Guest essay by Eric Worrall
I shut down an oil pipeline – because climate change is a ticking bomb
Friday 24 November 2017 20.00 AEDT
Normal methods of political action and protest are simply not working. If we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast, that’s genocide.
Alittle over a year ago, four friends and I shut down all five pipelines carrying tar sands crude oil into the United States by using emergency shut-off valves. As recent months have made clear, climate change is not only an imminent threat; it is an existing catastrophe. It’s going to get worse, and tar sands oil—the dirtiest oil on Earth—is one of the reasons.
We did this very, very carefully—after talking to pipeline engineers, and doing our own research. Before we touched a thing, we called the pipeline companies twice to warn them, and let them turn off the pipelines themselves if they thought that was better; all of them did so.
We knew we were at risk for years in prison. But the nation needs to wake up nowto what’s coming our way if we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast; business as usual is now genocidal.
In shutting off the pipelines, we hoped to be part of that wake-up, to put ourselves in legal jeopardy in order to state dramatically and unambiguously that normal methods of political action and protest are simply not working with anywhere near the speed that we need them to.
Three of our trials (which are in four states) had already rejected the use of the necessity defense. In North Dakota, the judge said essentially “I’m not going to let you put US energy policy on trial”. But recently, I and the other Minnesota defendants were finally granted it.
I was struck by the North Dakota judge’s implicit understanding that letting science be spoken in her courtroom would have had the effect of putting energy policy on trial—of reversing, in effect, who was the defendant, and who the prosecutor.
The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “…the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”.
Emily claims she and her friends took every step possible to avoid risk to life. But what she did was risky and irresponsible.
Any slip-up by pumping companies scrambling to respond to her abrupt closure of emergency valves, of pipes carrying vast quantities of flammable liquids, could have caused a rupture or worse. A moving column of thousands of tons of flammable liquid can deliver a tremendous hammer blow against vulnerable infrastructure if its transit is not carefully managed.
Crews distracted by her and her friends irresponsible antics might not have noticed another emergency developing elsewhere in the system. Even though on this occasion everything ended without further mishap, Emily and her friends were responsible for a period of significantly heightened risk.
As for Emily’s claimed justification for her actions, what an ego. There was no immediate threat to life. Emily and her eco-terrorist friends don’t get to decide what is legal, the representatives elected by the people have that responsibility. By leading an attack on vital infrastructure, Emily and her friends tried to usurp everyone elses rights.
I have never called for or led direct action against renewable infrastructure, despite my belief that renewable infrastructure causes tremendous long term harm, because unlike Emily I don’t believe I have a general right to deprive others of their rights. In any case, wind turbines in particular have an entertaining habit of destroying themselves.
One thing for sure. If Emily and her friends are not punished for their irresponsibility, others will be inspired to copy her actions. The next group of clowns who decide to attack vital energy infrastructure might be less careful, or less lucky. People will die unless this craziness is stopped.