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Naomi Klein: Tim DeChristopher Guilty Verdict Exposes "Double Standard" of How "Oil and Gas Companies Privatize Profits...Externalize the Cost"

StoryMarch 09, 2011
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Naomi Klein

award-winning journalist and author. Her most recent book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted last week of two felony counts for disrupting an auction of more than 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling in December 2008. Award-winning journalist Naomi Klein talks about why she signed on to a public letter of support for DeChristopher. "What did Tim DeChristopher do wrong? They said that he participated in an auction and without the intention to pay," Klein says. "Oil and gas companies privatize the profits from their resource extraction but externalize the costs, being the pollution and the cleanup... Climate change [is] the biggest disaster of all and the highest price tag of all — this, created by the fossil fuel industries... They have no intention of paying that cost." [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine_, as we turn now to Tim DeChristopher. Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted last week of two felony counts for disrupting the auction of more than 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling. He of">spoke to us from Salt Lake City the day after the verdict came down and explained why he, well, got involved in this auction.

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: Well, I saw this auction as, first off, a fraud against the American people, that the government wasn’t following their own rules and was locking the public out of the decision-making process for public property. I also saw it as a real threat to my future, because of the impact on climate change that this kind of "drill now, think later" mentality was having, and an attack on our public lands, on our natural heritage, in pretty pristine and irreplaceable areas in southern Utah.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim DeChristopher faces up to 10 years in jail. When I asked him if he regretted what he did, well, this is what he said.

TIM DeCHRISTOPHER: I have no regrets at all, I mean, especially seeing the show of support outside of the courthouse this week. There were people out there all day long, all week, and they were singing. You know, they were showing their joy and resolve in the face of intimidation. And I think that’s the really important thing that came out of this, is that people showed that regardless of what happens to me, they’re not going to be intimidated into being obedient to an unjust status quo.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there’s Tim DeChristopher, December 2008. He finishes a graduate school exam about the environment. He goes off to this auction. People are protesting outside. And he thinks, "Do protests really matter?" And he goes inside to check it out, not knowing that people weren’t being bonded who were bidding, so he picks up this paddle, paddle 70, and he starts bidding and ends up getting 100,000 acres of land, public land, that he didn’t plan to privatize or drill on like the oil companies and gas companies that were bidding on the other land. Naomi Klein, you’ve written a letter on his behalf.

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, yeah, with a group of others. It was Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Robert Redford, a letter supporting Tim DeChristopher. We all have just a tremendous amount of respect for him. And in terms of what we were talking about earlier, in — you know, what should progressives be doing in this political moment to avoid these strategies —- what’s so interesting about Tim is the timing, that you just pointed out. December 2008. So, Obama had already been elected. Bush was on his way out. And this was this last-minute land grab, a resource grab. They were handing out these leases in very irregular ways. There was all kinds of dodgy things going on with the way these leases were being handed out, how quickly, the lack of process. And, in fact, Ken Salazar has agreed with Tim DeChristopher, and -—

AMY GOODMAN: The Interior Secretary.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah — and found that process was not followed. And I think most of the leases, if not all of the leases, are not actually being sold now because of this. So it turns out that Tim was right, but he’s still being prosecuted for taking a stand.

But coming back to the timing, you know, so many of the big environmental groups in that moment were just waiting, waiting to see what Obama was going to do. And there was so much waiting, waiting to see what Obama was going to do. You know, maybe he’s really going to fix this for us, right? So let’s just give the guy a chance, right? And here’s Tim DeChristopher. Obama hasn’t taken office yet, and he’s going, "I’m just going to be loyal to my issue, to the issues that I care about. I’m not going to play politics at all. I’ll leave that to other people. And there have to be some people out there who are loyal to the science and are not playing politics." And that is something that I found so moving about his actions, the timing of those actions, that he wasn’t waiting.

But there’s something else — you know, when I was reading the conviction, which is just so shocking — is that, what did Tim DeChristopher do wrong? They said that he participated in an auction, and he had — without the intention to pay. He participated in an auction without the intention to pay. And I remember hearing Tim describe why he had gone from taking that test, going straight to that auction, and I remember that he said that part of what outraged him about what the oil and gas companies were doing is that they were externalizing all of their costs. He’s an economics student, and he had been studying the way in which oil and gas companies privatize the profits from their resource extraction but externalize the costs, being the pollution and the cleanup. We see this over and over again. I mean, look at Chevron refusing to pay the cost of the disaster in Ecuador despite the court ruling. But look at climate change, the biggest disaster of all and the highest price tag of all —- this, created by the fossil fuel industries. They’ve known it for decades. They have no intention of paying that cost. So I think about this incredible double standard, where -—

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, interestingly, Tim DeChristopher said, right after he did this, not intending to do this, but then buying the land, he was able to raise the money to buy the land —


AMY GOODMAN: — but he wasn’t allowed to introduce that into the court. The jury never knew that he was able to raise that money.

NAOMI KLEIN: There were so many things. There were so many things he wasn’t allowed to introduce. I mean, it could have been such a different trial.

But my point is simply that everything these oil and gas companies are doing, they’re doing without the intention to pay the costs, but with such a spectacular price tag. I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions of dollars, that have been offloaded onto the public. Those actions are supposedly legal and — supposedly legal, or, in some cases, they’re — as in the case in Ecuador, the courts are finding that they weren’t legal, but they don’t intend to pay anyway. So, the injustice of this young man, who took this principled position, going to jail because he did not intend to pay for leases that Ken Salazar has said were irregular, and all these oil and gas companies getting away with actions that are so damaging to our world, to the ecology, to our economy, and they have absolutely no intention of paying. So we have to somehow switch this discussion.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how the economic crisis has been used as a justification to attack the Environmental Protection Agency?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I mean, since 2008, we’ve seen an incredible attack on climate science. The project that I’m working on isn’t just about this; it’s a broader project about climate justice. But what we’re seeing now is another example of how an economic crisis is being used to push every issue off the agenda. So, it isn’t just that the economic crisis is used as the pretext to attack unions, to attack public education, to privatize services — all of that’s true; but another way in which it’s been used consistently is to say, "OK, well, you know, back in 2008, 2009, we were all focused on climate change, and there were polar bears on the cover of Newsweek, but we just can’t afford that now, because there is an economic crisis. And taking action on climate change would simply be too costly to our economy. We can’t afford that. We certainly can’t afford that in a recession."

So there’s been this explicit pitting of the economy against the environment, which is why I think it’s so important for us to connect how we could both address climate change and fix our economy at the same time, which we can do with the right climate justice agenda, because separating the environment out from the economy, which is — you know, we live in a time of single-issue politics, where NGOs have their issues, they stick to their issues, and it can be — it can be really problematic, because if you’re just talking about the environment, but you don’t talk about the economy, then you are open to these attempts to pit these issues against each other as if they’re separate. But it’s interesting. You know, has launched their campaign against the Chamber of Commerce, which is starting to make these connections and realizing that we’re not going to get any kind of climate action unless we get to the root of the problem, which is the corrosive power of corporate money over politics. So we’re starting to see a lot of the environmental groups realizing that they’ve got to get out of their green silos and start engaging with economics, or we’re going to keep losing.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about climate change denial, but we have to go to break, and then we’ll be back. Our guest is Naomi Klein. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Stay with us.

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