Tim DeChristopher is an inspiring climate activist and leader. Better known as Bidder #70, on 19 December 2008, after having taken a final exam in an economics course at the University of Utah, Tim took the train to observe and protest a Bureau of Land Management auction that was leasing land to oil and gas companies. He ended up bidding on vast tracts of land, for which he owed two million dollars, just to keep the land out of the hands of the oil and gas companies. Of course, he didn't have the money to pay for the land. On 2 March 2011, Tim was found guilty of violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act on two felony charges, and later sentenced to two years in federal prison and ordered to pay a ten thousand dollar fine. Writes Terry Tempest Williams, "Minutes before receiving his sentence, Tim DeChristopher delivered an impassioned speech from the courtroom floor. At the end of the speech, he turned toward Judge Dee Benson, who presided over his trial, looked him in the eye, and said, 'This is what love looks like.'"
We might think that Tim gave up his freedom to protect land from oil and gas corporations, our atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions, and our future from climate change. But what Tim now thinks about freedom is a challenge and call to all of us wanting to envision and create a fundamentally different culture.
TIM: If you look at the worst-case consequences of climate change, those pretty much mean the collapse of our industrial civilization. But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. It means that we’re going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced. And that’s certainly not hopeless. It means we’re going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world. I have a lot of hope in my generation’s ability to build a better world in the ashes of this one. And I have very little doubt that we’ll have to. The nice thing about that is that this culture hasn’t led to happiness anyway, it hasn’t satisfied our human needs. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.
TERRY: How has this experience—these past two years—changed you?
TIM: [Sighing.] It’s made me worry less.
TIM: It’s somewhat comforting knowing that things are going to fall apart, because it does give us that opportunity to drastically change things.
TERRY: I’ve watched you, you know, from afar. And when we were at the Glen Canyon Institute’s David Brower celebration in 2010, I looked at you, and I was so happy because it was like there was a lightness about you. Before, I felt like you were carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders—and you have broad shoulders—but there was something in your eyes, there was a light in your eyes I had not seen before. And I remember saying, “Something’s different.” And you were saying that rather than being the one who was inspiring, you were being inspired. And rather than being the one who was carrying this cause, it was carrying you. Can you talk about that? Because I think that’s instructive for all of us.
TIM: I think letting go of that burden had a lot to do with embracing how good this whole thing has felt. It’s been so liberating and empowering.
TERRY: To you, personally?
TIM: Yeah. I went into this thinking, It’s worth sacrificing my freedom for this.
TERRY: And you did it alone. It’s not like you had a movement behind you, or the support group that you have now.
TIM: Right. But I feel like I did the opposite. I thought I was sacrificing my freedom, but instead I was grabbing onto my freedom and refusing to let go of it for the first time, you know? Finally accepting that I wasn’t this helpless victim of society, and couldn’t do anything to shape my own future, you know, that I didn’t have that freedom to steer the course of my life. Finally I said, “I have the freedom to change this situation. I’m that powerful.” And that’s been a wonderful feeling that I’ve held onto since then.