UPDATE: 11:30am– The six jurors have been selected! When it comes time to deliberate, only a simple majority (4 of 6) is required to reach a verdict in this case. Court in now in recess for Lunch. Will resume at 12:45
UPDATE: 10:45am– Jury selection still ongoing. Alec’s lawyer has asked the jury pool questions about who they think is responsible for protecting the public commons that we all depend on (the government? the people? corporations?), and how they feel about climate change. Can humans influence climate long term? He has also asked if they have ever been so concerned about an issue that they took action to do something about it. What kinds of actions would be justified?
UPDATE: 9:15am, jury selection has begun.
Tar Sands Blockader Alec, “Climate hawk” Johnson argues threats of climate change and environmental harm justify his actions
ATOKA, OK –Thursday, October 23, 2014, 9:00AM— Alec Johnson, a 62 year old man arrested last year for disrupting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, attempts to make US history today by becoming the first to argue before a jury that he was justified in breaking the law to prevent the urgent threat of climate change. His defense is introducing a commanding consensus of climate science, including that of renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen who has prepared written testimony for the consideration of the court, and will make clear that effective action to address the climate crisis is urgent, imminently harmful to living things, and can no longer be delayed.
“The Keystone XL pipeline is a clear threat to our children’s future,” Mr. Johnson stated while addressing a crowd of supporters before entering the courthouse. “The fact that the southern leg of KXL was approved in Oklahoma and Texas represents a stark failure by federal, state, and local government to protect the atmosphere that belongs in common to the world’s people. Today I am defending our right to life, which depends on a habitable atmosphere, and in doing so I’m acting to protect that right for future generations.”
On April 22, 2013, Alec Johnson disrupted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline near Tushka, Oklahoma by chaining himself to heavy equipment and effectively halting work. Eventually the police were called and he was removed from the site and arrested. Now, more than a year after his arrest, Mr. Johnson presents his defense to an Atoka County jury. If convicted he faces up to two years in prison. To avoid that fate Mr. Johnson must convince the jury that enforcing future generation’s rights to a stable climate and livable environment is not a crime. This kind of ‘necessity’ defense rooted in climate justice could have national implications for the growing movement of resistance to the fossil fuel industry across the US.
“The necessity defense allows the defendant to inform the jury of the reasons he risked his liberty and faced arrest in order to prevent a greater harm to the public interest,” explains attorney Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “As more and more Americans feel compelled to take action to prevent catastrophic climate disaster, the Courts will likely see this defense with increasing frequency.”
Trial proceedings are expected to carry on throughout most of today and potentially continue tomorrow. Mr. Johnson is facing two counts of a misdemeanor obstruction charge. A six person jury will deliberate on the two charges, requiring only a simple majority (at least four votes) to reach a verdict.
“As the father of two daughters, the threat that climate change poses to their future has become a defining commitment in my life,” said Mr. Johnson. “The debt we owe our ancestors we repay by looking after our children; it’s a sacred obligation.”