On the Sentencing of Tim DeChristopher

By Susan Anderson, Richard Brenne, Ed Hummel, Tenney Naumer, Richard Pauli, Mike Roddy — climate hawks and long-time Climate Progress commenters.

In June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

The above words come from the American Declaration of Independence and laid out the rationale in blunt terms of what the people in a society can and should do to insure their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It spells out that any government owes its very existence to the acquiescence of the people it rules. And even though most people are willing to put up with a lot before they reach a breaking point, it is their right and duty to force a change whenever the government becomes oppressive and even dangerous to the present and future well-being of the population as a whole.

A strong argument can be made today that our government has in fact become increasingly oppressive and dangerous to the future of the general population while submitting to the wishes and desires of a rich and powerful elite which is using all means at its disposal to maintain its power and privilege. This situation has become even more destructive and insidious because the ruling elite has been able to employ a very talented public relations establishment in convincing the masses to support policies and directions that go against their own best and vital interests. And even though there have been many issues involved in the creeping subjugation of the masses to the selfish interests of the power elite, probably nothing is showing itself to be more important and potentially disastrous than the steady trashing of the life sustaining systems on Earth and especially its disappearing habitable climate.

On July 27, 2011, Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in Federal prison and fined $10,000 for supposedly defrauding the US government when he bid on some tracts of public land in Utah that were being auctioned off for the right to explore them and then develop any potential oil and gas deposits found on said tracts. Just before he was sentenced, he was allowed by the court to make a public statement.

In this statement, he eloquently and in great detail explained his motivations for bidding on certain parcels, even though he had no intention of developing any mineral resources. He laid out in very clear terms how the federal government’s cozy relationship with fossil fuel companies has led to potentially catastrophic consequences for our children and grandchildren because of accelerating climate disruption caused by fossil fuel emissions, as well as the past and present damage to public health brought about by irresponsible and dangerous mining practices. But, because he allegedly “abused” the bidding process and caused the government to expend money on the transaction while tying up parcels that “legitimate” bidders could have acquired, he was accused and prosecuted for defrauding the government of over one million dollars. In his summation to the jury, the federal prosecutor also expounded on the need for an example being set to thwart anyone else from trying to do anything similar in the future.

However, DeChristopher also pointed out that it is the duty of any patriotic citizen to work to change the direction of the government as well as the laws if they become a detriment to the citizenry as a whole, even if they might provide a temporary benefit in some way to a select few. Therefore, he proclaimed the duty of all citizens to perform acts of civil disobedience when the courts and laws become instruments of the power elite for preserving the status quo, rather than instruments necessary for the protection of the lives and rights of its citizens. He ended by calling on the people in the court as well as all of us who are citizens of this country to join him in his civil disobedience because it is necessary to preserve some semblance of a livable Earth for future generations as well as all the young people already alive today.

As DeChristopher stated in his address to the court, this country was founded on the principle of civil disobedience; the concept is codified in our Declaration of Independence! Whenever laws or customs were detrimental to all or parts of our population throughout our history, civil disobedience to these laws and customs, no matter how much resistance presented by the power elites, was used to force the changes necessary to rid ourselves of the destructive influences. The actions were usually uncomfortable and many times painful and even lethal; we fought one of the nastiest civil wars in recorded history to right one of the most grievous wrongs of our past. In every case where civil disobedience had to be used to change an unjust status quo, the entrenched power elites never gave in without a struggle and often their reactions were truly brutal.

Today, as DeChristopher so eloquently stated, we face probably the most dangerous existential threat ever confronted in our relatively short history as a society. Indeed, all the world’s societies face the same threat: environmental destruction across the globe topped by the most insidious and all-encompassing danger of them all, irreversible climate change.

Most environmental degradations can be laid squarely at the feet of our run-away corporate, high-financed, industrial society that in reality only truly benefits the short term interests of the corporate elites who run everything, including most governments around the world. As noted above, they have successfully used the power of advertising to convince the masses that everyone’s lot has gotten better and will continue to do so as long as we continue to use their products and pursue our energy intense way of life. Any problems with this system have always been assigned to “misguided” reformers and whistle blowers who try to interfere with the smooth functioning of this narrow-minded economic model.

But the inanities and absurdities of our current global system are becoming more apparent to a growing number of people around the world. More and more people are reaching the point where the absurdities and inherent dangers are becoming too obvious to ignore, and so civil disobedience on a powerful scale is becoming more possible. DeChristopher is now calling out to all of us the same way Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Eugene Debs, and Martin Luther King, among many others, did in our past.

But time is running out as far as the climate and general environmental crises are concerned. We’ve probably already passed the point where we can reverse climate change to where it was over the last 10,000 years, and even if we stopped all fossil fuel emissions immediately a return to a more benign climate state might not be possible for many hundreds, if not thousands of years because of the long lag time associated with all the carbon already injected into the climate system. Our goal now has probably been reduced to trying to prevent the changes from becoming truly catastrophic and on a par with the major extinction events of the last half billion years of complex life on Earth.

James Hansen, the top NASA climate scientist, has stated that burning more coal and oil over the next few decades would probably lead to a climate that is unlivable for the vast majority of Earth’s species within the current century. Most other climate scientists aren’t quite ready to go that far yet, but all agree that things will get very uncomfortable and chaotic as food and water supplies become increasingly disrupted, and even scarce, across the world while sea levels continue to rise and flood coastal areas where most of the globe’s commerce occurs. Obviously, such social and economic disruption would lead to wars and other social upheavals as has always happened in the past. That’s what we could be facing soon if we don’t change our whole economy and culture immediately.

It’s obvious that our present government isn’t up to the task of making the necessary changes, and in fact is exacerbating the problems with its current relationship with the corporate elites. Therefore, it is up to us citizens, led by people such as Tim DeChristopher, to take matters into our own hands. In doing so, we would only be following the lead of Jefferson and all the other “radicals” through our history. The only difference now is that the stakes have never been higher.

Susan Anderson is an artist from Boston with a lifetime involvement in science and she’s been aware of climate issues since the 1960s.

Richard Brenne is an award winning screen writer now focusing on communicating climate change on multiple media.

Ed Hummel is a retired meteorologist and teacher who currently runs a small weather forecasting service from his home in Garland, ME.

Tenney Naumer is a climate warrior and disseminator of information on climate change science and policy as well as on political and corporate corruption.

Richard Pauli is a curmudgeonly climate blogger (his words!), former journalist, and software industry worker in the Seattle area.

Mike Roddy is a UC Berkley grad who has worked as a river guide, writer/researcher, and builder and who currently lives in Santa Monica, CA

Below are old comments from the earlier Facebook commenting system:

As the above post makes clear, there is substantial reason to regard Mr. DeChristopher’s sentence as a travesty of justice. (Good job, everyone.)

Then there’s the fact that the auction itself was apparently illegal. Add to this the Interior Department’s failure to collect substantial sums due it in oil royalties, reported by the GAO in February. (Joe covers this in an August 3 story.)

It all underscores the point of the above post: that our federal government has far too cozy a relationship with fossil fuel extraction industries. Also, it’s a golden opportunity for President Obama to take a stand. He should commute Mr. DeChristopher’s sentence.

3 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:55pm

Richard Brenne · Top Commenter · UCLA

As Susan Anderson says below and I say elsewhere, this essay was primarily written and edited by our own hero, Ed Hummel. Who knew a meteorologist could be so eloquent?

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 5:49pm

Richard Brenne · Top Commenter · UCLA

Also Ed has made one of the most important climate change-weather connections that I summarize in a trilogy of comments two posts above about the Texas drought.

2 · Like · Reply · August 8 at 6:04pm

Richard Brenne · Top Commenter · UCLA

My own views are perhaps best summarized in the post immediately previous to this one where I put quite a paragraph of words into Obama’s mouth. I don’t know why I haven’t been contacted about that White House speechwriting job. . .

2 · Like · Reply · August 8 at 6:06pm

shaheercassim (signed in using Yahoo)

Nelmon Mandela was another “criminal” who changed the world. So was Copernicus, Darwin, Martin Luther, I’m sure there’s more.

2 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 2:27pm

Matthew Morey

Vote for Tim DeChristopher for president. Whew-hoo! Thanks for being more of a man than me, my friend. You go to prison with all the admiration and respect of all sane people who care about this planet and have love in their hearts. Prayers for your safe and quick return.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 16 at 11:38pm

Christopher Winter · University of Iowa

Held in the final months of the GW Bush administration, the auction of land parcels in southern Utah was described in a New York Times editorial as “the last gasp of the Cheney drill now, drill everywhere strategy…”

Et Al News has a good legal analysis. It supports the idea that the auction itself was at least partly illegal.
…See More

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:41pm

me (signed in using Yahoo)

(Susan Anderson)
Action site:

This is his great speech:
…See More

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 1:15pm

Terry Gallagher · Chicago Theological Seminary

There is a young man who wil serve a 2 year sentence in a Federal Pen for being audacious enough to disrupt a Federal bidding process intended to sell mineral rights to harvest more coal out of Government (our) lands. The attached article explores why a young person would risk imprisonment in an attempt to change our nation’s current path.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 8:21am

Christopher Winter · University of Iowa

George Ennis asks how it’s possible to contact Mr. DeChristopher. I’m sure this could be done through the trial Web site. That site also accepts donations for his appeal.

The DeChristopher trial Web site:

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:37pm

Suya Wang · Top Commenter · 大阪大学

It is so nice article clearly discribled why Tim DeChristopher be arrested. 2 years are too hard sentence. Just because Tim DeChristopher is not richer but he is fighter. In the earth climate change so seriously, all are worring it escept those afraid if do somthing will affect their business person. We need step forward, Tim DeChristohpher, set foward. He is brave. Hope others as Tim DeChristopher as an example, doing some let world pay attention action of course peaceful, and for general citizens is legal. fight against those big oil, big gases and big coal. What is illegal? Affecting fossil fuel benefits are not illegal, should be a braver. Sadly court is standing on richer side, this is money moveing America.

5 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 8:50am

Suya Wang · Top Commenter · 大阪大学

Thanks all the authers of this article, some are fimilars, some are first know. Your action are also brave and great. We should not let big fossil fuel supporters so easy to bully envrionmentalist, like Tim DeChristopher.

5 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 8:57am

Roy Brown · Top Commenter · Fort Campbell, Kentucky

Another alarmist bites the dust. Good riddance.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 11 at 8:19pm

me (signed in using Yahoo)

(Susan Anderson)
Oops, the primary author on this is Ed Hummel. He did all the heavy lifting and mediated our commentary. Ed, great stuff! I love his work because being a meteorologist, he gets the subtleties of the climate-weather distraction.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:59pm

Neal J. King

What I’m not picking up, in all the coverage about DeChristopher, is what anyone is actually proposing to DO. What concrete act is anyone promoting? Sending a petition to your senator? What?

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 8:55am

  • me (signed in using Yahoo)

(Susan Anderson)
We strongly recommend participating in and any protests you can find about the Keystone XL Pipeline, as well as the Wisconsin elections. Also, the Murdoch behemoth needs to be called to account for its manipulative news and politicking.

3 · Like · Reply · August 8 at 1:02pm

Andy Olsen · Madison, Wisconsin

Well, at least they have gone after the crooks on Wall Street with the same zeal, right? Right? Oh, not so much….

Yeah, this is crazy.

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 12:54pm

Tom Krajewski

These corporate “persons” have no morals, they have one goal, in fact one duty – profits.

Like · Reply · August 8 at 1:19pm

Ed Woolsey

This kind of crap makes a person quit watching the news.

Like · Reply · August 8 at 1:51pm

Don Ferber · Works at Dane County Parks

Corporate crooks are so commonplace (and hard to stop with their buckets of money and legal brigades) that we get used to them, but this guy scares the crap out of the power elite. Truth, democracy, equality! How crazy is he (and are we)?

1 · Like · Reply · August 8 at 2:32pm

John E Johnson · Solar Power Consultant at Real Goods

How about a pardon President Obama?

1 · Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 11:39am

Aaron Friedman

Turn Hydro Carbons into Carbo Hydrates with a resurrected CCC (civilian conservation c orps) MODEL integrated human scale agroforestry on our green belts… Supported by CREDIT UNIONS, w/ COOPERATIVES managing LAND TRUSTS held by COVENANTS…

DEPT of Interior = 20% of America ( THE COMMONS) Let’s show the world how to plant water and harvest reciprocity by COMMON WEALTH Stewardship nationwide!

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 15 at 12:03am

Anne Polansky · President at Polansky Consulting

Let’s all write letters of support and encouragement to Tim. The mailing address is: Davis County Jail, P.O. Box 130; Farmington, Utah 84025-0130.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 10 at 10:59am

George Ennis · Top Commenter · University of Toronto

How would one contact Mr. DeChristopher while he serves his prison sentence? He certainly deserves our support.

Like · Reply · Subscribe · August 8 at 8:30am

  • me (signed in using Yahoo)

As noted above, try this for a variety of resources:

Like · Reply · August 8 at 1:11pm

Joan Savage · Top Commenter · SUNY-ESF

The federal prisoner look up system works. It gives information on the facility and the individual’s register number, which should be put on the envelope.
Right now it says
16156-081 (register number)
…See More

Like · Reply · August 9 at 11:43pm


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