More or less at that moment, Tim DeChristopher came back into view, in a long, astonishing interview with Terry Tempest Williams in Orion, recorded the previous May as DeChristopher awaited his sentence. I see it as an essential, primary document of the climate-justice movement.
What happened, quite simply, is this: DeChristopher, a convict, convicted me.
In that interview, DeChristopher tells of the "shattering" moment in March 2008 when he met climate scientist Terry Root, a lead IPCC author, at a symposium at the University of Utah:
She presented all the IPCC data, and I went up to her afterwards and said, "That graph that you showed, with the possible emission scenarios in the twenty-first century? It looked like the best case was that carbon peaked around 2030 and started coming back down." She said, "Yeah, that's right." And I said, "But didn't the report that you guys just put out say that if we didn't peak by 2015 and then start coming back down that we were pretty much all screwed, and we wouldn't even recognize the planet?" And she said, "Yeah, that's right." And I said: "So, what am I missing? It seems like you guys are saying there's no way we can make it." And she said, "You're not missing anything. There are things we could have done in the '80s, there are some things we could have done in the '90s — but it's probably too late to avoid any of the worst-case scenarios that we're talking about." And she literally put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I'm sorry my generation failed yours."
"Once I realized that there was no hope in any sort of normal future," DeChristopher tells Tempest Williams, "I realized that I have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting back."
Actually, DeChristopher does allow some hope. "If you look at the worst-case consequences of climate change, those pretty much mean the collapse of our industrial civilization," he tells Williams. "But that doesn't mean the end of everything. It means we're going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced. And that's certainly not hopeless. It means we're going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world."
DeChristopher expresses here what I had been repressing. He knows that building the sort of movement that can "fight back" — and create the conditions in which we can build that better world — will require something of us beyond the ordinary conduct of politics. The climate crisis, he says, justifies "the strongest possible tactics in response," by which DeChristopher means "nonviolent resistance." That doesn't mean everyone has to go to jail, he says, but "the willingness for that is what's necessary. That willingness to not hold back, to not be safe."
The willingness to not be safe.
"You can't move the center from the center," DeChristopher goes on to say near the end of that interview (referring to Naomi Klein's often-quoted statement that the movement's job is to "move the center"). DeChristopher adds: "If you want to shift the balance — if you want to tilt that scale — you have to go to the edge and push. You have to go beyond what people consider to be reasonable, and push."