A Washington-state judge has left climate activists steaming after he ruled the ‘necessity defense’ couldn’t be used in the trial of an oil-pipeline saboteur. Ken Ward, an extreme activist and co-founder of Climate Disobedience Center, argued before Judge Michael E. Rickert he broke the law to “save the planet.” That didn’t play well with the Skagit County judge who also said he acknowledges there is a great deal of controversy over whether climate change even exists.

Rickert said the “extent of what we’re doing to ourselves and our climate and our planet, there’s great controversy over that.” Those comments came after Ward presented a “necessity defense” in court, arguing that he was justified in his actions due to the “grave threat of climate change.” The judge is now coming under fire from activists for blocking the unusual defense, who argue the ‘science is settled’ and that the courts should recognize this consensus.

Climate Disobedience Center

Ward, a 60-year-old Oregonian, sabotaged the emergency safety valve of the TransMountain pipeline Skagit County, endangering everyone operating the pipeline. The defendant said the court’s decision was “shocked and deeply worrisome” for his case.

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Ward believes the planet is in the final stages of collapse and said the judge’s decision to “blithely dismiss the biggest problem facing the world is chilling.” But other judges give wider latitude.

Ward is part of a larger group of activists across the country that coordinated pipeline attacks in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota. The #ShutItDown activists have led to at least a dozen criminal cases that carry hefty fines and prison sentences.

The pipeline activists are asking judges in various U.S. courtrooms to allow the “necessity defense” given politicians have turned a deaf ear when it comes to the environment.

‘Legally justified’

They said they are “legally justified to avoid the catastrophic harm caused to humanity by unprecedented climatic disruption.” The defendants are pointing to a Washington state trial where pipeline protesters blocked a train carrying oil near Seattle.

Called the Delta Five, the judge allowed the activists to use the “moral imperative” defense and they even had climate scientists testify on their behalf. They lost their case.

This isn’t the first time Ward has blocked fossil fuel shipments. He and fellow activists blocked a coal shipment and said they did it because climate change was creating a worldwide crisis. The Massachusetts prosecutor eventually dropped any charges. Judge Rickert, however, threw out the necessity defense and Ward is now facing burglary, sabotage, and criminal trespassing.

‘Extreme tactics’

Rickert said the defendant needed to show his actions carried “some immediacy, some imminence,” when compared to a “particular threat and harm” like “climatic change, global warming, whatever.” The judge also noted it’s still a “matter of debate” even among our political leaders, with more than half of Congress having doubts about man’s culpability. Even President Donald Trump is planning on withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

He also said that by disrupting the flow of oil, Ward didn’t prevent any environmental disaster, observing, “The actual harm to be avoided is not avoided at all.” One of his lawyers, Lauren Rogen, said the pipeline activists should be permitted to pursue “extreme tactics” since decades of legal and political protesting hasn’t sparked any “meaningful policy on climate change.”

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