“On Oct. 11, 2016, Michael Foster and two companions rose before dawn, left their budget hotel in Grand Forks, N.D., and drove a white rental sedan toward the Canadian border, diligently minding the speed limit. The day was cold and overcast, and Foster, his diminutive frame wrapped in a down jacket, had prepared for a morning outdoors. As the driver, Sam Jessup, followed a succession of laser-straight farm roads through the sugar-beet fields, and a documentary filmmaker, Deia Schlosberg, recorded events from the back seat, Foster sat hunched in the passenger seat, mentally rehearsing his plan.
When Jessup pulled over next to a windbreak of cottonwood trees, Foster felt the seconds stretch and slow. For months, he’d imagined his next actions: He would get out of the car, put on a hard hat and safety vest, retrieve a pair of bolt cutters from the trunk and walk to the fenced enclosure about 100 feet away. He would snip the padlock that secured the gate and approach the blunt length of vertical pipe in the center of the enclosure — the stem of a shut-off valve for the 2,700-mile-long Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast. He would cut the chain on the steel wheel attached to the stem, and turn the wheel clockwise until it stopped.
What Foster didn’t expect was that once he’d broken through the chain-link fence, he would be briefly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he was about to do. He faced away from the biting wind, and allowed himself to cry. He then put a gloved hand on the steel wheel, which was almost three feet across and mounted vertically as if on the helm of a ship, and began to turn it. For long minutes it spun easily, but then both the wheel and the ground below his feet began to shake. Foster had been told to expect this, but still he hesitated. When he resumed turning, he had to throw his body into the task, at times dangling from the wheel to coax it downward. Finally, he could wrestle it no farther, and the shaking stopped. He felt a profound sense of relief. He replaced the lock on the wheel with a new padlock, sat down and, breathing heavily, began to record himself on his phone. “Hey, I’ve never shot video for grandkids that I don’t have yet,” he told the camera, “but I want any grandkids, or grandnephews and nieces or whatever, anybody in any family tree of mine, to know that once upon a time people burned oil, and they put it in these underground pipes, and they burned enough, fast enough, to almost cook you guys out of existence, and we had to stop it — any way we could think of.”
Ten minutes before Foster entered the enclosure, Jessup and another supporter each called the operations center of the pipeline’s owner, the TransCanada Corporation, and described what Foster was about to do. The company called the sheriff. About half an hour after Foster walked away from the valve station, an officer arrived and arrested Foster, Jessup and Schlosberg.What neither the sheriff’s department nor TransCanada knew, however, was that while Foster was closing off the Keystone Pipeline, four other cross-border pipelines — in Washington, Montana and Minnesota — were being shut down, too. Together, the pipelines carry nearly 70 percent of the crude oil imported to the United States from Canada.”
DL: This is a fascinating and complex story. While I care deeply about climate change, and I am impressed that by getting into small boats and blocking oil or coal ships, some polical progress has been made. But attacking the oil pipeline hardware, or turning the valves, doesn’t seem to me to be the most effective way to convince Americans that climate change is a serious problem, and that we need to accelerate our involvement in environmental awareness and political change. That the main character lost his wife and children, suggests that he was a bit self-absorbed in rightous cause, to detriment of his familial relations. In terms of political tactics, there appears to be real difference between an illegal but peaceful protest march, as practiced by Ghandi and Martin Luther King, and tresspassing to sabotoge private property, as practiced by these eco protesters.