Paul Chapman is the chair of the Green Ministry Team, formed in 2012 at First Church Berkeley. He has had a long career as an education, teaching history at Cubberley HS in Palo Alto and San Francisco University HS, and serving as Head of School at Head-Royce School in Oakland. Since 2010 he has been the director of Inverness Associates, a consulting firm that helps schools address the keys issues they face at this time in history. He has a special passion for making schools "greener" and is now bringing his experience and expertise to churches.
These are his thoughts on his decision to take part in civil disobedience at a climate action rally at the Richmond Chevron plant.
Direct Action on Climate Change: Will It Make a Difference?
On Saturday, August 3, a bright, sunny afternoon with a cool wind blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, I was arrested, along with over 200 other people, at the gates of the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California.
Several thousand gathered at the Richmond BART station that morning for a rally to protest the one year anniversary of the accident at the refinery that sent a toxic plume over the city and 15,000 citizens to local hospitals with respiratory problems. Led by the head of 350.org, environmentalist Bill McKibben, we marched several miles through Richmond, a community on the northeast edge of the San Francisco Bay, that is beset by a host of problems?poverty, high unemployment, violence, inadequate education?compounded by repeated accidents at the refinery that imperil the health of its residents. We gathered to protest this local environmental injustice, and to protest the global climate crisis we now face, especially with the impending decision about the Keystone XL pipeline.
My decision to engage in an act of non-violent civil disobedience came after long reflection. Concerned about the clear and present danger that climate change poses for our civilization and the planet, I decided it was time to act. Having retired from a forty year career in education as a classroom teacher and principal in Bay Area public and private schools, I have been devoting a majority of my time in an ?encore career? to growing greener schools.
Based on my study, I believe that climate change is a grave threat to our way of life and our children?s? future. Just the day before the march, Stanford scientists released a study that indicates the climate is changing faster than at any time in the past 65 million years, 10 times faster than the rapid warming 20,000 years ago that brought the end of the Ice Age. In other words, by the end of this century scientists forecast dramatic and very damaging changes to our climate.
For me, the challenge of climate change is a moral issue. It is, of course, an issue that has economic, political, and social dimensions as well. But at its heart, the change in the climate that is resulting from our modern way of life, so heavily dependent on fossil fuels, threatens the well being of billions of people on the planet. And in the face of this impending crisis, our government is paralyzed, and our polices are woefully inadequate to meet the challenge.
So how can we tackle the greatest challenge civilization has ever faced? Three moments in modern history can serve as a guide: the abolitionists? antebellum crusade to end slavery in America, the Civil Rights Movement, and the campaign to bring independence to India. William Lloyd Garrison and his fellow reformers led a largely non-violent movement that provoked the eventual crisis of the Civil War that ended slavery.
A century later, in August 1963, just fifty years ago this month, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a quarter of a million people gathered at the Washington mall to call America to account for racial equality, to dream of a more just society, and to lead a movement based on non-violent civil disobedience. In doing so, he invoked the experience of Mohandas Gandhi, whose non-violent campaign of civil disobedience brought about the independence of India in 1948.
Talking with my brother after my arrest, he asked a good question: will it make a difference? My answer: Yes. On one level, I hope that the protest at Chevron will focus attention on an unacceptable, environmental threat to the citizens of Richmond and adjacent communities in the Bay Area. More broadly, however, I hope my decision will cause my friends, colleagues and readers to search their conscience and ask what they can do to address this crisis.
At this point, citizen action is needed, urgently, to bring about systemic change to end our dependence on fossil fuel. This means we must have major governmental and private investment in research to create ?drop-in? fuels that can take the place of fossil fuels in our transport system, operate our infrastructure, and support our agriculture. We need policies to expand significantly our use of renewable energy. And of course we need changes in our individual behavior to live more sustainably.
While sitting on the pavement in front of the gates to the Chevron refinery, I discovered I was together with several parents and students from schools where I have worked in the Bay Area. At first they seemed surprised that I would be there, about to get arrested. Upon reflection, I think they understood why I was there. As a former school principal, I did not take lightly this decision to break the law and to be arrested. But time is rapidly running out for us to make major changes in the way we live our lives and do our business. My hope is that by taking direct action we will eventually bend the moral arc towards environmental justice.