Yesterday, I was sentenced in Washington, D.C. for my conviction on two misdemeanors for hanging “Green Jobs Now” and “Get to Work” banners in the Hart Senate Office Building last September. I was facing up to three years. Instead, Judge Frederick Weisberg sentenced me to one year on probation, 40 hours of community service, an $1100 fine, and 30 days in jail on each count, suspended. To my surprise, I was not sentenced to jail time. The judge did not accept the U.S. Attorney’s recommendation that I go to jail for 40 days.
Here is the statement I read in open court before I was sentenced;
Your honor, I’d like to focus my statement on the “why” of the September 8 action, about which I was not able to testify at my trial. I’ll begin with a quote from a March 4, 2010 press release from the U.S. National Science Foundation. It concerns the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas 70 times as strong as carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere. This release begins:
A section of the Arctic Ocean seafloor that holds vast stores of frozen methane is showing signs of instability and widespread venting of the powerful greenhouse gas, according to the findings of an international research team …
The research results show that the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is starting to leak large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.
This melting of frozen methane on the sea floor is one of several climate tipping points that scientists have long identified as of great concern. The others are: the release of methane frozen in the permafrost in the earth’s northern latitudes, the accelerated melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets such that sea level rise would be much more rapid than currently expected, and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest because of drought and the release of much of the estimated 120 billion tons of carbon sequestered there.
What is a climate tipping point? It’s a point at which there has been so much heating up of the atmosphere that we experience drastic and runaway heating with truly catastrophic implications for the whole world, especially for the poor people of the world who are most vulnerable to respiratory diseases, heat stress, droughts, floods, major storms, water scarcity, and disruption of agriculture.
We may well be on the verge of one of these tipping points.
We are literally running out of time to make the dramatic changes, to shift rapidly from fossil fuels to clean energy, that will give us a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
I hope that in the thinking you have been doing about my sentence, this dire situation in which we find ourselves has been taken into account. Faced with such a planetary emergency, we must speak up and take action. And as citizens of a democracy, we must nonviolently urge, in the best ways we know how, our elected representatives, our congresspersons and senators, to do the right thing. That is what I did on September 8 of last year.
As the country responsible for the highest percentage of greenhouse gases that are up in the atmosphere, the United States must begin to give leadership on this issue. We haven’t done so yet. And time is running out.
Time is running out. All of us, in our own ways and for the sake of those being affected by climate change right now, for our children and grandchildren, must speak out and take action now.