Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Bidder 70": the story of Tim DeChristopher's protest against oil and gas leases

Bidder 70” (2012, 72 minutes), directed by Beth and George Gage, tells the storm of civil disobedience by  Tim DeChristopher and founder of Peaceful Uprising.

In late 2008, he disrupted a Bureau of Land Management auction of an oil and gas lease by making a successful bid that he had no “intention” to pay for.  The land was in southern Utah, near Canyonlands and Arches national parks.  He was indicted for making false statements in violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.  His trial was postponed several times, but was convicted and sentenced to 21 months in prison in July 2011.  Wikipedia reports a of the legal rhetoric on deterrence at the trial and sentencing here. It's interesting that the judge did not have to honor a minimum prison sentence, and could have ordered community service under court supervision instead.  The jury was instructed to rule very narrowly on the law, not sympathy to the cause.

DeChristopher had been a graduate student in economics at the University of Utah.  He maintains that carbon dioxide levels are already about what would be acceptable to keep climate change under control.   The film, while showing a lot of the scenery of the land involved, makes a digression to his protests against mountaintop removal, and it shows impressive footage of the huge Kayford Mine in southern West Virginia.

Of course, it’s ironic that the price of oil has plummeted recently, but mainly because of international competition, not directly out of concern for the environment.

The film sets its moral tone with an opening quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, and must be open to the consequences.”  But we could take the moral question about self-sacrifice further:  is it to be expected from anyone who wants to be heard?

The official site is here (First Run Features).

The film can be watched on Netflix instant play or rented on YouTube for $3.99.

Wikipedia attribution link for Island in the Sky in Canyonlands, photo by Smithfl, under Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 license.

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