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The five climate activists that shut down tar sands pipelines Tuesday include: (L-R) Emily Johnson, Annette Klapstein, Leonard Higgins, Michael Foster and Ken Ward. (Photo: Shut It Down)

We Can No Longer Hope to Win This By Simply Voting or Speaking Out

'We do this work out of love, and we know that nothing has ever been more necessary.'

Emily Johnston

Valve-Turners Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein along with independent filmmaker Steve Liptay were arraigned Monday in Bagley, MN for their role in a #ShutItDown direct action last month. Emily made the following statement after her arraignment.

Annette and I have been charged with felony property damage and aiding and abetting felony property damage, as well as trespass and aiding and abetting trespass. Along with our friends engaging in the same acts in other states, we took every precaution to ensure the safety of our actions, including two safety calls to Enbridge, and in fact—as a result of these calls—it was the company which actually shut the pipelines down. We live-streamed everything, and waited over an hour for the sheriff to come and arrest us. We were aware of the potential consequences, and we accept the risks.

"Every life on earth depends on our collective willingness to do the right thing—right now. We are many, and together we are tireless."

I’ll speak for myself alone. I dread the thought of going to prison—being away from my loved ones, and away from the natural world and the daily rhythms that sustain me. But far more, I dread the devastation to every life on this planet if we keep on going as we are.

Between risking my access to what I love, and risking what I love, there is no comparison, and that was the only choice before me. Actions like those we took are profoundly necessary right now; there is not a single law or legislative proposal on the table anywhere that will keep the Earth below 1.5°C of warming—beyond which, scientists have made clear, the ecosystems that we depend upon start to fall apart. Even if we adhere to the Paris climate agreement—and if every country fulfills its every pledge—we are headed past 3°C of warming.

In existing mines and wells—with not a single well drilled ever again-- there is nearly 3x as much carbon as we can burn and have even a 50/50 chance of remaining below that 1.5°C. We need to immediately end the extraction and burning of the dirtiest fuels—coal and tar sands—in order to preserve a livable world. There is no political acknowledgment of this at all—none—and this week, our odds of such acknowledgment grew much, much worse.

I have worked with all my heart for years on climate change: turning people out to hearings, writing, organizing, engaging in a seemingly quixotic blockade of an Arctic drilling rig in my kayak.(1) We’ve run out of time, and there is no law we could be lobbying for that would make the difference right now. The political landscape is simply wrong—so we have to engage in powerful, creative, and sustained peaceful resistance in order to change that landscape; such resistance is the only thing that has ever done so on a short time frame such as the one we have. Just ask the students who ousted Serbia’s Milosevic, or those who ousted Tunisia’s Ben Ali.

If we continue to live our lives—working, driving, sleeping, and obeying the laws of the land—we are complicit in the end of all that we love, even the end of civilization; already the earth is hotter than it has been for 120,000 years, and food systems are being destabilized in Africa and the Middle East, while extreme weather does its brutal business with ever-greater frequency around the world. Our daily lives are the bullets in this gun, but we are not the shooters: the companies that have lied and fought regulation for decades are the shooters.

We don’t have to let this happen. We cannot let this happen. And we can no longer hope to win this fight by simply voting or speaking up at hearings. If we have to physically block oil rigs, tankers, trains, and trucks, we will do so. If we have to turn off pipelines, we’ll do that too. Surely our laws should protect us, and not the profit of companies devastating our hopes for a decent future. Politicians must do their jobs, and respond with the utmost resolve to the threat that we are facing; until they do, business as usual is a dire threat to us all. Every life on earth depends on our collective willingness to do the right thing—right now. We are many, and together we are tireless. We do this work out of love, and we know that nothing has ever been more necessary.

Emily Johnston
Bagley, MN
Nov 14, 2016
1. A few months later, Shell gave up its Arctic drilling program, and more than one insider told us explicitly that this was partially because of the risks to its reputation that we had created with the campaign against the rigs.

© 2016 Emily Johnston

Emily Johnston

Emily Johnston

Emily Johnston is a poet, writer, and climate activist currently facing criminal prosecution for her participation in a #ShutItDown direct action in 2016. Follow her on Twitter: @enjohnston

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