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Delta 5 Defendants Acquitted of Major Charges

Washington judge first in the US to hear “necessity defense” for climate-related civil disobedience, later instructed jury not to consider it

In a highly-anticipated decision announced January 15th, a Washington state jury has acquitted five climate activists of their major charge of obstructing a train. The defendants, known as the Delta 5, were prosecuted for demonstrating against oil trains in Seattle’s Delta rail yard, which is owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF).

Photo of Delta Five ProtestPhoto by Dan LongThe Delta 5 were prosecuted for demonstrating against oil trains in Seattle’s Delta rail yard.

The case marked the first time that a U.S. judge allowed defendants to present evidence showing that they practiced civil disobedience to avert the threat of climate change, and did so out of necessity. Under the “necessity defense”, defendants can escape prosecution if they can prove a law was broken to prevent a greater harm. In 2008, six Greenpeace activists used this defense in England, and were acquitted of all charges after cutting the power to a coal-fired power plant and painting the name of Prime Minister Gordon Brown on its smokestack.

In their effort to demonstrate necessity, the Delta 5’s defense called on several expert witnesses, including Professor Richard Gammon of the University of Washington – a co-author of the first monumental report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued in 1990, as well as hazardous materials expert Fred Milar, who testified to the dangers of transporting crude oil by rail. Gammon testified to the damage climate change has already brought to Washington state, while Milar testified to the hazards of transporting crude by rail, and how rail companies shift those risks onto the public.

Despite allowing the testimony of these expert witnesses, Snohomish County Judge Anthony Howard decided on January 14th that the defendants did not meet the requirements for the jury to consider their necessity defense. As a result, the judge instructed the jury not to consider whether the defendants acted out of necessity. In explaining his decision, the judge argued the defendants had not demonstrated a basic case that there were no reasonable legal alternatives to their actions.

The next morning the jury found the five defendants guilty of trespassing on BNSF property, but not guilty of obstructing a train – a charge that would have carried a heavier sentence. As a result, the defendants – Michael LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie …more

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Bald Eagles Soar to New Heights

Reintroduction project in Channel Islands National Park has been a success for the iconic raptors

As I kayaked into the cove at Cluster Point on the southwest side of Santa Rosa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park in California, I witnessed something few had seen for at least 50 years. Two bald eagles, one mature, the other a juvenile, were lurking on the periphery of a northern elephant seal rookery. A big bull elephant seal appeared to be dead, lying motionless in the wind-whipped sand. The mature eagle hopped in closer and went to peck at the colossal marine mammal. Besides catching fish, the majestic raptors are known to scavenge on marine mammal carcasses. Just as it went for a bite, the 3,000-pound seal lurched skyward, startling both bald eagles. Their wings opened up and the howling northwest winds carried the hungry raptors eastward beyond the next bluff, the dramatic scene best observed from the seat of my kayak.

closeup photo of a bald eagleall photos by Chuck GrahamClick or tap this photo to view a slideshow of bald eagles in California’s Channel Islands

Bald eagles had virtually vanished from the Channel Islands National Park by the early 1950s due to poisoning from the pesticide DDT. Montrose Chemical Corporation, which manufactured DDT beginning in the 1940s, dumped hundreds of tons of it into the Southern California Bight near Santa Catalina Island, placing the local food web in great jeopardy. Exposure to the pesticide caused birds like the peregrine falcon, the California brown pelican, and the bald eagle to lay thin-shelled eggs lacking in calcium. Before chicks were born, eggs would crack and the chicks would be crushed by their parents. Generations of birds never left the nest.

Ten years of litigation followed, and in 2000, Montrose was ordered to cough-up $140 million in restitution, with $40 million set aside for the recovery of wildlife like the bald eagle, as well as seabird habitat restoration.

Beginning in 2002, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Institute for Wildlife Studies embarked on an aggressive recovery plan, releasing 12 bald eagle chicks a year through 2006, all on Santa Cruz Island in the National Park. The chicks, hatched in captivity, were brought to the island at just 8-week-old. Eaglets are not capable of flying until around 12 weeks, so they were firstplaced in hack towers, large …more

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‘I Consider Myself to Be a Fossil Fuel Abolitionist’

A conversation with climate activist Tim DeChristopher

In 2008, climate activist Tim DeChristopher arrived at a BLM oil and gas lease auction in Utah with the intention of disrupting it. He was thinking along the lines of making an impassioned speech, but when he was offered the chance to register as a bidder in the auction, he saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, and made a choice he knew would likely land him in prison.

DeChristopher Photo by Stephen Melkisethian

As bidder number 70, DeChristopher won nearly $1.8 million in bids for some 22,000 acres of public land — bids that he had no intention of paying for — before he was pulled aside by a BLM agent.That’s when his long journey into the public spotlight, through the US justice system, and ultimately to prison, began.  

Following repeated delays in his prosecution, in March of 2011, DeChristopher was convicted of two federal felonies for his disruption of the auction. In July 2011, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison. (Read his July 2011 interview with the Journal, which took place just a week before his sentencing) When he was released from prison in April 2013, he emerged with an even deeper commitment to social justice. That fall he began a Masters program at the Divinity School at Harvard. Last week, DeChristopher sat down with me before his Climate One panel discussion at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and talked about how his time in prison and his faith have influenced his activism.

The last time you spoke with the Journal was about a week before your sentencing in 2008. A lot has happened since then. How did your time in prison impact your climate activism and your philosophy about civil disobedience?

I would say that my time in prison definitely further radicalized me. I think it made me more of a revolutionary, and it deepened a lot of my social justice commitments that I had understood intellectually beforehand. It kind of humanized a lot of the stuff that I knew intellectually. I think it gave me a more intersectional approach to the way that I do climate work that has been mutually reinforcing. Like, once I started intentionally working on prison abolition and became willing to consider myself a prison abolitionist, and understood what …more

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Thai Officials to Rescue 147 Tigers from Monastery After Investigations Reveal Trafficking

Death threats haunt founder of conservation group behind the revelation

Halfway through my Skype interview last night with Sybelle Foxcroft — the wildlife biologist who’s the key source behind last week’s horrific National Geographic investigative report about illegal cross-border tiger trafficking from the famed Tiger Temple in Thailand — she’s interrupted by a Thai official. Our connection is rather spotty so I can’t quite hear what the official, who’s off-screen, is telling her, but once he leaves, Foxcroft turns back to me, rather disturbed.

Suddenly, she isn’t feeling all that safe holed up in a remote national park and wildlife refuge in Thailand, without transport, miles from any town. She thinks she should relocate as soon as possible.

photo of tigers in a cage Sharon Guynup Thailand's 'Tiger Temple' got its first tiger in 1999, and currently houses about 147 tigers. This monastery doubles as a tourist attraction that brings in an estimated $3 million a year. Tigers are housed in concrete-floored cages; few get any exercise or time outdoors. Ten tigers lived in this enclosure.

“I received a threat yesterday. I was told by a very trusted source that they [those involved in the trafficking] want their hands on me… and I know there’s someone leaking information,” she tells me. “Now that [the report] is actually disturbing money and business from their contacts, the danger is heightened. I’ve moved around quite a bit but…”

Foxcroft is the founder of Cee4Life (Conservation and Environmental Education for Life), which publicly released its Tiger Temple Report on Friday. The report provides solid evidence that since at least 2004, tigers have been smuggled in and out of the monastery, formally known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, in Kanchanaburi (about a three-hour drive from Bangkok), and that the monks had for years been speed-breeding tigers for the international black market in wildlife trade. The report also alleges that this has been happening with the full knowledge of, and at the direction of, the temple’s founder and leader, Abbot Phra Acham Phoosit (Chan) Kanthitharo. 

photo provided Cee4Life founder Sybelle Foxcroft spent nine years investigating
the goings on at the temple.

Based on the information in the Cee4Life report, which includes evidence from a whistleblower codenamed “Charlie” that three micro-chipped male tigers were removed from the temple in …more

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What Is Your Nitrogen Footprint, and Who Is it Impacting?

For the first time, researchers calculate average reactive nitrogen emissions for people from 188 countries

You’ve heard of managing your carbon footprint. But how about your nitrogen footprint? Emissions of reactive nitrogen into the environment have increased more than 10-fold over the past 150 years, contribute to deaths from air pollution and water pollution, and have countless other impacts including acid rain and degradation of ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Photo of FertilizerPhoto by AgriLife Today Limiting emissions from nitrogen fertilizers has proved difficult.

Now, for the first time, researchers have calculated the average nitrogen footprint of people from 188 countries, as well as where exactly they cause that pollution, helping pave the way to policy that could help the world reduce its emissions of reactive nitrogen.

Almost 80 percent of the atmosphere is made of nitrogen in the form of N2. But in that form it hardly interacts with other chemicals — so it is not useful for humans or plants, and it is not harmful either. And for most of Earth’s history, pretty much the only way N2 could be turned into a reactive form like ammonia or nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) was either by bacteria, lightning and legumes.

“It takes a lot of energy to turn N2 into reactive nitrogen,” says Arunima Malik from the University in Sydney in Australia.

But since the industrial revolution, humans have been spewing reactive nitrogen into the atmosphere as byproducts from burning fossil fuels. And since the start of the 20th century it has been poured into the ground as fertilizer.

Regulations can be effective at reducing emissions from fossil fuel use, so long as they are not subverted the way they were by Volkswagen. But limiting emissions from nitrogen fertilizers has proved more difficult.

The manufacture of nitrogen-based fertilizer through the Haber process is responsible for feeding about 40 percent of the world’s people, according to Cameron Gourley, an agricultural scientist and secretary of the International Nitrogen Initiative Conference 2016, who was not involved in the study.

“We need to realize this is one of the world’s major breakthroughs,” he said. But we had been making too much, he said. Anything not captured by plants or animals ends up as pollution. “There is no doubt in …more

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LA’s Gritty Sodbusters

In Review: Can You Dig This

During the Age of Reason, Voltaire wrote the philosophical novel Candide about a youth who travels around the world and upon returning home to Europe at the end of his odyssey towards self-discovery, realizes: “We must cultivate our gardens.”

Los Angeles-born and raised Delila Vallot’s 83-minute documentary Can You Dig This transplants Voltaire’s notion to South Central Los Angeles, following a handful of latter- day Candides as they pursue urban gardening on their own paths to enlightenment in an area where movies such as Boyz n the Hood and Straight Outta Compton were set.

Twenty-three-year-old ex-gangmember Mychael “Spicey” Evans and the tattooed 21-year-old, formerly “gang affiliated” Kenya Johnson till the land at the Compton Community Garden. Hosea Smith, who served 30 years for killing someone, tends a garden at a halfway house for ex-cons. In a plot of earth at the projects where she lives, adorable eight-year-old Quimonie Lewis grows food to sustain her struggling family.

Perhaps the most prolific and fascinating of these Candides in the ’hood is Ron Finley, the so-called “Gangster Gardener.” The middle-aged, goateed thinker laments living inside a “food desert” with fast food restaurants, convenience and liquor stores but few, if any outlets selling healthy groceries and cuisine. “The obesity rate in my neighborhood is five times that of Beverly Hills, eight, six miles away,” observes Finley, who grows his own food at home and provides produce free of charge to his South LA neighbors.

However, it turns out that growing vegetables, fruits, etc., on the parkway in front of his house – the landscaped area located between the sidewalk and parallel public street – violates municipal ordinances. Finley grouses, “I became an outlaw criminal for growing carrots on my parkway… I’m not a cow – I can’t eat grass… Growing your own food is defiant.”  Refusing to uproot his urban oasis, Finley – who, throughout the documentary, wears a t-shirt bearing the words “Renegade Gardener” – becomes an activist, taking on the powers that be.

Finley hypothesizes that “because of the legacy of slavery lots of Blacks fell out of contact with the soil.” Each of Can you Dig This’ mostly African American city farmers finds renewed meaning in their agricultural activities that endows them with purpose and optimism amidst their troubled urban landscape. Getting back to the …more

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EPA Mulls Ban on Nation’s Most Heavily Used Insecticide

Numerous studies have shown that Chlorpyrifos causes serious harm to children and farmworkers

Scott Krogstad grows soybeans and sugar beets in the heart of the Red River Valley near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Like most sugar beet farmers in the Midwest, he wages a difficult war with the unpredictable infestations of the sugar beet root maggot. The maggot, the larva of a small two-winged fly, can completely sever the roots from a beet with its hooked mouth.

Photo of Farm Workers in CaliforniaPhoto by Dan Long Farm workers cut and pack celery in Salinas Valley, California. Many farmers view the insecticide chlorpyrifos as indespensable in their battles with bugs.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in fruit orchards near Provo, Utah, farmer Alan Riley fights off the San Jose scale, an aphid-like insect that sucks sap from his apple, peach, and cherry trees. It can turn apples from red to purple around feeding sites and result in small, deformed fruit.

Despite their many miles of separation, Krogstad and Riley have one key thing in common with each other and countless farmers across the country. They view the insecticide chlorpyrifos as indispensable in their respective battles with bugs. So naturally, they, and many other farmers are dismayed with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to ban chlorpyrifos because of the pesticide’s impact on the health of children and farmworkers who come in contact with it.

Chlorpyrifos is part of a class of chemicals, known as organophosphates, that was developed before World War II as a nerve gas that could halt neurotransmissions in a soldier’s brain. Chlorpyrifos kills bugs by disrupting their brain functions in a similar way.

The ban on the chemical was triggered by a lawsuit filed by NRDC and several other environmental and farmworker organizations.

Introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965 as an alternative to DDT, chlorpyrifos usage took off in the years following the EPA’s decision to ban DDT in 1972. It is now the nation’s most heavily used insecticide, and farmers fear a decrease in their incomes and the food supply would occur if the EPA forces them to abandon chlorpyrifos.

The most recent government statistics show that American farmers used about 6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2012, according to the USGS. USGS data also show that farmers used about three times as much chlorpyrifos as any other organophosphate pesticide in 2009. …more

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