory process, the United States government is clearly bought and sold by the fossil fuel industry. The current policy of the United States government on climate change and CO2 emissions guarantees unimaginable suffering of current and future generations, with the highest burdens already falling on the poor and people of color in this country and around the globe. That these Congressional Representatives believe it is more important to prosecute citizens attempting to raise the alarm of climate cataclysm among the American people than to prosecute fossil fuel corporations whose products are leading us toward disaster serves only to illustrate the subservience of our government to fossil fuel interests and the necessity of citizens taking action to stop the harm.
Any realistic hope of averting climate cataclysm must take this corruption into consideration, and build a genuine power base outside of the normal legislative advocacy process in order to recapture government by and for the people. In the United States, nonviolent direct action has historically been the most effective force in building such movements and outside pressures. With reasonable access to the legislature and executive functions of government gone, many climate activists hope that the judiciary, with a mandate to operate by fact, may play an important role in bringing about the change needed for a just and livable future.