THE BLOG
03/03/2011 06:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tim DeChristopher Deserves the Medal of Freedom Today, Not a Prison Sentence

When President Obama conferred the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal on several American heroes yesterday, including Kentucky poet Wendell Berry, he forgot one last award: The Medal of Freedom to Tim DeChristopher.

Instead of being convicted today on two felony accounts for placing bids and disrupting an auction for pristine wilderness Utah sites that would have been opened to gas and oil exploration, 27-year-old Tim DeChristopher should have been receiving our nation's highest honor for "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States."

In truth, according to DeChristopher supporters, the leases auctioned to DeChristopher were later overturned by the Obama administration on the grounds that the George W. Bush administration's Bureau of Land Management had failed to complete the analysis required by federal law for the "protection of national and cultural resources."

Mr. President: Just as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. admonished critics in 1963 from his Birmingham jail cell that our nation's indifference to the civil rights crisis demanded acts of civil disobedience, Tim DeChristopher has followed in King's call "to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."

At his trial in Salt Lake City this week, DeChristopher declared: "I was there to raise a red flag. I wanted to delay [the auction] so that the government could take a second look, and make sure they were following their own rules."

If only to force our nation -- and President -- to recognize the escalating crisis of climate destabilization and the unacceptable human and environmental costs of unchecked extraction policies, Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Even you, Mr. President, have said: "The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril."

Our nation's leading climate scientist James Hansen has warned us: "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm."

Seeing how our nation continues to burn 115,000 tons of coal and releases 250,000 tons of CO2 from coal-fired plants EVERY HOUR...

Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Seeing how six coal miners and three rescue workers are now entombed in Crandall Canyon, Utah in a violation-ridden mine, as its mine operator walked free and our coal mining companies continue to operate in a state of violation...

Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Seeing how Utah state authorities approved a strip coal mine within 10 miles of the beloved Bryce Canyon National Park...

Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Seeing how more than 500 mountains and an estimated 1.5 million acres of hardwood forests and 2,000 miles of headwater streams have been irreversibly destroyed by devastating mountaintop removal strip-mining in Appalachia, and in strip-mining operations in 24 states from Alaska to Alabama....

Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Seeing how natural gas fracking operations have poisoned the land and watersheds from drilling across the nation....

Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Seeing how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year devastated untold marine life and coastal livelhoods and resulted in more than $40 billion in damages....

Tim DeChristopher deserves the Medal of Freedom, not a prison sentence.

Driven by a declared "moral imperative" to protect Utah wilderness and prevent further contributions to climate change, Tim DeChristopher's act was nothing less, as the Medal of Freedom recognizes, than "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States."