A Clear and Present Danger

In a landmark decision that may change the course of future climate litigation, a Massachusetts judge has ruled in favor of 13 climate activists.

The judge ruled that the potential threat posed by the Spectra Energy fracked-gas pipeline to both the environment and to residents’ health legally necessitated the protesters’ acts of civil disobedience.

This is huge.

True, the protesters were unfortunately unable to prevent the pipeline from becoming operational, so why am I making such a fuss? Why is this such a big deal?

Because this is the first time that a judge has recognized the that the continued development of fossil fuel infrastructure poses a direct threat to both community health as well as to the overall well-being of the environment.

This is the first time that a judge has ruled that an individual’s right to quality of life by way of good health and a clean environment outweighs the capitalist ‘need’ to develop more fossil fuel infrastructure.

This type of defense has been permitted before in similar cases, but thus far it appears that this is the only case in which the judge ultimately accepted that defense and ruled in favor of it.

“The people….were found not responsible by reason of necessity. The irony is that we are making ourselves responsible. We’re part of the the movement that is standing up and saying we won’t let this go by on our watch. We won’t act like nothing’s wrong.” – Karenna Gore

The decision was so historic, even renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben felt the need to highlight it, tweeting:

“Good golly! A few minutes ago a Boston judge acquitted 13 pipeline protesters on the grounds that the climate crisis made it necessary for them to commit civil disobedience. This may be a first in America.”

With the recent decision to gut Bears Ears National Monument by 85% to open up access to oil and coal reserves, this is some climate news we can finally celebrate.

And, hopefully, both the impassioned protesters and the justice system in Utah will take a cue from this case and recognize the clear and present danger such a decision represents, both to their residents’ health as well as to the environment.

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