Michael Foster Is Defiant
June 8, 2017 7:48 AM   Subscribe

The Seattle climate activist who turned off the North Dakota Keystone Pipeline gave up his livelihood, his family, and quite possibly—after the upcoming trial—his next two decades of freedom. What drives someone to risk it all?
posted by katie (19 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
The heros we need.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2017 [6 favorites]


Thank you, Michael Foster. The thought of the future our kids are going to face hangs over and darkens the entire enterprise of parenting for my partner and I. It's never far from my mind.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:29 AM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Dude. My hat is off to these guys.

Also: In 2013, Ward and a colleague bought an old lobster boat and anchored it in the path of a 40,000-ton coal freighter at Brayton Point in Massachusetts. The state brought charges, and on the day of the trial—with climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and activist Bill McKibben standing ready to testify—Bristol County district attorney Sam Sutter stunned the court by dropping the charges and announcing that the protesters were right. Standing in front of the courthouse, waving an essay by McKibben, DA Sutter called climate change one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced and declared that the political leadership was failing the people. He then joined Ward in a climate march in New York, in Central Park.

That's fucking fantastic.
posted by suelac at 9:37 AM on June 8, 2017 [44 favorites]


I respect Mr. Foster. First, for his unwavering efforts to get the planet to change regarding environmental issues. Second, for his acceptance that he is going to jail for a while and he is ok with it if it draws attention to his cause. His turning of the valve was sort of one final gesture in what he hopes is not, but seems to accept is, a futile effort to fight big oil.

Godspeed Michael Foster.
posted by AugustWest at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


This a brave and heroic person. We need more of them. Proud to say that my husband and I switched to solar power last month, trying to do as much as we can. Wish I could do more.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:12 PM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


Some people have a vision of the future.

Some have a vision of their stock portfolio when the bell sounds at the end of the day's trading.
posted by notreally at 1:13 PM on June 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


There's nothing I relish more than the opportunity to be contrarian.

This guy seems like a bit of an ass.

It is possible to be a brave activist without also being a huge dick to your family, by forcing your extremely rigid worldview on them. Were Foster fighting for a non-progressive cause, I think most of us would describe his controlling behavior towards his wife and daughters as damn near abusive (none of you get to go on vacations that involve planes, ever, because I've decided it's bad?!). Instead, we're conveniently able to brush that aside and not care so much because he's fighting for a cause that we, myself included, believe in.

I wonder if Foster stopped for even a moment to reflect on the fact that this statement of his “If we don’t act right away, we get to be the ones to watch it all fall apart in our kids’ lifetimes,” isn't even possible for him because he's driven his own children away with his extremism.

Yay, for fighting for causes we believe, even when it comes with personal risks. Boo, to those that treat their loved ones like crap, in service of their activism.
posted by scantee at 1:50 PM on June 8, 2017 [7 favorites]


How much did this action actually make it into the press? This is reporting from a small newspaper. I can find local reporting from several tv stations and found two Reuters articles about this. It doesn't look like it made nationwide news. I cannot find anything on any of the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN). So how much impact did this action actually make? I applaud his action, I contributed to the legal defense fund for these activists, however, I found out about this earlier via a fluke. As much as I support this, I don't think this was a clear call to anyone outside of the Northwest and climate conscious circles.

Also, is there some resource that can explain why shutting down pipelines creates an explosion risk and how they tried to mitigate that?
posted by Hactar at 3:53 PM on June 8, 2017


Also, is there some resource that can explain why shutting down pipelines creates an explosion risk and how they tried to mitigate that?

Crude oil pipelines are under pressure because you have to pump the oil from one end to another--these aren't gravity flow lines like an aqueduct. The pressure is such that you can hear the oil moving in one. If you shut off flow to a part prematurely and you are still pressurizing it from behind, then it has nowhere to go because of the closed valve. That creates the possibility of a leak at a weak point or worse.

The type of crude that pipeline handles is a very thick, viscous, almost rocky bitumen--so much so that to get it to pump you have to hear it up quite hot and dilute it with something else. (Usually naphtha--a highly flammable natural gas liquid.) That's where you see the name dilbit (diluted bitumen) used to describe tar sands crudes on a pipeline.

So I would assume they called the pipeline operator and said 'hey, when you can't figure out the readings you see today, it's because we're shutting it in' etc.
posted by resurrexit at 7:09 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Were Foster fighting for a non-progressive cause, I think most of us would describe his controlling behavior towards his wife and daughters as damn near abusive

< lolwut.png >

If not getting to take holiday plane trips on the regular is abuse, I guess everyone who isn't middle class is a victim.

It sounds like a husband and wife ended up on two diverging paths and got a divorce, something that happens daily. All sorts of marriages end for all sorts of much stupider reasons than not wanting your grandkids to be raised in a burning hellscape, and the kids still grow up to have healthy, loving relationships with both parents. What's the real reason you're so angry at someone you don't know on behalf of a bunch of people you also don't know?
posted by Mike Smith at 7:16 PM on June 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


Does anybody know when this guys court actually is?
posted by youthenrage at 7:27 PM on June 8, 2017


It sounds like a husband and wife ended up on two diverging paths and got a divorce, something that happens daily. All sorts of marriages end for all sorts of much stupider reasons than not wanting your grandkids to be raised in a burning hellscape, and the kids still grow up to have healthy, loving relationships with both parents.

Did you read the article? His kids don't speak to him anymore.

And yes, I do believe that controlling other people's behavior is abusive. Didn't think that was a particularly wacky opinion to hold in 2017. Want to avoid plane travel or Christmas trees because of the impact on the environment? Fine, do whatever the hell you want. Want to control other people's lives and forbid them from doing things that are commonly accepted, by that you personally are against? Then yeah, you're a jerk and maybe abusive.
posted by scantee at 7:46 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


The fact is I'm not going to risk going to jail for fifty years to shut a pipeline valve. I pretty much expect that someone who is is not going to be like me, if they are a jerk and abusive I don't really care, all I care about is that he had the whatever to stand up despite the consequences. Sure if he was leading a "Free Speech" rally I would be complaining about what an unhinged zealot he is but he is not leading a "Free Speech" rally so I don't care. I don't believe in supermen or superwomen, some people might come close but it might just be the have better publicists. We need flawed heroes because that is generally what they are.
posted by Pembquist at 8:06 PM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


At least that is my opinion, I don't mean to give offense. I wish the world were not this way but I think it is.
posted by Pembquist at 8:13 PM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'll admit my bias, which is that individual action, or activism, has absolutely nothing on the impact that can be made through improvements in public policy. That's why I don't find Foster's actions as impressive as some. I understand the desire for a hero, someone who undertakes bold, public actions that inspire others. But my experience is that these people have less of an impact than the person who works at an unknown think tank non-profit, who dedicates decades of their life to a cause, who writes boring white papers about technical minutiae, who meets with both supporters and detractors year after year, slowly trying to sway opinions. It's this dull coalition-building work that has the greatest impact. It hard and tedious and entails having to endlessly engage with people who disagree with you and don't treat you well. And there is no public pay-off or hero-worship.

I do think it is important how Foster treats his now estranged family. Because while I've never met Foster before, I certainly have met people similar to how this article describes Foster. Underneath their good intentions there's often a ton of narcissism and horrible behavior that is ignored because they are rockstars within their communities. Is that the case with Foster? I dunno, I only know what is reported here, which is that his wife left him, his children don't see him, and his sister can't stand to be around him. Plus he himself says that he was too harsh with his family. Just because perfection isn't possible, and I agree that it isn't, doesn't mean we should have no standards for the personal behavior of our heroes.
posted by scantee at 8:34 PM on June 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


I wonder if this act (which could have very well killed someone in the process, imagine maintenance being done upstream by workers - humans - at the same time and the sudden pressure jump) and the appreciation "great hero" "the man we need" and such applies also on other cases.

Like in Europe when people set fire to Refugee Asylums (mostly hosting Muslims people) so they can save the country from the Arabic invasion. They are doing it to save us people. The heroes we need.

Or is there a set of non-subjective "Correct Values and Just Causes" that can justify anything ?
posted by elcapitano at 2:34 AM on June 9, 2017


Like in Europe when people set fire to Refugee Asylums (mostly hosting Muslims people) so they can save the country from the Arabic invasion. They are doing it to save us people. The heroes we need.

The truly woke take, trying to stop a pipeline from poisoning your community is just like committing arson against a refugee camp. Centrism is a hell of a drug.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:14 AM on June 9, 2017 [2 favorites]


Want to control other people's lives and forbid them from doing things that are commonly accepted, by that you personally are against?

I don't know, it's a bit more murky than that. There are a lot of pretty fucked up things that fall under the banner of "commonly accepted" and I hope that isn't the metric for measuring whether something is okay.
posted by iamck at 5:05 PM on June 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


Guerrilla theater inspires dialogue. Foster won, even if he can't show how his actions moved his position along. He'll go to jail for breaking one or another law. That's his job. Labeling him as hero or martyr is a distraction. The point is to speak up and take your lumps. But you have to subtract your points from any transgressions: it's best to avoid breaking laws, unless the laws are patently evil. Never do hurt to humans or other animals. Encourage onlookers to step off the fence and talk it out. Foster did a good job.

Maybe someone has seen this stuff and as a result they tightened up their resolution to help reduce their carbon footprint. Maybe all they'll do is check the alternative energy contribution box in their next electric bill. Maybe a high school student will be impressed and when he finally gets out of law school he'll turn his skills to supporting the activist of his choice. Maybe it's already too late and none of this squawk and babble will make a difference.

Meanwhile Foster serves his sentence. His wife and kids and sister get to save up for the Hawaiian vacation they've always wanted to have. They don't have to speak to him again, though they maybe will think of him now and again when the Antarctic ice shelf floats past Astoria, and their realtor advises them to buy land above the newly projected water line.

Schroedinger's hero: you don't know what you got until you open the box.
posted by mule98J at 10:56 AM on June 10, 2017


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