The Ultimate Goal of the “Climate Necessity Defense” and How to Prevent It

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There is a growing number of environmental extremists committing crimes against pipelines and other critical energy infrastructure in hopes of becoming the first person to successfully invoke the “necessity defense” at their criminal trial.

The necessity defense, which the Sierra Club called “the holy grail of climate action,” essentially allows people to argue in court that they broke the law in order to prevent a greater harm, like breaking into a burning building to save a baby trapped inside.

Unfortunately, in their pursuit to be first, eco-terrorists are engaging in increasingly dangerous criminal activity that has the potential to figuratively blow up the baby, the building, and the surrounding neighborhood they claim to want to save.

The most recent (and arguably most dangerous) example of this race for the grail was the case of the “valve turners,” a group of aging activists who launched a coordinated effort to temporarily stop the flow of oil from Canada into the U.S. by breaking into the pipeline valve stations in four different states and closing emergency shut-off valves.

This multi-state sabotage prompted the Department of Transportation to issue an Advisory Bulletin to all “Owners and Operators of Hazardous Liquid, Carbon Dioxide and Gas Pipelines” warning them about the importance of “Safeguarding and Securing Pipelines from Unauthorized Access.”

“Had the pipeline operators not shut down their lines in response to the threats,” the DOT wrote, “a pipeline rupture could have occurred,” potentially causing “death, injury, and economic and environmental harm.”

In the case of the Keystone pipeline sabotage, the activists called the pipeline operations center a mere 10 minutes before turning the shut-off valve, resulting in “both the wheel and the ground below [the activist’s] feet begin to shake.”

But a catastrophic pipeline rupture is nothing compared to what Deep Green Resistance—the most extreme of the eco-terrorism organizations—wants to achieve with the necessity defense. In their treatise on “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” they call on militants to take “actions against pipelines, power lines, tankers, and refineries,” and then urge “aboveground activists to push for acceptance and normalization of more militant and radical tactics where appropriate.”

These “more moderate advocacy groups” they wrote, “should vocally support sabotage when it occurs [and] use the occurrence of sabotage to criticize those is power for failing to act. They should argue that sabotage would not be necessary if civil society would make a reasonable response to social and ecological problems. They will not side with those in power against the saboteurs but argue that the situation is serious enough to make such action legitimate.” (Emphasis added.)

And the ultimate goal of Deep Green Resistance’s “Decisive Ecological Warfare”? “To disrupt and dismantle industrial civilization; to remove the ability of the powerful to exploit the marginalized and destroy the planet.”

Fortunately, a number of states are enacting laws modeled on the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which “codifies criminal penalties for a person convicted of willfully trespassing or entering property containing a critical infrastructure facility without permission by the owner of the property and holds a person liable for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing.”

The legislative model, developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council and inspired by laws recently enacted in Oklahoma, also “prescribes criminal penalties for organizations conspiring with people who willfully trespass and/or damage critical infrastructure sites, and holds conspiring organizations responsible for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing.”

To date, two states—Oklahoma and Iowa—have passed some version of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, and five others—Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wyoming—are considering the legislation.

When extreme eco-terrorist organizations boast about using the necessity defense to justify sabotage that will ultimately “disrupt and dismantle industrial civilization,” it’s time for every state to consider laws that take a hard stand against eco-terrorism.