This morning, a District Attorney in Massachusetts made history as he recognized the “necessity defense” of climate-related civil disobedience, and reduced the charges for two activists charged in their Lobster Boat Blockade.
Some quick background. Back in May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara boarded their lobster boat, navigated to the shipping channel at the coal-fired Brayton Point Power Plant in southeastern Massachusetts, and dropped anchor. For six hours, the two climate activists and fishermen blocked the “Energy Enterprise” steam ship from delivering Appalachian coal from reaching the power plant.
The “Henry David T,” Ward and O'Hara's boat, blockading the coal ship. Photo: LobsterBoatBlockade.org
The two were arraigned later in the year on four charges in relation to their act of civil disobedience, including conspiracy.
This morning, Ward and O’Hara were due in court, and their lawyers — along with a number of climate experts in Fall River to present testimony to the trial — had intended on using the “necessity defense” to argue that their actions were necessary to combat the greater threat of climate change.
Ward and O'Hara had sought to become the first American climate activists to use this “necessity defense”, arguing that “the blockade was necessary in light of the imminent threat of climate change.” They had planned to call former NASA climatologist James Hansen and environmentalist Bill McKibben to the stand as expert witnesses.
Scheduled for two days, the court proceedings were over in a less than an hour, as Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter immediately dropped the conspiracy charge, and reduced the other charges to civil infractions.
“The truth is that taking these sorts of actions is necessary in light of the drastic news that continues to be described by the science. This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” said O’Hara.