These days, instances of climate justice are hard to come by. The global poor, future generations and other species – those who have contributed least to climate problem – continue to face the worst impacts of global warming thanks to a lack of leadership from the world’s biggest polluters. But at the very least my colleague, Ted Glick, won’t have to go to jail for peacefully protesting this gross injustice.
Earlier this week, Judge Frederick Weisberg of the D.C. Superior Court made the very just decision not to incarcerate Ted for non-violently and (let’s be honest) non-disruptively hanging a “Green Jobs Now” banner in a U.S. Senate office building last September. Instead, Ted got off with an $1,100 fine and 40 days of community service. Not that any punishment is really fitting for what Ted did. As Jeff Biggers recently wrote in theHuffington Post, “Glick doesn’t deserve prison time — he deserves a Medal of Honor for his incredible work to halt climate destabilization and transition to green jobs.” Biggers is right, but short of a medal, getting off without prison time was a good result for Ted.
During the sentencing, Judge Weisberg noted that Biggers’ sentiments were echoed in hundreds of letters he had received about Ted’s plight. Although Weisberg rejected these sentiments as “one dimensional” and claimed they had no influence whatsoever on his sentencing decision, the decision itself tells a slightly different story.
While couched within a legal rather than moral context, it was still founded on the same reasoning that inspired those letters – that nobody deserves to go to jail for peacefully protesting the government’s inaction on climate change.
This convergence between our moral and legal notions of justice was really what Ted’s case was all about. As all effective civil disobedience actions should, Ted’s banner-drop arrest and conviction has served to sharply contrast our deep-seated notions of moral justice against the failure of our legal and political systems to administer anything that resembles those notions of justice. Whenever a huge justice gap like this exists, we need civil disobedience to help us see it clearly and work to close it. Seen in this way, Ted’s actions were not in the least at odds with our legal and political systems; they were directly in their service, intended to help those systems converge again with the moral ideals that they are supposed to serve.
We saw faint glimmer of that convergence in Judge Weisberg’s decision on Tuesday, and as a result a good man won’t have to go to jail for promoting a good cause. But it was a far cry from the great convergence that needs to sweep across our entire political-legal system in order for real climate justice to be achieved.
To get there, we need more public officials like Judge Weisberg and more people like Ted, who was willing to put his freedom on the line in the name of true justice.
Photo credit: Anne Havemann