I Committed Civil Disobedience by Blocking Oil Trains in Portland, Oregon — and Won
By Jan Zuckerman
A few weeks ago, I showed the world that I am not a criminal, despite having been arrested and charged with first-degree criminal trespass. In a five to one vote, a Multnomah County, Oregon, jury refused to convict me and four fellow activists in our historic trial for blocking tar sands oil trains entering Portland.
A week later, the Multnomah County District Attorney dismissed our case. The dismissal offers an implicit admission that with consciousness of the climate crisis growing every day, prosecutors here would not be able to secure a conviction of people who engage in civil disobedience on behalf of the planet.
Here's the background to this victory. Last April, on Easter Sunday morning, along with other members of Extinction Rebellion, I helped build a garden on the railroad tracks at the Zenith Energy Export Terminal, blocking the processing of trains carrying tar sands crude oil for export. As I sat on the tracks with my friends that day, I thought about my grandchildren's future, a future that has been made uncertain by the existential threat of the climate crisis. Thirty-four hours later we were arrested by Portland Police and charged with criminal trespass in the second degree.
A week later, we came back and did it again. This time, the police charged us with criminal trespass in the first degree.
Five of us pled not guilty "by reason of necessity." With the help of our legal team and the Civil Liberties Defense Center, we presented a "choice of evils" defense to a jury.
The first hint that the prosecution was going to have trouble convicting us came during the voir dire portion of jury selection. In questioning, each of the 35 prospective jurors acknowledged that climate change is real, is human-caused, and is serious. Several members of the jury pool said that they would be unable to convict anyone for civil disobedience on behalf of the planet.
Once our jury was seated, we argued that we were obliged to break the law in an effort to prevent the greater evil of climate catastrophe. The judge allowed three days of extensive testimony from the five defendants, along with expert witnesses. Jury deliberation took almost a full day, at the end of which, the jury announced it was deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Later we learned that five members of the six-person jury voted for acquittal.
Actions like ours are the only tactic that we — everyday people — have left to address the climate crisis. We have lobbied our elected officials, organized demonstrations, and supported litigation, all to no avail. Even our few wins have turned out to be short-lived.
We worked tirelessly to push the city of Portland to adopt a ban on the creation or expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure within city limits. This organizing was victorious when, in 2016, Portland's city council adopted the Fossil Fuel Terminal Zoning Amendments. But the fossil fuel industry has continued to challenge the law and expand in our city. And using an old construction permit, Zenith Energy flouts community sentiment and the city's intent and has almost quadrupled its capacity, from 12 to 44 rail cars at a time.
To make things worse, much of the crude oil that Zenith processes is Alberta tar sands oil, perhaps the most dangerous and dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet. In 2018, Zenith "flipped" an old, run-down site and increased crude oil exports from a value of $2,532 a year to $71 million in 2018. Portlanders were outraged, yet city officials claimed they could not stop this expansion.
In the face of this grave injustice, we must ask ourselves, who are the real criminals here? Me — a mother, grandmother, and retired teacher, who sat on railroad tracks? Or Zenith Energy, the Texas corporation subverting our local democracy and putting our city and climate at risk?
In 2019, 9,167 rail cars came to Zenith, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. That's more than three times the 2,836 cars that came in 2018. With an industry standard of 90-100 oil-filled cars per train, that's more than 90 trains a year — almost two per week. And with each train carrying as much as 70,000 barrels of oil, that amounts to 6.3 million barrels of crude oil a year. Consumption of that oil is the equivalent of 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide spewing into our atmosphere, the same as 583,000-plus cars driving for over a year. And that is just from combustion, without accounting for the much larger emissions from tar sands oil or its full life cycle. To me and my co-defendants, Zenith's contributions to the climate crisis are a crime against humanity.
If we want to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren, companies like Zenith must be stopped.
The strategy of mass civil disobedience is the most effective tactic that we can use. When all legal methods of change have been tried and proven ineffective — a mass movement of non-cooperation that shuts down business-as-usual is the only choice that we have left.
I used to tell my kids: "When you are in a hole, the best thing to do is to stop digging." Yet, it seems that our leaders are unwilling or unable to drop the shovel. It has fallen upon us to tear that shovel from their hands.
I urge you to join us.
Jan Zuckerman taught elementary and middle school in Portland, Oregon for 30 years, and now works with Extinction Rebellion and the Portland Public Schools Climate Justice Committee.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Tara Lohan
Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.
Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.
"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."
Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.
It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.
Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.
Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.
One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.
The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.
They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.
"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."
That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.
And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.
"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."
Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.
"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.
The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.
"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.