On Feb. 12, the charge of "unlawful entry" brought against me was dismissed without condition. The U.S. Attorney dropped the case, finding it baseless and without merit. Although this is a personal victory and I am very grateful and relieved at the U.S. Attorney's decision, it serves as a painful reminder that we do not have rights unless we exercise them.
On Feb. 1, I was arrested, briefly jailed, and charged with "unlawful entry" for attempting to film a public hearing in the Science, Space and Technology committee. I did not enter unlawfully, I lined up outside just as everyone else did and walked in when the room opened. I set up my tripod and camera where cameras normally are set up in that particular hearing room and I was calm and peaceful. I did not disrupt the hearing nor did I intend to do so. I believed I was within my first amendment rights, as a journalist and filmmaker. I was reporting on a case that is intensely personal to me, that I have been following for 3 years.
The House had convened a hearing in the House Energy and Environment subcommittee to challenge EPAs findings that hydraulic fracturing fluids had contaminated groundwater in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. I have a long history with the town of Pavillion and its residents who have maintained since 2008 that fracking has contaminated their water supply. I featured the stories of residents John Fenton, Louis Meeks and Jeff Locker in GASLAND and I have continued to document the catastrophic water contamination in Pavillion for the upcoming sequel GASLAND 2. It was clear that Republican leadership, including Chairman Andy Harris of Maryland, who ordered my arrest, was using this hearing to attack the three year Region 8 EPA investigation involving hundreds of samples and extensive water testing which ruled that Pavillion’s groundwater was a health hazard, contaminated by benzene at 50x the safe level and numerous other contaminants associated with gas drilling. Most importantly, EPA stated in this case that fracking was the likely cause.
When I was being led out of Congress in handcuffs, Representative Paul Tonko, Democracy of New York shouted out "This is the People's House!" in disgust. Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina, moved to suspend the rules so that we could continue to film the proceedings stating "All god's children should be allowed to film this hearing!" It was a surreal moment. Later that day, Congressman Maurice Hinchey would write, "This is blatant censorship and a shameful stain on this Congress."
But if it is not now the "People's House," it is now, more than ever the "people's media." I was able to watch my own arrest on YouTube because members of the audience filmed it and posted their videos. It was the citizen journalism that first documented people lighting their water on fire in gas fracking areas. It was citizen journalism that posted videos of the recent mass arrest of peaceful protestors in New York and in California. The people's media is our system of accountability and transparency and we must continue to practice it.
The First Amendment to the Constitution states explicitly “Congress shall make no law…that infringes on the Freedom of the Press." Which means that no subcommittee rule or regulation should prohibit a respectful journalist or citizen from recording a public hearing.
I have huge respect for those who make the immense personal sacrifice to do public service and represent their constituents and the American people. I believe we elect our representatives with good will and trust and the hopes that they serve us honestly and respectfully and I believe that we, as citizens, send them to Congress with love, pride and well wishes for the future of the nation. However, I have no respect for or deference to those who would misuse the power granted them by the American people to upend the institutions of democratic government and the rights of the citizenship they have been sworn to uphold for private gain, political leverage or because they are beholden to corporate influence or corrosive ideology.
The people of Pavillion deserve better. The thousands across the U.S. who have documented cases of water contamination in fracking areas deserve their own hearing on Capitol Hill. They deserve the chance to testify before Congress. The truth that fracking contaminates groundwater is out, and no amount of intimidation tactics—either outright challenges to science or the arrest of journalists—will put the genie back in the bottle. Such a brazen attempt to discredit and silence the EPA, the citizens of Pavillion and documentary filmmaking will ultimately fail and it is an affront to the health and integrity of Americans.
We cannot take our democracy and the rights of our citizenship for granted. Democracy is not handed to us from on high or guaranteed to us by battles fought by our ancestors. It is perpetually under siege by those with power, money and influence who would rather our nation of laws becomes a nation of affiliation. It is clear to me that I was arrested to serve the interests of oil and gas companies, whose interests often run counter to those of ordinary American citizens.
I was arrested because I refused to turn off my camera at a public hearing in the U.S. congress. I have filmed hundreds of public hearings around the country and the first amendment guarantees my ability to report on what happens in public.
And I continue to refuse. I refuse to let Congressmen blatantly attack science in the the Science committee without the light of the media shining out their transgressions. I refuse to be silenced and not report on the misdeeds of those representatives who are clearly influenced by oil and gas companies beyond loyalty to their own citizen's health. I refuse to stand down and let oil and gas companies lie about what they are injecting into the ground and emitting into the air. I refuse to let the Bill of Rights collapse under the weight of a 250 million dollar lobbying campaign. I refuse to let money, power and influence define the next American century over the will of the people. I refuse to turn of my camera and sit idly by as huge areas in 34 states become sacrificial drilling zones. I refuse to turn my back on the good and great people that have entrusted me with their stories of oil and gas contamination and walk away from the fight they have inspired me to wage on their behalf. I refuse to let the oil and gas industry bury their cancerous secrets for us to unwittingly drink. I refuse to bow and walk out of congress leaving it to the influence of those with money to peddle in its halls. I refuse to relinquish my understanding of the law and of justice. I refuse to surrender my citizenship and my dignity, head bowed in submission, to the influence of corporate power. I refuse to forsake the American dream of the many for the financial gain of the nationless few. I refuse to walk away, from my home and my country.
The fact that my case was dismissed so readily only attests to the ridiculousness and unfairness of my arrest, the U.S. attorney has refused to pursue it.
I woke up one morning and declared myself a journalist. I had to. My home was under siege by the gas fracking industry. I felt that I had to not only seek out the true effects of the largest natural gas drilling campaign in history on public health and the environment but also to report what I found to my community.
The first amendment states that anyone can do the same. Anyone can wake up in the morning, declare themselves a journalist and enjoy the protections of the First Amendment. In the era of instant media, YouTube and social networks, this becomes even more relevant and exciting; anyone with an iPhone can rock the world. It was citizen journalists who first posted police pepper spraying peaceful protestors in New York and California and it was citizen distribution that virally spread those horrific videos of police brutality until the whole world was infected with the truth of what is happening in the USA today. It was citizen journalists who first documented water catching on fire at the kitchen sink as a result of gas fracking. It was citizen journalists who woke up one morning and decided to show the water contamination and air pollution due to gas drilling in Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and in states across the nation.
This year we have seen severe repression of journalism in America. Hundreds of journalists have been arrested this year simply trying to do their jobs. Whether they were covering oil and gas issues or issues of economic inequality during the Occupy demonstrations.
"Recently, Reporters Without Borders released its 2011–2012 global Press Freedom Index. Due to journalist arrests and press suppression at Occupy Wall Street-inspired protests, the United States has dropped significantly in the rankings of press freedom, from 27 to 47," Truthout reports.
Having personally witnessed the outrageous police brutality and repression which was an unwarranted response to occupy protests and to citizens who were acting in defense of their towns and neighborhoods against gas fracking and other egregious human rights violations as the result of fossil fuel development, I feel it is necessary to stand with all of those who have had enough of inequality and enough of big business having undue influence over the government.
So please accept my invitation, and the First Amendment's authorization, to declare yourself a member of the Press. Declare yourself a witness to history and a fighter for transparency and equality under the law. And if you feel like it, go film a congressional hearing. Don't bother to ask for permission, permission was just granted to you by the U.S. Attorney. You don't need credentials, you have your rights. Assert them.
p.s. I am very thankful to Reporters Without Borders, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Independent Documentary Association and to the 30,000 people who signed the Working Families Party petition on my behalf and to all of my supporters for your help, well wishes, and statements of outrage and strength. I am also very grateful to all of the reporters, news outlets and journalists who reported on this travesty.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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