After the last two seasons of extreme drought, massive hurricanes, raging forest fires, and biblical flooding in our country, perhaps it’s time for climate catastrophe deniers to ponder three current federal lawsuits.
Two are the good guys against the corporate polluters, but one, right here in Montana, is about the bad guys (polluting corporatists) against a patriot.
The first lawsuit to consider is the state of New York versus ExxonMobil. Eric Schneiderman, New York attorney general, has sued Exxon for lying to investors and consumers about oil extraction’s devastating environmental damage. Exxon knew.
The second is a lawsuit brought by children in Oregon against the fossil fuel industry. These kids argue those industries are depriving American children of their constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Finally, and for Montana, most importantly, there is the lawsuit brought against Leonard Higgins and four other climate activists who turned the valves and closed tar sands pipelines for one day, Oct. 11, 2016. Higgins' valve-turning occurred in Montana. His trial begins in Fort Benton on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
Concurrent with this trial, a number of Republican U.S. House representatives led by Ken Buck, R-Colorado, including Montana criminal Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, wondering whether federal statutes are strong enough to discourage climate activists, and non-violent climate actions. The five valve-turners (Michael Foster, Emily Johnston, Ken Ward, Leonard Higgins and Annette Klapstein) then wrote a brilliant response letter (Nov. 9) to Rep. Ken Buck. Excerpts follow here:
"No reasonable person, and certainly no elected official, should deny ... basic information about a lethal global threat, let alone take steps to try and suppress it ... for all that you may feel emboldened in the effort to deny climate reality, your attempt to do so will fail. Ideological ignorance cannot sway physics, increasingly backed by the evidence of the senses. You will not prevail in a world ablaze and awash.
"At present, thanks to fossil fuel industry funded efforts, we the people cannot turn to our federal government for relief in addressing this single greatest threat to our health, wellbeing and security. Our own government has become an occupying force for interests inimical to our welfare. Our history and tradition shows us that in such a predicament, citizens do have a right, indeed, the obligation, to act in our own defense.... Like those who dumped boxes of tea into the Boston harbor, we take direct action to halt the flow of fossil fuels, the use of which is undermining the conditions that make civilization possible and destroying the web of life which sustains us.
"You who stand for short-term profit at the expense of life will eventually be held accountable."
The letter goes on to ask a few questions of these overwhelmingly white, male congressional representatives. Among the four questions:
"How is it possible that the government of the United States, alone among the nations of the world, chooses to suppress evidence and deny the reality of climate change?
"Should the effort to suppress climate science reports in the interest of maintaining fossil fuel sector profits be construed as treason?"
Their superb letter closes thusly: “We acted appropriately, peacefully, openly, carefully and with great concern for safety. Congress should do the same.”
Beth Taylor Wilson of Missoula is a social worker, social justice activist and member of the 350 Montana leadership team.