The May/June 2010 issue of E Magazine features a cover story with Tim DeChristopher – a 28 year-old activist from Utah who is facing a possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison and fines up to $750,000. His crime? In 2008, DeChristopher went to an auction that was leasing more than 100,000 acres of federal (i.e. public) land for oil and gas development. The leases were approved in the dying days of the Bush II administration, despite the fact that the land in question bordered Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument.
Posing as a bidder, DeChristopher won the right to develop 22,500 acres of land for which, of course, he had neither the capability nor the intention of doing. His goal was simply to take the land out of the hands of oil and gas companies.
Despite the fact that officials in the Obama administration subsequently canceled leases on 77 parcels from the Utah auction, effectively agreeing that the auction should never have gone ahead, DeChristopher is nonetheless being prosecuted for his actions. His trial date is to begin in September in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. For his part, DeChristopher (who has subsequently become recognized as something of an environmental cult hero) says he has no desire to go to jail but he would do the same thing again given the chance.
With this action, Bidder 70, as DeChristopher has become known, represents what seems to be a resurgence in direct action environmental protest, which was such a hallmark of the movement in years gone by but seems to have fallen by the wayside for environmental organizations who have chosen negotiation and compromise as their strategy of choice in recent years.
As we careen toward potentially catastrophic climate change, could this and other such actions represent the beginning of a return to a more radical form of environmental activism? Click the audio player below to hear my interview with DeChristopher for CKUT radio. He explains what exactly he did and what motivated him to do it. He also discusses the legal consequences of his protest action and the new organization he has subsequently founded called Peaceful Uprising.
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I had the pleasure of speaking with Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier at the 2010 Millenium Summit in Montreal. For a number of years, Watt-Cloutier has been at the forefront of efforts to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on Canada’s Inuit people. She is the former President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Watt-Cloutier has earned the respect and admiration of her peers and colleagues who commend her for her passionate commitment to northern Aboriginal peoples. She has received numerous awards and recognitions for her tireless efforts on behalf of Arctic indigenous peoples around the world, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
In addition to climate change, Watt-Cloutier works to raise awareness about a number of other important environmental issues in the North including sustainable development, education, traditional ecological knowledge and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These toxic, long-lasting contaminants are carbon-based and are by-products of industrial activities that originate in North America, Europe and Asia. Despite originating in the global south, POPs were detected in alarmingly high rates in the breast milk and blood of Inuit mothers in northern Quebec and southern Baffin Island during the mid-1980s. Recent evidence suggests that consuming these contaminated foods has devastating consequences for human health including neurological, endocrinological, and behavioral disorders.
Watt-Cloutier emphasizes that sustainable development is more effectively achieved when projects and policies bring Aboriginal peoples and organizations together to learn from one another. She has urged a bridging of the gap between Western scientific rationalism and the Aboriginal worldview. Watt-Cloutier has recommended that traditional ecological knowledge and other Aboriginal knowledge systems assume a more prominent role in dealing with current issues such as climate change.
In my interview with her, Watt-Cloutier explains how climate change, in changing the consistency of ice and snow in the North, threatens the Inuit way of life and why it should therefore be considered a human rights issue as well as an environmental problem. She also talks about some of the physical and climatological changes that the Inuit have been witnessing in the North recently and she describes what she feels is the best way forward in confronting the climate crisis.
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