Saturday, July 30, 2011

Profound Negative Impacts

Trees are dying so quickly that I am weary of taking their pictures and writing the same thing over and over.  Eventually people will have to notice - or they will refuse to see.  One thing I am sure of.  Once people do see that ALL the trees are dying, two unavoidable implications will swiftly follow - it's air pollution; and we can't live without them.
This giant stand of Joe-Pye weed is growing where a meadow meets the woods.  Butterflies and bees clustered around the tall flowers.
This week our illustrious governor in New Jersey was rushed to the hospital.  I hadn't realized he had asthma, so I left this comment on the Star Ledger story about it (anyone who already knows about ozone can scroll past the shaded part to new links!
Asthma is an epidemic - so is cancer, emphysema, heart disease and diabetes.  All of these conditions are caused by air pollution from burning fuel.  It seems that our society has made the de facto decision that a certain percentage of the population is expendable in order for us to live lavishly with no thought for future generations that will have to contend with ever-increasing violent weather events from a destabilized climate.  It's amazing that right-wing ideologues like Christie and David Koch, who had cancer, are such rigid adherents to their free-market fantasy that they don't even recognize that treating the atmosphere like an unregulated sewer is potentially lethal.

Even worse is the fact that air pollution is more toxic to vegetation than it is to people.  The inexorably rising levels of tropospheric ozone, which travel across continents and oceans, interfere with photosynthesis, and cause annual agricultural crops to be stunted in growth, reducing yield and quality by billions of dollars around the globe.


Trees and other longer-lived plants that are exposed to damage season after season are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate.  It has been demonstrated in research and well documented that exposure to ozone increases the susceptibility to insects, disease and fungus.  Don't believe trees are dying?  Go look at some - the crowns are thin, leaves are losing color from chlorosis, they are wilted, branches are breaking, bark is corroded with fatal cankers, splitting and oozing and falling off.  Conifers are dropping needles and becoming transparent.
Trees are the foundation of the terrestrial ecosystem, and they are disappearing, just like corals in the acidifying oceans.  It's too late to stop catastrophic climate change, but if we make drastic efforts to conserve energy we just might be able to save the species that we depend on for food and the very oxygen we breathe - never mind lumber, paper, nuts, fruit, shade and wildlife habitat.

Directly across the street the oldest trees are dead.
Even though research has shown that trees damaged by exposure to ozone are more susceptible to insects, almost all professional foresters and scientists stubbornly continue to attribute the undeniably catastrophic decimation of pines in the American and Canadian west to warming temperatures.  For instance, a news story in the Washington Post just reported that the Fish & Wildlife Service is predicting the extinction of the Whitebark Pine, in the American and Canadian West, due to, let's see, white pine blister rust, fire patterns, global warming and, in the case of the 800 year old specimen below, pine bark beetles - with nary a glancing mention of the decades-long unremitting exposure to ozone!


"Logan added that he and colleagues began modeling how climate change would threaten Western tree species such as the whitebark pine in the early 1990s, but 'no one had any sense that it would be as dramatic and catastrophic as it has been.'”
Could that possibly be because they somehow forgot to factor into their models the impacts of air pollution??

 Now let's look at a study which indicates there is, indeed, more afoot than indigenous beetles run amuck from a few degrees of warming, published in 2004.  Here's the abstract of the paper:

Four years of severe drought from 1999 through 2003 led to unprecedented bark beetle activity in ponderosa and Jeffrey pine in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains of southern California. Pines in the San Bernardino Mountains also were heavily impacted by ozone and nitrogenous pollutants originating from urban and agricultural areas in the Los Angeles basin. We studied bark beetle activity and bark beetle associated tree mortality in pines at two drought-impacted sites in the San Bernardino Mountains, one receiving high levels of atmospheric pollutants, and one with more moderate atmospheric input.We also investigated the effects of nitrogen addition treatments of 0, 50 and 150 kg N ha-1 year-1 at each site.


Tree mortality and beetle activity were significantly higher at the high pollution site. Differences in beetle activity between sites were significantly associated with ozone injury to pines, while differences in tree mortality between sites were significantly associated with both ozone injury and fertilization level. Tree mortality was 9% higher and beetle activity 50% higher for unfertilized trees at the high pollution site compared to the low pollution site. Tree mortality increased 8% and beetle activity increased 20% under the highest rates of nitrogen additions at the low pollution site.


Here's the very first paragraph of the research paper:

In a healthy forest, the distribution of bark beetles and pathogenic fungi is typically limited to a few stressed trees. Bark beetle activity on weakened trees results in scattered tree death which can increase habitat complexity for wildlife, reduce tree crowding, create canopy openings and promote plant diversity.  However, stresses such as drought and air pollution can contribute to reduced tree resistance to beetle attack, and many trees in a stand could be affected.  Consequently, many trees may become susceptible to beetle colonization and large-scale tree mortality could be an outcome.

So fancy that!  Inspired, I discovered that even more turns up in a google search for bark beetles + ozone, which I've been wondering about lately, because it occurred to me that if the epidemic were merely temperature-related then the range of beetle damage should be distinctly correlated with both altitude and latitude.  I still haven't found anything about that, but in any event I guess maybe the intertubes are getting better and better, because every time I go back and look for information there is far more available than when I first started learning about the toxicity of ozone.

In fact it boggles the mind that from skimming through the bibliographies, there seems to have been so much more published on ozone's impacts on vegetation prior to the early 2000's.  Where is the more recent work?  Since ozone levels have been going up and up, the impacts must be worse and worse, and yet there seems to be less interest on what is an existential threat to ecosystems and agricultural crops.  One google book linking ozone to the beetle which was first published in 1997, "Forest decline and ozone: a comparison of controlled chamber and field experiments", had an exciting chart:
And a very familiar sample of leaf damage:
Even better is this treasure, a book published in 1999, "Environmental Pollution and Plant Responses".  The only section I can find to read online is Chapter 9, "Effects of Tropospheric Ozone on Woody Plants" but that was quite enough to glean some very pertinent information, which will follow.  (I couldn't copy and paste so I re-typed every word, leaving out the footnote numbers.)  But first a few pictures for comparison's sake....My little katsura, which looked rather well in early June:
The leaves were a cool bluish-green.
By the beginning of July, the inner leaves were turning yellow.
This is chlorosis from impaired ability to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll.
By this week all the yellow leaves had fallen onto the ground.
In early June the maple had a few spots on the leaves.
And by early July they were badly mottled.
The trunk - which should be smooth and seamless - was already lacerated when the summer began.
The bark began oozing.
It is corroded, splitting and marred with lichen.
Following are photos of fairly typical local trees, and those excellent excerpts from Chapter 9.  I underlined my favorite parts and added some comments (not shaded).

Tropospheric O3 has long been defined as a phytotoxin.  Much plant physiological research has been conducted in recent years on the reaction of woody plant species to tropospheric O3. Ozone has been suggested to cause the greatest amount of damage to vegetation as compared with any gaseous pollutant and its relative importance may still increase because of the decline in the occurrence of other air pollutants.  Furthermore, O3 is considered as the most widespread of all atmospheric air pollutants.  Many studies show that ambient O3 concentrations are potentially high enough to cause significant reductions in growth and yields of agricultural crops and trees.  In this chapter, the overall responses and reactions  of woody plants to tropospheric O3 levels are discussed at different hierarchical levels of organization based on an extensive, recent literature review.  Furthermore, the variation in response to O3 among different genera and the interactions with other biotic and abiotic factors are documented.
These underlined sentences are of crucial import because they make it clear that we need look no further for an explanation as to why trees are dying at a rapidly accelerating rate - particularly in light of the corollary that plants damaged by ozone are more likely to be killed off by opportunistic attacks from insects, disease or fungus.
9.4.1  Ozone Uptake:  Role of Stomates

     Oscillations in gas exchange have also been measured in response to O3, and this is attributed to loss of stomatal control and an uncoupling of the relationship between photosynthesis and stomatal conductance.  This results in a disturbed water balance, reduced ability to control water loss, and higher sensitivity to drought.  Accordingly, reduce water use efficiency has been reported in response to O3....

     A loss in canopy carbon gain will not only result from loss of photosynthetic capacity by individual leaves, but to a greater or lesser extent by a decrease of photosynthesizing leaf area caused by accelerated leaf shedding.
So why don't climate scientists think ozone damage to trees from ozone is an important feedback effect?

9.4.5 Leaf Level:  Visible Injury and Leaf Senescence


      The appearance of characteristic lesions on the leaves, chlorosis, bleaching, and accelerated abscission of leaves have long been known to be associated with elevated O3 levels.  These signs of damage by O3 are observed especially on older and mature leaves.


Ozone-induced visible injury frequently is used to assess forest damage, although the extent of foliage injury does not necessarily correlate with physiological damage or reductions in growth....Biochemical  and physiological injury may occur before the appearance of any visible symptoms.  Acute ozone stress will generally result in visible symptoms, but low concentrations over long periods may lead to hidden damage without the appearance of visible foliar injury.
     In many tree species O3 stimulates senescence processes.  Natural senescence is characterized by a controlled degradation of cellular and leaf functions during which cellular constituents are remobilized before abscission.  Lippert et al demonstrated high nitrogen (N) losses for beech after O3 exposure due to inhibited N-translocation before leaf drop, which differs from natural autumnal senescence where N is withdrawn from the leaves.  Similar results were reported for  birch.  Ozone-induced degradation of leaves should therefore not be confounded with natural senescence, as it seems more like an unregulated degradation than an accelerated natural senescence.
In between the following sections are photos from Chicago - granted, climate change is making for more frequent and more violent storms...but look at how thin the trees are!
     Chlorosis is not a primary result of O3 exposure, but a secondary effect due to impaired photosynthetic capacity.  When chlorophyll molecules are arranged structurally in thylakoids, they are very resistant to direct oxidation, and chlorosis more likely is associated with accelerated senescence than with direct effects of O3, or its oxidative products.

     For several poplar hybrids exposed to O3, visible effects on stems have been reported.  Where leaves were shed, lesions or intumescences appeared on the stems, resulting in bark cracking and the exposure of soft cortical tissue.  It has been hypothesized that ethylene is possibly responsible for the induction of these stem lesions.

     There have been very few reports on the effects of O3 on overall tree structure.  In birch and European aspen the crown structure was altered significantly after exposure to elevated O3 levels while in interamerican poplar hybrids, a lowered branchiness has been observed.
(In other words there has been hardly any study as to what happens to overall tree structure.)
9.4.6 Carbon-Allocation and Below-Ground Responses:  Tree Level

     Ozone causes reduction in carbon uptake by reduction of photosynthesis and of photosynthetic leaf area.  The subsequent translocation of carbon to different plant organs and to different pools can also be altered by O3.  In many tree species carbon retention is increased in the leaves and consequently carbon allocation to the roots is reduced.  Very often, the shoot/root ratio increases following O3 exposure, due to higher reductions in root growth than in shoot growth.
(No wonder so many are falling over.)
This higher retention of C in the leaves may be explained by higher carbon demands for repair of damaged foliage, by reduced assimilate transport in the phloem, or by decreased phloem loading.  In loblolly pine needles a decreased partitioning of assimilated carbon into starch and protein, and an increased partitioning into organic acides, lignin, plus structural carbohydrates, and lipids plus pigments has been reported after O3 exposure.
It is the ability to produce phloem that protects the tree from insect infestations.
This shift in partitioning from storage compounds to soluble carbohydrates and carbon compounds involved in repair might be a compensatory response to maintain photosynthetic rates.  Effects on the amounts of foliar starch are sometimes contrasting, since both increases and decreases have been reported.  Further research is needed to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the effects of O3 on carbohydrate metabolism....


     Reduced root growth can alter the functioning of rhizosphere organisms and could make trees more susceptible to drought or nutrient deficiency.  Andersen et al. reported lower carbohydrate levels in new roots of ponderosa pine seedlings after O3 exposure, which may result in reduced plant growth over time.  In addition, O3 exposure during one year resulted in less new root growth in the year following exposure (carryover effect).
9.5.1  Interactions between ozone and other Abiotic and Biotic Factors

     Ozone can alter the response of trees to biotic stresses.  Damage due to O3 may change their tolerance or resistance to insect herbivores and plant pathogens.  In general, O3 exposure has shown to increase palatability, increase herbivorous consumption, and enhance insect performance.  In addition to increased susceptibility to invasion by plant pathogens, inhibitory effects of O3 against microorganisms and fungi have been reported as well.  Mycorrhizae have been shown to offer beneficial effects in ameliorating O3 stress, while O3 can have negative effects on mycorrhizal development.  A decrease in photosynthesis and carbon allocation to the roots would imply less carbohydrates available for the mycorrhizae.
(Maybe this is why the morels and chanterelles, which I used to collect by the sackful, are gone.)
Conclusion:

     Tropospheric O3 has profound negative impacts on the growth, development, and productivity of many plants and vegetations, including trees and forests.  Significant effects of O3 have been observed on a wide range of characteristics such as early leaf senescence, decreased photosynthetic assimilation, altered stomatal behavior, decreased growth and productivity, and reduced carbon allocation to roots.  Although related species or genera may show very different responses to O3, and there may be large differences in sensitivity between different cultivars or clones of the sames species, the initial mechanism of O3 induced stress on plants is uniform.
("...is uniform" means that NO form of vegetation is immune - all are affected.  Think about that.)
A better understanding of  the effects of O3 and O3-derived oxidants is necessary for a more-detailed insight into the impact of O3 on plant growth and development.  As rising tropospheric O3 levels are likely to be a continuing problem, overall growth and yield of trees and forests may be increasingly affected.  In particular, the responses of trees to increased tropospheric O3 levels in combination with other environmental changes will play a very important role in determining growth, development, survival, and abundance of individual plants as well as plant communities in the future.
In light of that research should it be surprising that an article reports that traditional food sources for the First People of the Pacific Northwest are diminishing, including the roots of plants they rely upon in their diet?  They too blame climate change, no doubt not realizing - because who is warning them? - that air pollution reduces the size of plant roots.

"Lewis says he's also hearing from tribal women that the roots they harvest for ceremonies are changing, too.
'They are very small, and their numbers are dwindling, as well. So, it affects a lot of our roots today, this climate change.'"
Certain to make the right wing froth at the mouth (and if you want a really good laugh, read Matt Taibbi's hysterically funny analysis of Michele Bachmann's Holy War) a new paper "Ongoing Biodiversity Loss and the need to move beyond protected areas:  a review..." about the dreadful and accelerating rate of species extinction (...and why wouldn't they be?  When their habitat and source of food is disappearing!) specifically links human overpopulation as the cause, going though all the reasons that nothing else other than population "stabilization" will be sufficient to address the problem:

Practical issues include budget constraints, conflicts with human development, and a growing human population that will increase not only the extent of anthropogenic stressors but the difficulty in successfully enforcing protected areas. While efforts towards improving and increasing the number and/or size of protected areas must continue, there is a clear and urgent need for the development of additional solutions for biodiversity loss, particularly ones that stabilize the size of the world’s human population and our ecological demands on biodiversity.
They conclude:

...In our view, the only scenario to achieve sustainability and to resolve the ongoing loss of biodiversity and its underlying causes will require a concerted effort to reduce human population growth and consumption and simultaneously increase the Earth’s biocapacity through the transference of technology to increase agricultural and aquacultural productivity (our Fig. 4, Kitzes et al. 2008). The fact that human population growth may also lead to economic (e.g. high competition for and/or shortages of jobs;
Becker et al. 1999) and societal (e.g. shortages of food and water, lack of universal primary education, increase in communicable disease, etc.; Campbell et al. 2007) problems suggests that targeting human population growth directly would be worthwhile and could become more effective if advocated simultaneously from social, economic and ecological perspectives.

Apart from continuous growth being ecologically untenable, the negative economic effects of population growth need greater recognition. Independent of whether the human use of natural resources is the
ultimate driver of biodiversity loss, it is clear that the range, and growing seriousness, of human threats is
too great to be addressed through creation of more PAs (Protected Areas). The inexorable and steep loss of biodiversity and the fact that it is leading to the irreversible loss of many species suggest that we cannot afford much delay before choosing the right solution to this problem.

And now, for therapy, here is an extraordinarily beautiful video of vibrant life in the sea.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Red Market


I heard an interview with author Scott Carney on the Leonard Lopate show this afternoon.  For a species who will stoop so low as to kidnap and imprison their fellow brethren to steal their blood, day after day, what's the big deal about creating air pollution and killing off a few trees?

You can listen to the interview here:

Ozone is Killing the Trees

You can see the whole music video here (click on "play again") or make your own message (you might need google chrome) - it's kind of cool!  Actually the video of how they made the video might be even better, so that is embedded below.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Statement to the Court by Tim DeChristopher

Tim DeChristopher has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for civil disobedience, in a sickening display of blatant corporate fascism run amuck.  In 2008 he disrupted a Bureau of Land Management auction of public land for oil drilling, and is now being forced to pay bitterly for threatening the profits of the fossil fuel industry and speaking for the victims of their rapacious business  practices.


Following is his entire statement - I highlighted three particularly excellent sections in blue, and posted a video of his speech at PowerShift 2011 at the end, where he says the challenge has gone beyond reducing carbon, and is now how to maintain our humanity as industrial civilization collapses, and build a better world on the ashes of the old. Wow.  Ever since I heard him speak the sensible truth at the Pricing Carbon Conference at Wesleyan, I've wondered why this heroic young man isn't getting more exposure and support from established climate and environmental organizations...and I think I just figured it out.
Tim DeChristopher at the Pricing Carbon Conference


I Do Not Want Mercy, I Want You To Join Me
by Tim DeChristopher

Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the court. When I first met Mr. Manross, the sentencing officer who prepared the presentence report, he explained that it was essentially his job to “get to know me.” He said he had to get to know who I really was and why I did what I did in order to decide what kind of sentence was appropriate. I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye. I appreciate this opportunity to speak openly to you for the first time. I’m not here asking for your mercy, but I am here asking that you know me.

Mr. Huber has leveled a lot of character attacks at me, many of which are contrary to Mr. Manross’s report. While reading Mr Huber’s critiques of my character and my integrity, as well as his assumptions about my motivations, I was reminded that Mr Huber and I have never had a conversation. Over the two and half years of this prosecution, he has never asked my any of the questions that he makes assumptions about in the government’s report. Apparently, Mr. Huber has never considered it his job to get to know me, and yet he is quite willing to disregard the opinions of the one person who does see that as his job.

There are alternating characterizations that Mr Huber would like you to believe about me. In one paragraph, the government claims I “played out the parts of accuser, jury, and judge as he determined the fate of the oil and gas lease auction and its intended participants that day.” In the very next paragraph, they claim “It was not the defendant’s crimes that effected such a change.” Mr Huber would lead you to believe that I’m either a dangerous criminal who holds the oil and gas industry in the palm of my hand, or I’m just an incompetent child who didn’t affect the outcome of anything. As evidenced by the continued back and forth of contradictory arguments in the government’s memorandum, they’re not quite sure which of those extreme caricatures I am, but they are certain that I am nothing in between. Rather than the job of getting to know me, it seems Mr Huber prefers the job of fitting me into whatever extreme characterization is most politically expedient at the moment.

In nearly every paragraph, the government’s memorandum uses the words lie, lied, lying, liar. It makes me want to thank whatever clerk edited out the words “pants on fire.” Their report doesn’t mention the fact that at the auction in question, the first person who asked me what I was doing there was Agent Dan Love. And I told him very clearly that I was there to stand in the way of an illegitimate auction that threatened my future. I proceeded to answer all of his questions openly and honestly, and have done so to this day when speaking about that auction in any forum, including this courtroom. The entire basis for the false statements charge that I was convicted of was the fact that I wrote my real name and address on a form that included the words “bona fide bidder.” When I sat there on the witness stand, Mr Romney asked me if I ever had any intention of being a bona fide bidder. I responded by asking Mr Romney to clarify what “bona fide bidder” meant in this context. Mr Romney then withdrew the question and moved on to the next subject. On that right there is the entire basis for the government’s repeated attacks on my integrity. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff, your honor.

Mr Huber also makes grand assumptions about my level of respect for the rule of law. The government claims a long prison sentence is necessary to counteract the political statements I’ve made and promote a respect for the law. The only evidence provided for my lack of respect for the law is political statements that I’ve made in public forums. Again, the government doesn’t mention my actions in regard to the drastic restrictions that were put upon my defense in this courtroom. My political disagreements with the court about the proper role of a jury in the legal system are probably well known. I’ve given several public speeches and interviews about how the jury system was established and how it has evolved to it’s current state. Outside of this courtroom, I’ve made my views clear that I agree with the founding fathers that juries should be the conscience of the community and a defense against legislative tyranny. I even went so far as to organize a book study group that read about the history of jury nullification. Some of the participants in that book group later began passing out leaflets to the public about jury rights, as is their right. Mr Huber was apparently so outraged by this that he made the slanderous accusations that I tried to taint the jury. He didn’t specify the extra number of months that I should spend in prison for the heinous activity of holding a book group at the Unitarian Church and quoting Thomas Jefferson in public, but he says you should have “little tolerance for this behavior.”

But here is the important point that Mr Huber would rather ignore. Despite my strong disagreements with the court about the Constitutional basis for the limits on my defense, while I was in this courtroom I respected the authority of the court. Whether I agreed with them or not, I abided by the restrictions that you put on me and my legal team. I never attempted to “taint” the jury, as Mr Huber claimed, by sharing any of the relevant facts about the auction in question that the court had decided were off limits. I didn’t burst out and tell the jury that I successfully raised the down payment and offered it to the BLM. I didn’t let the jury know that the auction was later reversed because it was illegitimate in the first place. To this day I still think I should have had the right to do so, but disagreement with the law should not be confused with disrespect for the law.

My public statements about jury nullification were not the only political statements that Mr Huber thinks I should be punished for. As the government’s memorandum points out, I have also made public statements about the value of civil disobedience in bringing the rule of law closer to our shared sense of justice. In fact, I have openly and explicitly called for nonviolent civil disobedience against mountaintop removal coal mining in my home state of West Virginia. Mountaintop removal is itself an illegal activity, which has always been in violation of the Clean Water Act, and it is an illegal activity that kills people. A West Virginia state investigation found that Massey Energy had been cited with 62,923 violations of the law in the ten years preceding the disaster that killed 29 people last year. The investigation also revealed that Massey paid for almost none of those violations because the company provided millions of dollars worth of campaign contributions that elected most of the appeals court judges in the state. When I was growing up in West Virginia, my mother was one of many who pursued every legal avenue for making the coal industry follow the law. She commented at hearings, wrote petitions and filed lawsuits, and many have continued to do ever since, to no avail. I actually have great respect for the rule of law, because I see what happens when it doesn’t exist, as is the case with the fossil fuel industry. Those crimes committed by Massey Energy led not only to the deaths of their own workers, but to the deaths of countless local residents, such as Joshua McCormick, who died of kidney cancer at age 22 because he was unlucky enough to live downstream from a coal mine. When a corrupted government is no longer willing to uphold the rule of law, I advocate that citizens step up to that responsibility.

This is really the heart of what this case is about. The rule of law is dependent upon a government that is willing to abide by the law. Disrespect for the rule of law begins when the government believes itself and its corporate sponsors to be above the law.

Mr Huber claims that the seriousness of my offense was that I “obstructed lawful government proceedings.” But the auction in question was not a lawful proceeding. I know you’ve heard another case about some of the irregularities for which the auction was overturned. But that case did not involve the BLM’s blatant violation of Secretarial Order 3226, which was a law that went into effect in 2001 and required the BLM to weigh the impacts on climate change for all its major decisions, particularly resource development. A federal judge in Montana ruled last year that the BLM was in constant violation of this law throughout the Bush administration. In all the proceedings and debates about this auction, no apologist for the government or the BLM has ever even tried to claim that the BLM followed this law. In both the December 2008 auction and the creation of the Resource Management Plan on which this auction was based, the BLM did not even attempt to follow this law.

And this law is not a trivial regulation about crossing t’s or dotting i’s to make some government accountant’s job easier. This law was put into effect to mitigate the impacts of catastrophic climate change and defend a livable future on this planet. This law was about protecting the survival of young generations. That’s kind of a big deal. It’s a very big deal to me. If the government is going to refuse to step up to that responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and other citizens. My future, and the future of everyone I care about, is being traded for short term profits. I take that very personally. Until our leaders take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I will continue this fight.

The government has made the claim that there were legal alternatives to standing in the way of this auction. Particularly, I could have filed a written protest against certain parcels. The government does not mention, however, that two months prior to this auction, in October 2008, a Congressional report was released that looked into those protests. The report, by the House committee on public lands, stated that it had become common practice for the BLM to take volunteers from the oil and gas industry to process those permits. The oil industry was paying people specifically to volunteer for the industry that was supposed to be regulating it, and it was to those industry staff that I would have been appealing. Moreover, this auction was just three months after the New York Times reported on a major scandal involving Department of the Interior regulators who were taking bribes of sex and drugs from the oil companies that they were supposed to be regulating. In 2008, this was the condition of the rule of law, for which Mr Huber says I lacked respect. Just as the legal avenues which people in West Virginia have been pursuing for 30 years, the legal avenues in this case were constructed precisely to protect the corporations who control the government.

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice. Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code. I know Mr Huber disagrees with me on this. He wrote that “The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of ‘civil disobedience’ committed in the name of the cause of the day.” That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience. Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice. The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

This philosophical difference is serious enough that Mr Huber thinks I should be imprisoned to discourage the spread of this idea. Much of the government’s memorandum focuses on the political statements that I’ve made in public. But it hasn’t always been this way. When Mr Huber was arguing that my defense should be limited, he addressed my views this way: “The public square is the proper stage for the defendant’s message, not criminal proceedings in federal court.” But now that the jury is gone, Mr. Huber wants to take my message from the public square and make it a central part of these federal court proceedings. I have no problem with that. I’m just as willing to have those views on display as I’ve ever been.

The government’s memorandum states, “As opposed to preventing this particular defendant from committing further crimes, the sentence should be crafted ‘to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct’ by others.” Their concern is not the danger that I present, but the danger presented by my ideas and words that might lead others to action. Perhaps Mr Huber is right to be concerned. He represents the United States Government. His job is to protect those currently in power, and by extension, their corporate sponsors. After months of no action after the auction, the way I found out about my indictment was the day before it happened, Pat Shea got a call from an Associated Press reporter who said, “I just wanted to let you know that tomorrow Tim is going to be indicted, and this is what the charges are going to be.” That reporter had gotten that information two weeks earlier from an oil industry lobbyist. Our request for disclosure of what role that lobbyist played in the US Attorney’s office was denied, but we know that she apparently holds sway and that the government feels the need to protect the industry’s interests.

The things that I’ve been publicly saying may indeed be threatening to that power structure. There have been several references to the speech I gave after the conviction, but I’ve only ever seen half of one sentence of that speech quoted. In the government’s report, they actually had to add their own words to that one sentence to make it sound more threatening. But the speech was about empowerment. It was about recognizing our interconnectedness rather than viewing ourselves as isolated individuals. The message of the speech was that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.

But the sentencing guidelines don’t mention the need to protect corporations or politicians from ideas that threaten their control. The guidelines say “protect the public.” The question is whether the public is helped or harmed by my actions. The easiest way to answer that question is with the direct impacts of my action. As the oil executive stated in his testimony, the parcels I didn’t bid on averaged $12 per acre, but the ones I did bid on averaged $125. Those are the prices paid for public property to the public trust. The industry admits very openly that they were getting those parcels for an order of magnitude less than what they were worth. Not only did those oil companies drive up the prices to $125 during the bidding, they were then given an opportunity to withdraw their bids once my actions were explained. They kept the parcels, presumably because they knew they were still a good deal at $125. The oil companies knew they were getting a steal from the American people, and now they’re crying because they had to pay a little closer to what those parcels were actually worth. The government claims I should be held accountable for the steal the oil companies didn’t get. The government’s report demands $600,000 worth of financial impacts for the amount which the oil industry wasn’t able to steal from the public.

That extra revenue for the public became almost irrelevant, though, once most of those parcels were revoked by Secretary Salazar. Most of the parcels I won were later deemed inappropriate for drilling. In other words, the highest and best value to the public for those particular lands was not for oil and gas drilling. Had the auction gone off without a hitch, it would have been a loss for the public. The fact that the auction was delayed, extra attention was brought to the process, and the parcels were ultimately revoked was a good thing for the public.

More generally, the question of whether civil disobedience is good for the public is a matter of perspective. Civil disobedience is inherently an attempt at change. Those in power, whom Mr Huber represents, are those for whom the status quo is working, so they always see civil disobedience as a bad thing. The decision you are making today, your honor, is what segment of the public you are meant to protect. Mr Huber clearly has cast his lot with that segment who wishes to preserve the status quo. But the majority of the public is exploited by the status quo far more than they are benefited by it. The young are the most obvious group who is exploited and condemned to an ugly future by letting the fossil fuel industry call the shots. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific research, some of which you received as part of our proffer on the necessity defense, that reveals the catastrophic consequences which the young will have to deal with over the coming decades.

But just as real is the exploitation of the communities where fossil fuels are extracted. As a native of West Virginia, I have seen from a young age that the exploitation of fossil fuels has always gone hand in hand with the exploitation of local people. In West Virginia, we’ve been extracting coal longer than anyone else. And after 150 years of making other people rich, West Virginia is almost dead last among the states in per capita income, education rates and life expectancy. And it’s not an anomaly. The areas with the richest fossil fuel resources, whether coal in West Virginia and Kentucky, or oil in Louisiana and Mississippi, are the areas with the lowest standards of living. In part, this is a necessity of the industry. The only way to convince someone to blow up their backyard or poison their water is to make sure they are so desperate that they have no other option. But it is also the nature of the economic model. Since fossil fuels are a limited resources, whoever controls access to that resource in the beginning gets to set all the terms. They set the terms for their workers, for the local communities, and apparently even for the regulatory agencies. A renewable energy economy is a threat to that model. Since no one can control access to the sun or the wind, the wealth is more likely to flow to whoever does the work of harnessing that energy, and therefore to create a more distributed economic system, which leads to a more distributed political system. It threatens the profits of the handful of corporations for whom the current system works, but our question is which segment of the public are you tasked with protecting. I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system. I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me.

After this difference of political philosophies, the rest of the sentencing debate has been based on the financial loss from my actions. The government has suggested a variety of numbers loosely associated with my actions, but as of yet has yet to establish any causality between my actions and any of those figures. The most commonly discussed figure is perhaps the most easily debunked. This is the figure of roughly $140,000, which is the amount the BLM originally spent to hold the December 2008 auction. By definition, this number is the amount of money the BLM spent before I ever got involved. The relevant question is what the BLM spent because of my actions, but apparently that question has yet to be asked. The only logic that relates the $140,000 figure to my actions is if I caused the entire auction to be null and void and the BLM had to start from scratch to redo the entire auction. But that of course is not the case. First is the prosecution’s on-again-off-again argument that I didn’t have any impact on the auction being overturned. More importantly, the BLM never did redo the auction because it was decided that many of those parcels should never have been auctioned in the first place. Rather than this arbitrary figure of $140,000, it would have been easy to ask the BLM how much money they spent or will spend on redoing the auction. But the government never asked this question, probably because they knew they wouldn’t like the answer.

The other number suggested in the government’s memorandum is the $166,000 that was the total price of the three parcels I won which were not invalidated. Strangely, the government wants me to pay for these parcels, but has never offered to actually give them to me. When I offered the BLM the money a couple weeks after the auction, they refused to take it. Aside from that history, this figure is still not a valid financial loss from my actions. When we wrote there was no loss from my actions, we actually meant that rather literally. Those three parcels were not evaporated or blasted into space because of my actions, not was the oil underneath them sucked dry by my bid card. They’re still there, and in fact the BLM has already issued public notice of their intent to re-auction those parcels in February of 2012.

The final figure suggested as a financial loss is the $600,000 that the oil company wasn’t able to steal from the public. That completely unsubstantiated number is supposedly the extra amount the BLM received because of my actions. This is when things get tricky. The government’s report takes that $600,000 positive for the BLM and adds it to that roughly $300,000 negative for the BLM, and comes up with a $900,000 negative. With math like that, it’s obvious that Mr Huber works for the federal government.

After most of those figures were disputed in the presentence report, the government claimed in their most recent objection that I should be punished according to the intended financial impact that I intended to cause. The government tries to assume my intentions and then claims, “This is consistent with the testimony that Mr. DeChristopher provided at trial, admitting that his intention was to cause financial harm to others with whom he disagreed.” Now I didn’t get to say a whole lot at the trial, so it was pretty easy to look back through the transcripts. The statement claimed by the government never happened. There was nothing even close enough to make their statement a paraphrase or artistic license. This statement in the government’s objection is a complete fiction. Mr Huber’s inability to judge my intent is revealed in this case by the degree to which he underestimates my ambition. The truth is that my intention, then as now, was to expose, embarrass and hold accountable the oil industry to the extent that it cuts into the $100 billion in annual profits that it makes through exploitation. I actually intended for my actions to play a role in the wide variety of actions that steer the country toward a clean energy economy where those $100 billion in oil profits are completely eliminated. When I read Mr Huber’s new logic, I was terrified to consider that my slightly unrealistic intention to have a $100 billion impact will fetch me several consecutive life sentences. Luckily this reasoning is as unrealistic as it is silly.

A more serious look at my intentions is found in Mr Huber’s attempt to find contradictions in my statements. Mr Huber points out that in public I acted proud of my actions and treated it like a success, while in our sentencing memorandum we claimed that my actions led to “no loss.” On the one hand I think it was a success, and yet I claim it there was no loss. Success, but no loss. Mr Huber presents these ideas as mutually contradictory and obvious proof that I was either dishonest or backing down from my convictions. But for success to be contradictory to no loss, there has to be another assumption. One has to assume that my intent was to cause a loss. But the only loss that I intended to cause was the loss of secrecy by which the government gave away public property for private profit. As I actually stated in the trial, my intent was to shine a light on a corrupt process and get the government to take a second look at how this auction was conducted. The success of that intent is not dependent on any loss. I knew that if I was completely off base, and the government took that second look and decided that nothing was wrong with that auction, the cost of my action would be another day’s salary for the auctioneer and some minor costs of re-auctioning the parcels. But if I was right about the irregularities of the auction, I knew that allowing the auction to proceed would mean the permanent loss of lands better suited for other purposes and the permanent loss of a safe climate. The intent was to prevent loss, but again that is a matter of perspective.

Mr Huber wants you to weigh the loss for the corporations that expected to get public property for pennies on the dollar, but I believe the important factor is the loss to the public which I helped prevent. Again, we come back to this philosophical difference. From any perspective, this is a case about the right of citizens to challenge the government. The US Attorney’s office makes clear that their interest is not only to punish me for doing so, but to discourage others from challenging the government, even when the government is acting inappropriately. Their memorandum states, “To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior.” The certainty of this statement not only ignores the history of political prisoners, it ignores the severity of the present situation. Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change. They know their future, and the future of their loved ones, is on the line. And they know were are running out of time to turn things around. The closer we get to that point where it’s too late, the less people have to lose by fighting back. The power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people. The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel. The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today. And neither will I. I will continue to confront the system that threatens our future. Given the destruction of our democratic institutions that once gave citizens access to power, my future will likely involve civil disobedience. Nothing that happens here today will change that. I don’t mean that in any sort of disrespectful way at all, but you don’t have that authority. You have authority over my life, but not my principles. Those are mine alone.

I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me. If you side with Mr Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away. I certainly don’t want that. I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false. I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government. I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience. If you share those values but think my tactics are mistaken, you have the power to redirect them. You can sentence me to a wide range of community service efforts that would point my commitment to a healthy and just world down a different path. You can have me work with troubled teens, as I spent most of my career doing. You can have me help disadvantaged communities or even just pull weeds for the BLM. You can steer that commitment if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it. This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dude, Who Stole the Trees?

Over the last couple of stifling, suffocating days, two of my chickens keeled over and died.  It was really creepy to dredge the first out of the coop, grabbing her by her feet, stiff with rigor mortis - and the other had been pecked into smitherines by the time I saw it, out in the pen...ugh!  Sympathetic neighbors who are better farmers than I told me poultry is overly domesticated and have weak hearts that cannot stand the exertion of extreme heat.
These robins made a nest in the meager shade of a nearly leafless apple tree on my patio, and have been frantically trying to raise just one little baby in it - no doubt because the first spring brood was lost.
Even conspiring together the parents could not find enough to feed their ravenous hatchling.  I went out on the porch yesterday to check on the family, and they were all gone - not in the nest, not in the cherry tree nearby from where they monitored my trespassing...the only trace (and I'm not making this up to be poetic, it's true) was a tiny white fluffy feather, which I watched in fascinated astonishment and horror as it drifted slowly through the thick air from the nest, wafting from side to side until it settled in silent reproach on the ground at my feet.
I have also been watching these fawns for the past several days.  There is no sign of a mother.  I read that when the mothers cannot find enough food for themselves to produce milk, they abandon their babies.
By surprise I came across something I wrote in December of 2009 that I had since forgotten - Dude, Who Stole the Trees - as a yahoo contribution.  Nothing has changed in my assessment since then, except that the timeline has shortened, and by the same token, incredibly, the ludicrous and stupid denial of the Ignorers has expanded and compounded.  It's making me quite weary of repeating the same warnings, that we should prepare for hellacious consequences, and the best we could do is recognize that - and commence a radical program of conservation of all fuel and resources.  There is so much I could say and link to going on in this crazy dénouement - but why?  It's merely repetitive and boring and useless!

Here's a brief, almost silent film clip of the sort of extraordinary extreme weather displacements that have commenced, and will intensify, with no end in sight (you know, just for fun...because, why not?  Unspeakably powerful winds make waterfall flow upward!)

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