A Lobster Boat at the tipping point

“This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” O’Hara said.

The issue of global climate change is one of the most unevenly understood issues in the world. When Svante Arrhenius published the first calculations of man-made global warming via CO2, in 1896, he would doubtless have been astonished to hear people saying that his idea was invented in the 1980’s by a bunch of totalitarians, or in the early 2000’s by some guy named Al Gore.

And yet, that’s where we are, 118 years later, which probably explains why we have such different reactions to news on the issue. We have, on the one hand, a scientist who’s looking to move to Denmark for the future safety of his children, and on the other hand, a new hobby of deliberately increasing the amount of pollution put out by cars in an act of spiteful defiance that smacks of flushing hundred dollar bills because someone said that a savings account is a good idea.

All of this can be incredibly frustrating to those of us who work in climate change communication, which is why today’s ruling on the Somerset Lobster Boat Blockade is such a breath of fresh air.

At 6AM on May 15th[2013], after a short prayer on the dock in Newport, Ken Ward and Jay O’hara embarked on their 32′ white lobster boat “Henry David T” north towards Brayton Point Power Plant. On a cloudless morning, supported by half a dozen friends and colleagues on shore, the two piloted the “Henry David T” into the ship channel at the coal pier.  At 9AM they raised a “350” banner and another reading “#coalisstupid” alongside the American flag, dropped anchor, and called the Somerset police to inform them of their non-violent direct action.

Ken and Jay ended up blocking the coal shipment for a full six hours. Their legal strategy was to plead necessity – that climate change was a clear and present danger, that their action would make a difference in reducing that danger, and that there was no legal recourse for addressing the problem.

Today, Bristol County D.A. Sam Sutter dropped the most serious charges against Ken and Jay, and agreed to a fine of $2000 from each man, paid to the town of Somerset.

In the end, the coal was delivered, and burned, adding approximately 114,400 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere – carbon that had been buried for millions of years.

But the blockade got a fair amount of attention, and now, with this decision by Sam Sutter, has forced progress on dealing with the danger that is global climate change.

We’re not there yet, and we’ve got a lifetime of work ahead of us, but we are making progress in this fight.

“Protest works, indeed protest maybe the only thing that can save us,”
-Ken Ward

Disclaimer: Jay O’Hara and the author of this blog are friends, and have worked together on climate communication in the past.

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