Tim DeChristopher. If you don’t know his name, it’s time you did.
Tim DeChristopher is also known as Bidder 70. He’s the guy who, through a turn of events not wholly of his own making, found himself among people trying to buy up the rights to extracting oil and gas in Utah, otherwise known as destruction of the planet, the place we call home.
Tim DeChristopher found himself in the company of home wreckers.
An environmental activist protesting the auction of rights to our planet’s natural resources, no one stopped him as he walked towards the room where the auction was taking place. And when he got there, someone handed him a bidding card. Number seventy. A man of deep integrity, Tim did the only thing that made sense to him. He started subverting by bidding.
Turns out, because his intention was not to make good on the bids, that he did not have the resources to actually pay for what he “bought,” he got into trouble. Big trouble. Federal prison trouble. 21 months worth. He just got out in April.
Tim DeChristopher has won the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2013 Holmes-Weatherly Award, which “is given to an individual or organization, not necessarily a Unitarian Universalist, whose life-long commitment to faith-based social justice is reflected in societal transformation.” According to the official press release, “The award panel was moved by Tim De Christopher’s extraordinary commitment to environmental justice, from his radical non-violent protest as ‘Bidder 70’ at a 2008 auction of oil and gas leases, to the formation of his organization Peaceful Uprising.”
I have been thinking about the end of the world a lot lately. Maybe you have, too. With climate change and its incessant leaving of calling cards so that we cannot be blissfully ignorant (though some of us are still trying really hard, including me on alternate days), it’s kind of hard not to.
So when I come upon a voice that helps ground my hope in reality without dashing it to pieces (well, maybe just a little, but not completely shattered), my ears perk up. I pay attention. Tim is one of those voices.
Lucky us, he’s entering seminary this fall to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. He was recently interviewed by Bill Moyers. When you have an hour, it’s worth your time to watch the whole thing. Moyers asks DeChristopher to comment on a recent The Nation magazine cover that states, “It’s Not Warming, It’s Dying.” Moyers asks if DeChristopher believes climate change is an existential threat to the planet. Here’s his response:
Whew. Good news. I’m liking this guy already.
I mean, I think it’s an existential threat to our industrial civilization. It’s a threat to the kind of planet that we have evolved on, the kind of planet that we’ve always lived on.
Ohh. Not so good. In fact, kinda scary.
But I think both the planet and human beings are resilient.
Okay, back to good. Back to hopeful.
And I think there will be some kind of survival.
Hmmmm. That’s sounds awfully qualified. Not sure what he means by “some.”
Did I say that DeChristopher’s voice helps ground my hope? Because listening to those words, I’m not sure that survival of some kind of human society, but one that is hardly recognizable, is particularly hopeful. DeChristopher continued,
The thing that scares me is what we will have to do in order to survive. Whether we’ll turn against each other. You know, I mean, I don’t think seven billion people can survive in a climate-constricted world. And it’s that process of contraction where things can get really ugly. And, you know, I don’t think it’s even to the direct impacts of it that is the scariest. I think the scariest is, you know, who’s making the decisions during that time of chaos. And what kind of drastic measures are we going to be willing to resort to. And again, that’s where, you know, a lot of our historic atrocities happen.
Historic atrocities? How is it that you count this guy among your go-to people to grow your sense of hope at a time like this? That sounds twisted…
We know we’re going down this path of unprecedented change. And so it’s really important who is calling the shots during that time. The collapse of industrial civilization with an ignorant, apathetic citizenry that’s afraid of their own government and feels like they have to accept what corporations want to do, that’s really scary. That really ugly. And that’s, I think, the big challenge that we face now.
Ahhh. There’s the glimmer. Not the rose-colored, polly-anna spin. The glimmer and glint inside the time-pressured rock that will not easily release its treasure, but it’s there for the mining – a kind of mining that will save the planet, rather than destroy it.
Of course, there is no guarantee, no promise, and there is no easy. It is as Rebecca Solnit reminds us in her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities:
I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should show you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.
Tim DeChristopher reminds me that it’s not just the end game of survival that we need to concern ourselves with (the What of our vision), but equally as important is the How of our vision: how we go about adapting, how we go about making decisions in the midst of the encroaching chaos.
Do we disregard anyone who is outside of our circle of ken? A circle that under the pressure of scarcity will tend towards lesser inclusion, falling prey to the tendency of an apathetic citizenry making ugly decisions? Or do we choose something else, something opposite of that dystopian option?
It seems to me this is not a far off scenario. This is not a future What. This is a How of the now: how we make choices today, the kind of citizenry we are today, informs and defines the potential survival of the future (as well as the quality of the now). And maybe, just maybe, we will still have a home, and it won’t be completely wrecked.