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Bidder 70 Comes to Campus

Tim DeChristopher to speak on "The Energy Revolution”

Tim DeChristopher
"In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like," says Tim DeChristopher, who spent two years in prison for disrupting a federal energy auction on Utah wilderness land. He'll speak at UVM on Oct. 28. (Photo courtesy of Peaceful Uprising)

In 2008, Tim DeChristopher went to a government oil and gas lease auction. There, with bidder card number 70, he successfully bid more than $1.7 million on 22,000 acres of wilderness in southern Utah. But DeChristopher didn’t have $1.7 million and he didn’t intend to lease the land. His was an act of political protest — a protest about federal climate policy and what he saw as corrupt land leasing practices within the government.

The auction was halted. DeChristopher was arrested and charged with fraud for this act — that he describes as “civil disobedience” and that the U.S. Attorney’s office described as “criminal behavior.”

In 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar cancelled many of the leases on the parcels of public land upon which DeChristopher had bid. The Bush Administration had “rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our greatest national icons, some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes,” Salazar said, without proper review or scientific backing.

DeChristopher was convicted and he spent nearly two years in federal prison.

Now out of jail, and an impassioned energy activist, Tim DeChristopher, will speak at the University of Vermont, on Monday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. in Ira Allen Chapel. Bidder 70, a documentary film about DeChristopher’s protest and time in jail will be shown on Thursday, Oct. 24, 4 p.m., in 427 Waterman. Both events are free and open to the public.

Higher law?

In addition to discussing energy policy, and the work of his non-profit group, Peaceful Uprising, “I expect he will speak about campus divestment (from energy company stock holdings) and the natural gas pipeline extension,” proposed for Vermont, said UVM professor Richard Watts, who is the lead organizer of DeChristopher’s visit to Vermont.

DeChristopher’s message and methods continue to be controversial. Some people see him as a martyr and folk hero in the mold of Thoreau and Rosa Parks. DeChristopher recently published a piece in The Nation under the headline “There is No ‘Neutral’ in the Climate Fight.” He writes that it is a “worn out old argument” that “consumers of fossil fuels don’t have a right to object to the crimes against humanity committed by an industry that uses political leverage to prevent alternatives.”

"DeChristopher is not responsible for the governmental illegalities involved in the auction, which caused the Interior Department to eventually nullify the auction and withdraw many parcels from eligibility for bidding in future auctions," his defense attorney wrote at the time his trial.

But a jury agreed with the prosecutor that his actions threatened “the rule of law” that “holds together civil society."

Revkin reflects

In covering the DeChristopher case for The New York Times, reporter Andrew Revkin found himself “pondering a pretty deep question: In assessing offenses driven by environmental concerns, is an understanding of the “why” crucial to the truth?” he wrote in his blog, DotEarth. “Or is it a huge distraction because of the politics and complexity and controversy that swirl around the subject?”

Revkin wondered if the jury — which was prevented by the judge from hearing DeChristopher’s defense argument based on “necessity” in the face of climate change — would have assessed things differently “if the defendant’s deeper psychological portrait had emerged — specifically his belief that risks to the planet and the future are so dire and urgent that rules must be broken?” he wrote.

“Or is the ‘rule of law,’” Revkin wondered, “the linchpin of protecting everything we have, including and perhaps especially the environment?”

For DeChristopher the answer is clear: “The legitimate pathways to power have not provided us with the ability to defend the survival of our civilization,” he wrote soon after his protest. So he turned to a different sense of obligation. “When faced with the opportunity to seriously disrupt the auction of some of our most beautiful lands in Utah to oil and gas developers,” he wrote, “I could not ethically turn my back on that opportunity.”

More information

This event is part of UVM’s Energy Action Seminar Series spearheaded by UVM’s Clean Energy Fund, the Office of Sustainability and the Environmental Progam. The Energy Action Seminar Series is a weekly public seminar on Monday afternoons in the fall of 2013 exploring “ways to get to 90 percent renewable energy in Vermont by 2050.”

DeChristopher’s talk is sponsored by the Clean Energy Fund at the UVM Office of Sustainability. Co-sponsors include UVM’s Rubenstein School for Environment and Natural Resources, Environmental Program, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, and Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. Other co-sponsors are Renewable Energy Vermont, VPIRG, Vermont Natural Resources Council, and 350Vermont.