"Our house is on fire,” Greta Thunberg told the world in January. We are experiencing higher temperatures, rising sea levels, stronger storms, unusual precipitation patterns, diminished crop yields and the sixth mass extinction due to greenhouse gases and deforestation. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire,” said Greta, “Because it is.”
In Southwest Virginia, dozens of people have done just that. Motivated by the knowledge that the Mountain Valley Pipeline would double or triple the fixed source greenhouse gas emissions for the entire state of Virginia, these volunteer firefighters have tried to save our collective home by blocking construction. In response, Commonwealth’s Attorneys have charged these emergency responders with trespassing.
In the U.S., people who break a law in order to avoid a worse consequence are eligible for a “necessity defense.” Acting in the tradition of civil disobedience (disobeying the law to confront a moral wrong), people confronting the climate emergency engage in “climate disobedience” to protect the greater good. In 2018, 13 defendants charged with trespassing for blocking construction of a gas pipeline in Boston were found not guilty “by reason of necessity.” In 2019, a Washington State Court of Appeals ruled a climate necessity defense a constitutional right, hopefully dissuading prosecutors in that district from bringing charges in such cases.
Montgomery County prosecuted me and Blacksburg native Michael James-Deramo for fighting climate catastrophe by blocking construction of unneeded and harmful fracked gas infrastructure. Currently, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettit is pursuing charges against at least eight individuals who are acting in the public interest, ranging in age from 19 to 75 years old, at the behest of and for the sole benefit of investors in MVP, LLC.
To echo Greta Thunberg, “I want you to act as you would in a crisis.” Montgomery County voters recognize that climate defenders are fighting for a better world and acting on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Our state has more pressing matters than prosecuting emergency responders who recognize that our house is on fire and act in our best interest to put that fire out.