Guest editorial: Park City can learn from the Valveturners
Protesters were brave and effective
June 13, 2017
My phone notified me of two news stories on Wednesday afternoon, June 7. One was personal. The other, national. First, my sister-in-law sent me a video of my 21-month-old nephew, Thomas, saying my name for the first time. It was one of the best sounds I've ever heard.
Then, I read that Ken Ward, founder of Climate Disobedience with Tim DeChristopher, and one of the five "Valveturners" who, on Oct. 11, 2016, manually cranked Enbridge, Inc.'s pipelines' emergency shutoff valves shutting down five crude oil pipelines for a whole business day, was convicted of one of the criminal charges brought against him.
This was the second time Ward was tried in Skagit County, Wash., after the first jury was unable to reach a verdict in January. In this trial, the jury found Ward guilty of second-degree burglary, a felony charge carrying up to a decade in prison, and/or up to $20,000 in fines. Fortunately, the jury did not find Ward guilty of a felony sabotage charge.
Not only were the Valveturners incredibly brave, they were effective. Ward and the other valve-turners who shut down pipelines in Minnesota, Washington, Montana, and North Dakota prevented the delivery of 2.8 million barrels of crude from Canada to American markets. That's about 15 percent of American daily oil consumption. The Valveturners have shown that if we want to stop the flow of oil, we might have to do it ourselves.
Interestingly, all five of the Valveturners were baby boomers, 50 years or older. Annette Klapstein, one of the Valveturners arrested in Minnesota, described her motivation in the Seattle Weekly, "This is an absolute crisis. And, there is no politician anywhere who is dealing with it as the reality of the emergency that it is." She also said she wanted to look her grandchildren in the face and say, "'I did everything in my power to make sure you have a future. Not just 'I ineffectually petitioned my political leadership.'"
Meanwhile, in Park City, where politics are dominated by baby boomers, concerned citizens are pacified by reassuring messages from City Council that "Park City has made North America's most ambitious climate goals: to be net-zero and run on 100% renewable electricity for city operations by 2022, and for the whole community by 2032." It's still unclear how this will be achieved, but the promises have been made.
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I am glad that Parkites want to fight climate change, but we cannot settle for a plan that will take fifteen years to come to fruition. We need tactics that account for the urgency of climate reality. The Valveturners have provided a blueprint, taken responsibility, and exhibited nearly unmatched courage. Why can't we act with the same decisiveness?
I'm not saying that risking prison time is the only way to stop climate change. But, I am saying that some of us are willing to engage in more serious forms of resistance. Many of us are young, look at a future being stolen from us, and ask the older generations to admit that their tactics have failed. We are beginning to organize, and we could use your help.
I know I risk being called "too extreme." To answer that I return to Ken Ward and my nephew, Thomas. A few weeks ago, in a piece for "Earth Island Journal," Ward wrote of his actions, "I have no regrets. And if at some point my son asks me, Dad, what did you do to stop this? I'll be able to tell him that I did everything I could think of to try."
Ward is truly a hero, and I thank him. For me, as little Thomas grows up and finds his voice, I want him to be able to say, "Uncle Will, thanks for stopping climate change."
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