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Trial may turn up heat on climate-change movement
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Utahn's monkey-wrenching might not have done anything to stop climate change as he had hoped, but some credit Tim DeChristopher for recharging the movement to stop climate change.

Author Bill McKibben called this week's federal trial and the rallies around it "part of an upsurge of activism" among people who feel their efforts in politics and science have gone nowhere.

"More and more, we're going to see people upping the stakes," said McKibben, who wrote the first book about climate change for a popular audience more than two decades ago and who leads an international climate crisis campaign, 350.org.

"Tim will motivate more Tims," he said. "I'm pretty sure [Monkey Wrench Gang author] Ed Abbey is standing in his grave, fist upraised."

Peter Gratch, a Park City real estate agent and self-described "in-the-middle kind of guy," held a "Not Guilty" poster for a few hours outside the courthouse Wednesday. He said DeChristopher had inspired him by stopping oil and gas leases around Arches National Park, a place he and his wife cherish.

"This one event is not going to change global warming," he said. "But it's one little thing that's going to make us think."

Local climate activist Michael Mielke said the climate change movement is demoralized because evidence of climate disruption mounts, yet leaders in Washington do nothing. Activists are looking for something hopeful, he said, and DeChristopher — by example — is it.

"The trial's given the movement a place to go because there is some positive energy here," he said outside the courthouse, where he testified in DeChristopher's defense Wednesday.

Meanwhile, others don't see how the case can help the climate cause.

State Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said civil disobedience is fine if you have the facts on your side, but DeChristopher never did.

"He didn't like the process," said Noel, "so he tried to monkey-wrench the process."

Noel was involved in his own episode of civil disobedience in 2009, when he joined hundreds of people protesting the Bureau of Land Management's closure of the Paria Canyon riverbed in rural Kane County. Prosecutors never filed charges, Noel said Wednesday, because the law in that situation was unclear — a contrast, he says, to DeChristopher's case, where there was a clear violation.

"It certainly brings attention" to climate change, said Noel of DeChristopher's "misguided" actions. "But it doesn't bring it any closer to 'is it right or not?'"

Brigham Young University professor Barry Bickmore would agree that leaders aren't doing enough to address climate change. He regularly challenges the credibility of the climate science skeptics on his blog.

Still, like Noel, he doubted that DeChristopher's prosecution advances the cause, especially among the many political conservatives whose support is essential for tackling climate change.

"I don't know if it inspires anybody else," said Bickmore. "But as far as getting conservatives to take a fresh look at [climate change], I don't think so."

Flora Bernard, a founder of the Salt Lake City climate action group Peaceful Uprising, said interest in the DeChristopher trial is worldwide.

"It's amazing," she said. "I think a lot of people all around the world are feeling empowered."

"Irrespective of the outcome of the trial," she concluded, "Tim has already won because of the incredible movement he catalyzed. I think everybody's ready for it."

fahys@sltrib.com

More information on climate action groups and climate skeptics:

Bill McKibben's 350.org is an international climate-action organization.

Utah-born Peaceful Uprising has a web page: http://www.peacefuluprising.org

Barry Bickmore's blog on climate science can be found here: bbickmore.wordpress.com

A skeptics page started by a former Utahn: utahclimate.org/

Activism • DeChristopher case is being watched for impact on stalled political debate.
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