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Tar Sands 65: Global Warming Worth Going to Jail Over

The Sit In Begins (photo: Shadia Fayne Wood)

[Rob Briggs and I shared a 5X7 cell in the D.C. Jail following our arrest with 63 others on August 20, 2011, after protesting the Tar Sands/Keystone XL project in front of the White House. Over 1000 citizens have now been arrested in that action. You’ll find photos of Rob’s arrest here. He wrote this op ed for his home town paper, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. — John Chandley]

Global Warming Worth Going to Jail Over
By Rob Briggs

Normally, I would feel mortified learning that my arrest and incarceration had made front-page news in my local paper (Daily News, Aug. 23). But last Tuesday, I looked forward to telling my mother, who agrees that global warming is worth going to jail over.

My charge was failure to leave the “postcard area” in front of the White House until the Park Police agreed to arrest me. I was guilty as a dog and prepared to admit it. After two days in jail, I was released without charge.

If you read Tuesday’s story, perhaps the words “hippy radical” came to mind. Actually, those supporting the ExxonMobil megaloads traveling through downtown Moscow or the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, “a 1,700 mile fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet,” are the radicals.

Burning fossil fuel – oil, natural gas or coal – releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and important regulator of Earth’s temperature. Atmospheric concentrations have risen roughly 40 percent since humans began extracting fossil fuels. Earth’s crust contains five times more recoverable fossil fuel than we should burn, if we want to pass on to our children a world similar to the one we inherited. The only plausible solution to this dilemma is for the nations of the world to agree to leave most of this carbon safely underground.

Fortunately, all major nations committed to exactly that. They ratified the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, the foundational treaty for international cooperation to protect world climate. The United States ratified it in 1992 with bipartisan Senate support and the signature of Republican President George H.W. Bush. Global warming was not a hoax back then. Radicals now suggest it is. [cont’d.]

The late Milton Friedman, well-known for his PBS TV series ‘Free to Choose,’ was one of the most conservative economists of his time. Friedman consistently argued that the fairest and most-efficient way to deal with pollution was to tax it. The vast majority of today’s economists agree and support a carbon tax. Faced with higher energy prices, Americans would cut energy waste and invest more in carbon-free alternatives. Radicals oppose this authentically conservative policy.

We teach our children to pick up after themselves. If their baseball breaks a neighbor’s window, we teach them to accept responsibility and pay for the damage. They soon learn to move batting practice to the ball field.

But the fossil industry doesn’t play by the rules of civic responsibility we teach our children. They insist on paying nothing for the climate damage their product inflicts. They use campaign contributions, media intimidation and disinformation to prevent effective public policy, subverting democracy in the process. In the absence of effective climate policy – like taxing carbon – consumers will be paying hidden taxes in the form of skyrocketing prices for life’s essentials, as global warming gathers momentum.

Here is the scary part: The burn-it-all scenario for fossil fuels eventually could raise average global ocean temperature from 60-degrees Fahrenheit currently to 100- degrees F. This is the unregulated “free-market” outcome. The climate science news the corporate media fails to cover has progressed from alarming to horrifying. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences projected yield reductions of between 63 percent and 82 percent by 2095 for three major U.S. crops – soybeans, cotton and corn.

The radicals in today’s climate fight are not those being leg shackled in Washington, D.C., or handcuffed in Moscow. The radicals are the corporations and their supporters who would alter the composition of Earth’s atmosphere in defiance of the gravest and most emphatic warnings of the scientific community.

Perhaps I come to civil disobedience more easily than others. Tuesday’s story mentioned that I am a Quaker. Early Quakers in 17th century England gathered to worship in defiance of edicts prohibiting public meetings. Eventually, English jails became so packed with Quakers that authorities relented and recognized the right of free assembly—a big, early victory for civil disobedience. In this country, the strategy has proven effective in asserting moral authority in struggles over slavery, civil rights, and women’s suffrage.

The D.C. Park Police came down unexpectedly hard on me and 64 others, in hopes of scaring away protesters from two weeks of planned civil disobedience. After two days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block, I prepared my words carefully for any reporters who might ask about conditions inside. “Yes, it was uncomfortable. But if I were offered this bargain – a stable climate for my kids, like the one I’ve enjoyed, in exchange for spending the rest of my life in that cell block – I’d go back in a heart beat.”

No, Devin Rokyta (Our View, Aug. 16), we are not giving up on stopping the tar sands, we will not be selling out our children’s future for pocket change, and we are not giving up on this planet.

Rob Briggs is an architect, a former national laboratory scientist and a founding member of Wild Idaho Rising Tide. [Also, a very decent man; I’m proud to call him a friend. — jc]

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley