On Tuesday, a man spoke on national television about the things he had done to confront climate change, and what he still planned to do.
Tim DeChristopher’s 12-minute appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman where he talked about climate activism and Bidder 70 — the documentary that features him — was longer than any single cable news network gave President Obama’s speech (save the Weather Channel).
For those not familiar, DeChristopher was released from the federal prison system in April. The reason he was in it in the first place is because he wanted to draw attention to the fact that the federal government was offering up our public lands on the cheap, and it was being scooped up by fossil fuel interests.
So in 2008, he went to an auction usually attended by members of oil and gas industry, and started bidding. And winning the bids. And eventually he just kept his #70 bidding card held up. And he won 22,500 acres of public lands.
This drew some attention so he was escorted out of the room by law enforcement, who asked him what was going on. He said “I’m trying to stop this auction in any way I can because I think it’s a threat to my future and a fraud against the American people.” He confirmed he did not plan on paying for the parcels and after a long legal battle, ended up in prison for two years.
One thing the jury was not allowed to know as they decided his fate was that the auction in question was actually illegal, something that would seem pertinent to his case.
When he got out of prison, he received a job offer to work for the First Unitarian Church, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons told him he could not do that because it “involved social justice.”
DeChristopher explains this whole absurd story to a rapt audience in David Letterman’s studio — it’s worth watching:
DeChristopher’s explanation of what happened to him makes his experience meaningful. Toward the end, Letterman expressed some serious doubt that anything could be done about climate change, saying “we’re at a point now where we know change is not coming, and it’s now all about adaptability.”
DeChristopher acknowledged that there is a certain amount of carbon pollution already emitted that makes future climate change catastrophic. “But I think it’s important to stop and think about what it means to be too late,” he said. DeChristopher made the case that the period of change that humanity faces is critical and that makes activism even more important because it matters “who’s driving the ship.”
“Going down that road with an ignorant, apathetic citizenry that’s afraid of their own government and feels like corporations can write all the rules — that’s when things can be pretty ugly, pretty scary.”
President Obama’s speech aired a few hours before Letterman would tape on Tuesday, so it’s not clear if either of them had heard about the things he proposed to do to address climate change.
Letterman finished the segment saying: “This gentleman has done us all a favor. Tim DeChristopher, thank you very much.”