A handful of climate activists turned off the flow of Canadian tar sands oil through pipelines in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Five who cut chains and turned pipeline valves and five more supporters were arrested. They face a range of charges, including criminal trespass, sabotage, burglary, and criminal mischief.
That morning in Seattle, Jay O’Hara was working the phones, calling the pipeline companies 15 minutes in advance to warn them of the shutdown. It was not his first experience of a bold climate action involving personal risk. In 2013, O’Hara and his friend Ken Ward anchored their small boat, the “Henry David T,” in the path of a 40,000-ton barge taking coal to a plant in Massachusetts in what has famously been called the “lobster-boat blockade.” A district attorney subsequently dropped the most serious charges against the pair, recognizing that their civil disobedience was motivated by the necessity to halt global warming.
Necessity was also behind last Tuesday’s pipeline shutdown by activist group Climate Direct Action, O’Hara said, pointing to research that shows we cannot remain under the Paris agreement’s global warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius if we burn the fossil fuel reserves we already have.