Some time ago, climate activists noticed they were not winning over the American public, whose opinion was deeply divided on global warming/climate change. They turned to legal venues to promote their agenda, including shareholder proposals and legal complaints.
Any jurisdiction, like Massachusetts or the UK, who enacted reductions of fossil fuel emissions will be subject to legal suits for not achieving emission targets. In such court proceedings, global warming/climate change, temperature changes, extreme weather etc. are all of them beside the point. Once such a law is in place, the belief has served only as a cover to compel energy policies no longer needing any reference to climate science or its uncertainties.
Washington state is one of the most liberal in the US, and thus a hotbed of climate alarm and activism. In the November general election, the state was the first to vote on imposing a carbon tax. The measure was defeated, but only because social justice groups and many environmental activists argued it did not go far enough in promoting clean energy.
Washington State Voters Reject Nation’s First Carbon Tax
Last November, children were recruited to bring a case against the federal government for not stopping climate change, and the judge in that case agreed to hear their complaint. Washington Youth Sue Over Climate Change
In this context, we have a brave judge standing up for the rule of law in a case of civil disobedience. The defendant Ken Ward is an Oregon-based environmental activist who turned off an oil pipeline in Washington state last October 11. He does not dispute his criminal behavior, but claims his actions were necessary to defend the planet.
The 60-year-old Corbett, Ore. man faces three felony charges and one misdemeanor for shutting off a valve on the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Burlington, Wash, which transports Canadian Tar Sands crude oil into the state for refinement.
At a pre-trial hearing on January 24 in Skagit County, Washington, a judge denied Ward’s defense strategy, known as the necessity defense.
Judge Michael E Rickert said: “I don’t know what everybody’s beliefs are on [climate change], but I know that there’s tremendous controversy over the fact whether it even exists. And even if people believe that it does or it doesn’t, the extent of what we’re doing to ourselves and our climate and our planet, there’s great controversy over that.”
There have been some victories for the necessity defense in the UK and in Massachusetts where a prosecutor in 2014 dropped charges against Ward and another activist who blocked a coal shipment, stating that “climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced”.
But Rickert, an elected judge in Skagit county, north of Seattle, sided with state prosecutors who argued against the necessity defense and have alleged that Ward, co-founder of Climate Disobedience Center, committed burglary, criminal trespass and sabotage.
While explaining the standards for permitting a necessity defense, Rickert said: “It does need to have some immediacy, some imminence, more so than this particular threat and harm, which is climatic change, global warming, whatever.”
He later added that with climate change, there’s “great controversy” with “over half of our political leaders”. (Critics have slammed the GOP as the “only major party in the advanced world” to deny climate change).
Interestingly, only the report in The Guardian (here) quoted Judge Rickert so that readers might hear what he said (the news). But the journalist’s bias came out in several adjectives and parenthetical asides intended to assert his own opinion (fake news) to undermine the judge’s authority.
Ward’s action was a planned act of protest done in conjunction with other “valve turners” in other states. At the same time in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, fellow environmentalists turned off oil pipelines. They broke the law because they believed that the federal government gave them no other choice: by its inaction on climate change issues, they chose to cut off the flow of oil into the country. Williamette Week (here)
Finally a judge stands up for the rule of law. No religious belief, be it Seventh Day Adventism, or Catastrophic Climatism can be imposed on others, nor be a justification for illegal actions against lawful enterprises. At least the Adventists respect social justice by seeking only to persuade others through discussion rather than by force or violence.
A year ago was another loss in the courts for climate activists on January 15, 2016 in Seattle.
The ‘Delta 5’ had attempted to illegally block trains carrying crude oil near Seattle, and had hoped that their trial would mark the first time that a US jury was allowed to consider the “necessity defense” in a case of climate activism.
But after allowing two days of expert testimony on topics ranging from the Paris climate talks to railway safety standards and the health impacts of particulate matter, Judge Anthony E Howard ruled that the defense had failed to present sufficient evidence to show that the defendants had “no reasonable legal alternative” to trespassing on a private rail yard and blocking trains.
The case is a blow to environmental campaigners but marks the furthest defendants have managed to go in an American courtroom using the so-called “necessity” defense that argues such actions are justified to combat catastrophic climate change.
The activists progressed unusually far because Howard allowed them to call expert witnesses to testify to the harms of climate change, even though he later felt compelled to instruct the jury to disregard their evidence. The judge appeared to do so reluctantly, expressing some sympathy for the activists in a court on Thursday.
“Frankly the court is convinced that the defendants are far from the problem and are part of the solution to the problem of climate change,” Howard said from the bench. But, he added: “I am bound by legal precedent, no matter what my personal beliefs might be.”
That’s two brave judges. It appears many more courageous judges will be needed.