Tim DeChristopher On Letterman: “Stop And Think About What It Means To Be Too Late” On Climate

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.

No, not that guy. This guy.

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.”

31 Responses to Tim DeChristopher On Letterman: “Stop And Think About What It Means To Be Too Late” On Climate

  1. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Tim’s a hero in the true meaning of the word. He’s been through a lot for his convictions and I hope he continues to get media coverage. People like him are the embodiment of the word courage.

  2. chessmen says:

    Would he be interested in running as Governor of Utah? Or Senator perhaps? The Greens would support him.

  3. bedfordfalls says:

    Holy catfish. I had no idea Letterman ever did interviews like this. I wonder how many of his viewers would never hear this stuff, otherwise.

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Makes one think about one’s own relative inaction.

  5. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Social justice is a crime. Yeah, and war is peace too, ME

  6. Nancy says:

    Amazing interview. I wish I had 1/100th of Tim’s courage!

  7. momochan says:

    Kudos to Tim DeChristopher! I wrote him a letter of thanks while he was so unjustly incarcerated in Herlong. I hope to be able to see the Bidder 70 movie some time.
    And David Letterman deserves praise too. If I recall correctly he’s had Bill McKibben on the show.

  8. Joan says:

    Here is another excellent interview: Tim DeChristopher talks with Bill Moyers about the necessity of civil disobedience in the fight for environmental justice:

  9. will says:

    I think thats an excellent idea! I live in Kansas right now…I would move in a heart beat! He would absolutely crush anyone who ran against him! Just an excellent idea!

  10. bill says:

    He is indeed a hero. What you did, Tim, is known and respected in thinking circles across the globe, and I hope the film goes on to deservedly broaden the arena of admirers.

  11. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    It was great to see that on television. I like Tim DeChristopher. One thing though. He said it’s entirely too late to avoid the worst kind of global warming and that’s not true. No climate science team says that. They say that fast action can still give us a “lesser bad” version in our future. I don’t want Tim’s message to unnecessarily discourage others.

  12. Mark E says:

    Wow. That’s brave.

    Besides “Bidder 70”, the full movie “Gandhi” is on youtube here:

    Memo to Tim: Don’t open the door for any little old ladies. That could be considered “social justice”

  13. Superman1 says:

    “He said it’s entirely too late to avoid the worst kind of global warming and that’s not true.” The ‘action’ required is seven billion citizens of this planet spending all their waking hours working collectively to avoid the cliff (aside from time necessary to supply minimal needs). Given that 6.99 billion of those citizens are focused on self-indulgence in the here-and-now, or are aspiring to it, how is it possible to close that gap?

  14. Martin Vermeer says:

    So, I guess they wanted to constitute an example… I guess they just did that

  15. Timeslayer says:

    Yes, David Letterman absolutely deserves praise too. Over the past several years he’s had more than a view great guests speaking about climate change, and during that time Dave himself has been the ONLY person with a large TV audience who talks about climate change in a serious way.


  16. Tim’s a hero and pursuing social justice is a virtue. So it appears our prison system has come, increasingly, to punish heroes and to prevent justice.

    Great article, Joe.

    As for Arctic Fires… Alaska has seen 400,000 acres burned so far. Large fires also erupted in Siberia, but some of these were quenched by massive thunderstorms and hail… in the Arctic.

  17. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “Given that 6.99 billion of those citizens are focused on self-indulgence in the here-and-now, or are aspiring to it, how is it possible to close that gap?”

    Gien that you are one of the most self-indulgent of the bunch, why don’t you answer that question yourself?

    What will it take to force YOU to take personal action to eliminate ALL of your own “non-essential” use of fossil fuels?

    What will it take to force YOU to practice what you preach — to practice what you relentlessly attack others for failing to practice?

    (The question of WHY you have to be forced to do what you demand of others is, of course, another matter.)

  18. Superman1 says:

    “to eliminate ALL of your own “non-essential” use of fossil fuels?” Name one non-essential use of fossil fuels I follow!

  19. Top notch piece, Mr. Koronowski! And I am an even bigger fan what Tim DeChristopher has done and is doing!

    I will be watching for “Bidder 70” – and I have just preordered a DVD! I would have used iTunes (to save the piece of plastic and the shipping energy) but a DVD means I’ll be able to share it.


  20. Dean Smith says:

    Using the internet.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Are you looking for a job at The Australian, ME? I doubt that Chris Mitchell visits this site.

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Given the US ‘justice’ system’s penchant for draconian sentences and solitary confinement, DeChristopher got off lightly. The next trouble-maker might be made more of an example of. DeChristopher is a brave and rational man, and active non-violent resistance is, I believe, the way to go. Hit the swine in the only place it hurts-their wallets.

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Have you misunderstood me Mulga? Or forgotten that little book called ‘1984’? ME

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ME, I was taking the proverbial by pretending to take your words literally, as in a Murdoch ‘opinion’ piece. Sorry to have been so opaque.

  25. Merrelyn Emery says:

    No probs. I thought you were aware that this bear is of simple mind, ME

  26. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You have to be careful making ‘jokes’ on this sort of set-up. If I’d been there in person, you could have told that I was joking by the severe twitching of the left side of my face, that always accompanies my attempts at ‘humour’. I’m told that it is quite…..distinctive.

  27. Sparky says:

    It really irks me that he went to jail for not paying. And since the parcels probably added up to under $200K, then Letterman could’ve purchased those mineral rights for the cost of one show. And since Tim didn’t pay then the parcels were auctioned off again and now have geo surveyors driving all over them in atvs prospecting. Who got the last laugh?

    When I originally heard this story I thought Tim was actually paying for the parcels, like adopting an acre of rainforest, since the rights were so cheap. But he ended up surrendering the bids, so not only did he go to jail, the land ended up legally in the hands of Shell and Exxonmobil. He should’ve only bid on the land he could pay for. It’s the same symbolic gesture but with better results.

    He had no plan going in and disrupted only his own life. Is it any wonder why this strategy won’t work? Future activists have to be interested in more than mere pranks. Ask yourself how you are truly going to outsmart Shell and Conocophillips. What kind of action will it take for this stock to trade at $0?

    NYSE: COP – Jun 28 4:01pm ET
    60.50+0.16‎ (0.27%‎)

    To paraphrase Patton: “the idea isn’t to die for your country, it’s to make the other guy die for his country.”

    If the auction was illegal and the only guy who goes to jail is the activist then something is wrong. Don’t play poker against a cheating house.

  28. David Lewis says:

    Hansen discussed what too late could mean in his book Storms of My Grandchildren, and in his Bjerknes Lecture at the 2008 AGU. He doesn’t have a model that predicts it, (he said his model “blows up” before things proceed this far), but he says he believes if all the fossil fuels are burned the risk is all life is extinguished on the only planet known to support life. The book presents the most fleshed out version of his argument.

  29. You have to love the man for his passion toward the environment. It’s rare to get someone willing to go as far as being jailed for their beliefs.

  30. D G says:

    Hey Sparky,

    You might want to check your facts before spouting off. The afternoon of the auction, Tim’s church friends had a $43,000 down payment at the BLM office. It was refused.

    The auction and the one before were rescinded when Ken Salazar took over as Secretary of Interior. In February of this year, most of the land in those auctions was permanently removed from auction consideration.