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It’s Legal to Break the Law to Save the Planet?

Environmentalists Try a New Argument in Court

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robert99 robert99 Sweden Posts: 1360
1 4 Jan 2018

When Emily Johnston shut the emergency valve on a pipeline in Minnesota carrying tar sands oil from Canada she hoped she was making a difference. It turns out she was making history.  

In October 2016, Johnston and four other activists nicknamed the Valve Turners briefly shut down 15 percent of America’s oil supply to call attention to climate change. The Valve Turners called the pipeline companies to alert them, live-streamed shutoffs, and peacefully awaited their arrests in Minnesota, Washington, North Dakota, and Montana.

“I signed on for this, knowing I could go to prison, because of my increasing awareness of how dire the situation is,” says Johnston. “Even before the election it was clear the legal and political system needed some kind of shock.”

Johnston, along with fellow Valve Turner Annette Klapstein, and their video and support team, go on trial in January. They will likely be the first defendants in the United States to use the “necessity defense” for environmental reasons  which allows defendants to argue that they committed a crime to prevent a greater harm from occurring — in this case the destruction civilization.

This was part of the Valve Turners’ plan all along, to extend their call to arms beyond the immediate impact of the event itself.

“The Valve Turners was visually dramatic and a high legal risk so we thought it might get the attention we need and then we could leverage that attention,” Johnston said.

Johnson’s partners in crime had tried persuading the courts to let them use this defense without success. Ken Ward, Michael Foster and Leonard Higgins were found guilty in Washington, North Dakota and Montana, respectively, after cutting padlocks to get to the valves. Ward was convicted of second-degree burglary and sentenced to perform community service; Foster was convicted of felony criminal mischief after a prosecutor compared him to the Unabomber and argued that acquitting him would lead down a slippery slope to Sharia law. Foster faces two decades in prison during his sentencing in January. Higgins was found guilty of felony criminal mischief and faces up to 10  years in prison.