When politics damage climate, civil disobedience should be allowed to save the day, Massachusetts court rules.
For almost a year now, hundreds of Massachusetts locals have fought to thwart the construction of a high-pressure fracked gas pipeline, set to run through five miles of West Roxbury, a Boston neighborhood. The protests got increasingly heated, with people sitting in and refusing to vacate holes that were dug for the pipeline, eventually culminating in some 200 arrests. Many of them faced criminal charges for trespassing and disturbing the peace.
This Tuesday, however, the final 13 protesters facing charges were found not responsible by a Massachusetts judge; the potential environmental and public health impacts of the pipeline – including its potential role in deepening climate change – made the public’s disobedience legally necessary, he ruled.
Although environment and climate activists have been using the necessity defense more and more in recent years to tackle fossil fuel infrastructure development, this is the first case where a judge ruled defendants not responsible on the basis of this defense, according to the Climate Disobedience Center.
“We believe this is a first,” Marla Marcum, director of the Climate Disobedience Center, told ThinkProgress. “It’s pretty powerful, to us, that a judge listened very carefully and determined, essentially, that it was necessary for these people to take this action in an attempt to prevent a greater harm.”
The necessity defense is a legal construct through which people can argue that a crime was justified in order to prevent greater harm. However, in the context of climate change action, it’s a tool that has found limited use; one of the tenets of the necessity defense is to prove that the threat was imminent, and could not be avoided through legal means, thus warranting the use of non-legal means. The West Roxbury protesters argued that the pipeline constituted a local environmental risk, a catalyst for climate change, and that their elected officials didn’t succeed in having the project blocked or rerouted.
Perhaps feeling an unfavorable tide, prosecutors downgraded the charges from criminal to civil during the lawsuit, which prevented the protesters from mounting a full defense in front of a jury. The judge, however, allowed each defendant two minutes to explain their actions against the project, and decided to find them not responsible – the civil equivalent of ‘not guilty’ – on the basis of necessity.
While it didn’t prevent the pipeline going operational, the company behind it, Spectra Energy, was forced to admit on the record that it didn’t have a safety plan in place in the event of a catastrophic failure. It goes to show, however, that while we may feel powerless in the face of huge, daunting issues such as climate change, and even when officials seem uninterested or unable to heed our woes, there are still mechanisms in place for people to express their will. The legal system can make a huge difference in deciding what is right and giving those concerned about the environment a voice.
“I think it’s important to continue putting in the laps of people like judges, prosecutors, and juries, the opportunity to make a decision about what is right in this moment,” Marcum siad. “People who occupy those roles care deeply and are worried about climate and the future for their children and grandchildren, and occasionally show a feeling of relief or gratitude that some group has brought into their sphere of power the ability to really hear and evaluate based on all of the evidence.”
For now, the West Roxbury decision doesn’t set any legally binding precedent, but it definitely sets an example for people trying to get courts to take their concerns into account. With a federal government that seems increasingly pandering to business interests, and more inclined to crack down on justified protests with legal consequences, judges will likely face more such cases in the future.
And their decisions, for better or worse, will shape the world for tens of generations to come.
‘Rather than leading — he lies’: MSNBC panel says Trump is a ‘danger to the country’ because he can’t be trusted
MSNBC commentators, former assistant US Attorney Maya Wiley and Rick Wilson, explained that President Donald Trump's most significant barrier is making it past his own lies to save America from the coronavirus.
"There's a case tonight being tested in Walton County, Florida. The heart of Trump country," said Wilson, referring to the panhandle county east of Pensacola. "That's not going to be something you can just walk away from if it turns out to be a real case. We're seeing these things popping up all over. The safe bet was always to say, 'This could be bad. We'll do everything we can to stop it.' But he can't stop himself from self-aggrandizing and lying about things. And it's actually -- setting aside my normal criticism of Trump -- this is a danger to the country that he is not a trustworthy person for the American people. Even people who like him now he BS's them all the time. Now, if he says it's not a problem and people are being hospitalized, it is a problem."
Trump ‘just wants this problem to go away’: President desperate to get coronavirus ‘off his plate’
President Donald Trump is desperate for the coronavirus problem to go away, and he doesn't exactly care how it happens.
According to New York Times reporter Annie Karni, sources are telling her that the biggest concern Trump has is more about the markets than the deaths of Americans from the virus.
"First, let's establish, this is a president who tried to change science with a Sharpie when it came to hurricane path prediction," said MSNBC host Brian Williams. "That picture lasts forever."
"Even his allies on Fox and his allies outside the White House were kind of channeling to that proverbial audience of one that this was a great opportunity to look presidential and to tell the facts," said Karni. The Donald Trump we saw out there in the briefing room was very casual, kind of left the facts to the other people that accompanied him out there. But he clearly publicly and privately just wants this problem to go away. He wants to downplay it. He thinks -- he has called people who are talking about fears about it alarmist. He doesn't want to be alarmist, and he's kind of holding on to any comment that makes it sound like this will naturally be a problem that is removed from his plate. That's what we saw publicly, and that's what he's been saying privately as well."
Seth Meyers: You know Trump isn’t the chief law enforcement officer because he couldn’t pass the physical
"Late Night" host Seth Meyers warned that the United States is sliding into authoritarianism under President Donald Trump.
Sounding the alarm Wednesday evening, Meyers cited reports that Trump was making lists of disloyal people, purging them from their jobs, hiring unqualified cronies in top posts, and claiming he has the right to interfere in criminal cases.
While speaking to the press last week, Trump even announced that he's allowed to be involved in all criminal cases because he's the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. It's actually a title used for the attorney general.