I’ve always loved the fact that the word “inspiration” comes from the Latin spirare, to breathe. And breathing, in Latin, shares the same root as spiritus – spirit. The yogic wisdom embedded in that etymology has often been a kind of comfort. I like the idea that inspiration – to infuse with spirit – means breathing life into something.
Finding inspiration has been difficult for environmentalists in this season of diminished expectations. So the story of Tim DeChristopher has been especially welcome. DeChristopher’s powerful example of conviction has breathed new life into the environmental movement – and that’s something I think we needed.
In case you missed it, here’s the background: In December 2008, DeChristopher, then 27, attended a government auction to sell off oil and gas drilling rights near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. While protestors chanted outside, DeChristopher went into the auction, grabbed a bidder’s paddle, and quickly snapped up 22,000 acres of land – “spending” $1.79 million he didn’t have. When the carbon barons realized that the young man wasn’t, in fact, an aspiring oil tycoon, the auction was shut down and DeChristopher was arrested. In March, a jury found him guilty of violating the Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act. A judge sentenced him in July to two years in federal prison and a $10,000 fine.
DeChristopher’s creative monkeywrenching and his grace during the trial have galvanized environmentalists. He has demonstrated what it looks like to stand up for your principles and to suffer the consequences if necessary. DeChristopher told me in an interview this summer: “Being obedient to the system and staying on the path that we are on now – that to me is a more terrifying situation [than going to jail].”
Such words are more vital than ever given the accelerating pace of global climate change. As Maureen Nandini Mitra reports in our cover story (“Ready or Not”), weather disruptions from unchecked greenhouse gas emissions are upon us. Climate change isn’t “approaching;” it’s here, now. The floods, the droughts, the fires – they’re all part of an increasingly unstable climate. It’s no longer enough to prevent climate change. We must also prepare for it.
Climate experts say that global warming adaptation must center on resilience. We need to rebuild our communities so that they are resilient enough – flexible enough – to withstand higher waters and drier weather. But even as we make our preparations, it’s essential that we stay focused on mitigation, wonk-speak for slashing greenhouse gas emissions. If resilience is the key to adaptation, resistance must be the center point of mitigation. To successfully confront the fossil fuel companies and their political puppets we will need much more Tim DeChristopher-like rebelliousness.
Yes, DeChristopher has been an inspiration to many. But as we know, respiration is an exchange. Inspiration works similarly. It isn’t a broadcast medium, with one hero sending out radio signals of valor. Inspiration is more like the Web, a network in which people barter hope for courage and trade vision for action. With DeChristopher now in jail, it’s our turn to breathe some life into him.
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