DeChristopher is currently serving the remainder of his sentence at a halfway house in Salt Lake City. His official release is set for April 21.
Tim DeChristopher is an abolitionist. And when I think about the ways in which his story and his words have affected me, I can only empathize with Andrew Delbanco's brief for "conscientious doubt." I know that DeChristopher can be a little scary. He scared the shit out of me.
But here's the rub: today, in our present crisis, one can easily argue that those who will have the "blood" on their hands, will not only be the denialists and the obstructionists on the right, but the moderates, the cautious pragmatists — the reasonable, serious, center-left types — who fail to acknowledge the true scale, urgency, and gravity of the climate crisis, and so fail to address it in any meaningful way.
People like that (and I was one of them) will say that people like DeChristopher have no "plan," no "workable solutions." But as any number of seasoned activists will tell you, it's not Tim DeChristopher's or the climate movement's job to offer detailed policy prescriptions that fit within the confines of our current politics. The movement's job is to tell the truth, however extreme — and to force those in power to recognize that even the outer limit of what our current politics will allow (a modest carbon tax, for example) is utterly inadequate to the crisis. Its job is to force that reckoning. To confront — and be prepared to sacrifice.
Yes, radicalism still carries risks, as it always has. But today those risks are mainly political, in the near-term. And at a moment when political possibility is closed off, we have to ask, are we actually risking anything meaningful at all? You might say I'm understating the risks of radicalization, that there may be other real consequences, from the personal to the social: that friendships, marriages, families may be torn apart; jobs lost, careers ruined, life options foreclosed; that there will be economic hardship, that social unrest, even violence, could erupt (just ask anyone over 55). Yes, I understand.
Meanwhile, the risks of moderation, of accepting and working within our current political constraints, are infinitely more grave. The risks of moderation are a matter of life, death, and suffering for untold millions of human beings, alive today and yet to be born. If we can't radically alter our politics — radically expand the limits of what's politically thinkable, as the abolitionists did in Lincoln's day — then we might as well not even talk about "climate action."
We might as well change the channel, and drift back to sleep.
On January 24, Congressman Markey joined his colleague Henry Waxman of California and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — three of the most vocal climate champions in the United States Congress — in sending a letter to President Obama, informing him that they are creating a special "bicameral task force on climate change." It's a strongly worded letter. "We believe, as you do," they write, "that climate change is a profound threat to our nation, that our window for preventing irreversible harm is rapidly closing, and that leaders have a moral obligation to act." They call upon Obama for "decisive presidential leadership." This does not include, at least in their letter, any mention of the Keystone XL pipeline. But it does include "executive action" — such as using the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate existing power plants — to ensure that U.S. emissions are reduced "at least 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020."