Below you'll find some of the support the Climate Disobedience Center has offered climate dissidents since our founding.
In the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Spectra Energy was building a lateral fracked-gas pipeline to a new compressor station off of their existing AIM pipeline. Several groups emerged working to stop construction of the now-completed pipeline. Beginning October 7, 2015, Resist The Pipeline began a campaign of climate disobedience, getting in the way of active pipeline construction. Climate Disobedience Center founder Marla Marcum provided training, logistical and jail support for Resist the Pipeline.
The campaign grew, and eventually 198 people were arrested and days of work stalled or stopped for many days over the course of a year. The tactics escalated as well, beginning with just a few individuals in front of equipment and ending with large days of mass occupation, and other more disruptive actions.
On June 29, 2016, faith leaders including Boston's Mariama White-Hammond, Union Theological Seminary Center for Earth Ethics director Karena Gore, and Climate Disobedience founder Tim DeChristopher joined an unprecedented action in the campaign: they entered the trench of the pipeline and in silence lay down, evoking the mass graves that were then being dug in Pakistan in response to a massive heatwave which killed thousands.
13 activists from the campaign, including 6 who participated in the "mass graves action," took their defense to trial on March 27th, 2018, supported by the Climate Disobedience Center. The activists were committed to mounting a climate necessity defense, arguing that they had no reasonable alternative to putting themselves in the path of the pipeline's construction. At the last moment, the prosecution dropped their charges to a civil infraction, which meant they no longer had the right to a jury trial. Rather than present several days of necessity defense with expert witnesses, the defendants had just two minutes a piece to make a very concise necessity argument. They were able to convince the judge, who acquitted them by reason of necessity, which was a first in climate cases in the US. Read more about their exciting result here.
The Valve Turners
On October 11, 2016, five brave activists closed manual shut-off valves on the five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands into the United States. They are now known as the valve turners. Climate Disobedience Center founder Ken Ward along with Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, Michael Foster and Leonard Higgins and three other supporters all faced serious felony charges. Ken was tried twice, first in January with a mis-trial on both charges, and again in June when he was convicted of one charge of tresspass and sentenced to 30 days of community service. In April of 2019, Ken finally won his appeal on the use of the necessity defense, and is awaiting a response from the prosecution.
Michael Foster was convicted in North Dakota, where he is serving a one year prison sentence. Leonard Higgins was also convicted in Montana, and he received probation and time served, avoiding a prison sentence.
The trial in Minnesota broke ground because the defendants, Emily Johnson and Annette Klapstein, were cleared by the judge to offer a climate necessity defense at their trial. The prosecution appealed the trial judge's necessity ruling, and then the defendants successfully won at the state appeals court, further preserving their right to use the necessity defense. The prosecution again appealed to the Minnesota supreme court, where the defendants won again. At their trial in October of 2018, the judge dismissed the case after the prosecution failed to present evidence that the defendants caused any damage to the pipeline. This case set a potentially important precedent in Minnesota for the use of the necessity defense.
The Delta 5
On September 2, 2014, five activists (working with Rising Tide Seattle) in Everett, Washington, put themselves in the path of a mile-long train "bomb train" used to carry volatile fracked crude oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to refineries in Anacortes.
A year later when they were planning to go to trial, the Delta 5 asked if we could help them plan their defense. Inspired in part by the Lobster Boat Blockade and Trial, the five were interested in mounting a climate necessity defense in Snohomish County Court, and contacted us to help develop a public trial strategy.
In January of 2016, with a raft of pro-bono legal help, the Delta 5 were able to present, for the first time to a US jury, a necessity defense featuring a climate scientist and an oil train safety expert. Judge Anthony E. Howard allowed the defendants to argue that their actions were justified by the threat of climate change. This was the first time a U.S. court has heard a ‘necessity defense’ in a case relating to climate action.
While the judge allowed the defense to be presented, he did not instruct the jury to make a decision based on the necessity defense, and told the jury to ignore all of the information they had heard. But when the verdict was returned as a split decision, and jurors left the court room in tears hugging the activists and thanking them for what they had done. The verdict was guilty of trespass and not guilty of a train related charge. Some jurors told the defense lawyers they would have acquitted on all charges were necessity instructions given.
The Climate Disobedience Center was in the courtroom for the trial, helping the Delta 5 with organizing, legal strategy, personal and spiritual encouragement, and media outreach. The five defendants are appealing their case, hoping to set a new precedent in Washington that would allow more climate dissidents to squarely ask juries of their peers if their nonviolent direct actions are justified in the face of climate collapse.
Chiara and Matt
In the midst of the #ShellNo campaign in the pacific northwest against Royal Dutch Shell's arctic drilling expedition, two brave individuals took action that directly prevented one of the ships from being able to leave from it's Bellingham, WA berth.
Chiara D'Angelo and Matt Fuller suspended themselves from an anchor chain on the Arctic Challenger. Chiara hung in place for nearly three days before being removed by the Coast Guard. For much of that time, Matt says, “We sang to the crew and the Coast Guard through a porthole.” Chiara says they sang “Sublime, Beyonce and John Denver” and chanted, “People gonna rise like the water. We're gonna calm this crisis down. I hear the voice of my great granddaughter. She's saying shut this drilling fleet down.”
The Coast Guard charged Chiara with a civil penalty of $20,000 and Matt with $10,000, and appealed the Coast Guard's decision. In an extra-judicial hearing, Chiara and Matt argued the necessity of their actions. In the hearing Matt said, "I ask that the Coast Guard stand on the right side of history." When asked if he would recant, or give assurances "Would I do it again?... First, I would try ever legal means available, but if that was the last resort, I would have to choose to violate another safety zone (for Arctic drilling)," concluding, "climate change is the single greatest threat to national security, and I know the Coast Guard knows this."
Following their appeal, both Matt and Chiara were greatly reduced. The Climate Disobedience Center helped Chiara and Matt secure pro-bono representation from the Civil Liberties Defense Center and raised funds to defray their remaining fines.
Break Free Northeast
In May of 2016, tens of thousands gathered across the globe at flash points of climate crimes to put themselves directly in the way of the harm that is being done. The Climate Disobedience Center helped pull together the mass civil disobedience action in Albany, New York which blockaded crude oil carrying "bomb train" tracks leading to the Port of Albany and shut down traffic on the street bisecting the adjacent Ezra Prentice low-income housing development.
Working with a coalition of groups and individuals centered in Albany's south end, we helped bring well over a thousand people together to hi-light the climate injustice and environmental racism and propel the fight already going on over the oil and tar sands terminals into the spotlight.
Lobster Boat Trial
They planned to call climate scientist Dr. James Hanson, writer Bill McKibben and other prominent climate scientists to the stand to mount a climate necessity case, which would have been the first in the US presented to a jury. The judge agreed that their defense could go forward as planned. However in a stunning turn of events on the first day of the trial, the prosecutor, District Attorney Sam Sutter, dropped the criminal charges and made a bold statement in support of the activists and bold climate action. He pledged to join them at the Peoples' Climate March in New York City two weeks later.