You may or may not know Tim DeChristopher’s story, but you should, whether you agree with it or not.
Yesterday Tim DeChristopher was sentenced 2 years in federal prison for taking action that protected some of America’s great wild places and made the oil and gas industry furious. Unfortunately this act came at a great personal sacrifice for Tim. See, Tim didn t accomplish this by lobbying his congressional representatives or posting on his Facebook. There wasn t time for that. Tim saw a critical moment that demanded action and took it.
This blog isn t about civil disobedience, its value as a tactic, or its place in any movement. It’s about, once again, how one person’s action sheds light on the countless individuals standing up for healthy communities, clean environments, and untrampled wilderness. (If you are more interested in the tactics, Bill McKibben wrote a great Op-Ed this past week looking at Tim’s tactic of civil disobedience.)
While sitting in class at university Tim caught wind of a massive land auction; one of the last major give-a-ways from the departing Bush Administration. After hearing about it he turned up at the Bush administration’s oil and gas leasing auction in Salt Lake. In the moment, while standing at the registration table and feeling the need to do something to shake up the public lands bonanza, he decided to register as a bidder, Bidder #70.
Sitting there watching oil and gas companies eagerly bidding to aquire the rights to develop extraction projects in the Southwest, Tim stepped in, as he explains in this video, and quietly raised his paddle. He began to outbid the oil and gas industry and after it was all over Tim had bought $1.8 million in federal lands. It soon became clear that Tim had no intention of paying (student loans only go so far), but the auction had ended, the bidding was done. Most importantly the auction had ended without the sale of 14 leases on parcels totaling 22,500 acres around Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Furthermore, just weeks after the auction a federal judge halted the sale of many of the parcels, ruling that the BLM had circumnavigated environmental protection laws of air quality and historic preservation. Then in 2009 Dept of the Interior shelved the 77 contested lease parcels, including ones Tim won.
Because of this action, people (myself included) are aware, more then ever about our government’s land and resource give-a-ways to the oil and gas industry. Take for example the impending threat of lands outside of the Grand Canyon to be mined for uranium.
However most importantly are the example of the families behind all the bids, auctions, land grabs, and back room deals. The families like Deborah Rogers who began battling health issues shortly after Chesapeake began drilling near her home in April 2010. Or Bob and Lisa Parr, who’s property is now surrounded by 21 gas wells, being told by their doctor to leave their home within 48 hours after a series of health scares. These are the all to common stories of families and communities that have to live with the repercussions of the extractives industry’s land grabs.
Perhaps most importantly though, Tim has shown that it is not the decision makers in DC, nor the companies they answer to that will decide our energy future. It is the person sitting in a university classroom, typing in an office cubicle, or chatting on a front porch that decides that enough is enough and takes action.
“At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like… With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. — Tim DeChristopher at is sentencing hearing.
As the urgency around domestic oil drilling, the rapid expansion on Marcellus Shale continues to dictate the US’s energy policy and priorities it will take individuals working collectively to transform our energy paradigm and transform business as usual between our elected representatives and extractive industries. Thankfully, that is exactly what is happening.
Tim will be in prison for the next two years. My hope is that in two years, when we walks out, he’ll be proud of the work we’ve done.