In Missoula: an extraordinary legal drama

You are invited to be part of the jury in a dramatic “mock trial” at the University of Montana on Saturday, November 18, 7 p.m., in the University Center Theater. Beth Taylor Wilson, a member of our leadership team, makes the case for why you should attend in today’s Missoulian.

If you believe the climate is changing, that temperatures are rising as a result of greenhouse gas pollution, you stand on the same side as 95 percent of the scientists who have studied this issue. Montana, because of its geography, is warming faster than the rest of the globe. The report issued this fall by Montana scientists, The Montana Climate Assessment, contains stunners:

  • Our average temperatures have already risen more than 1C.
  • By mid-century, we will blow past the Paris safety threshold of 2C. We will be at 2.5 to 3.3C.
  • By the end of this century, we will reach 3.1 to 5.4C with huge impacts on life as we know it.

So . . . the name of the game is raising a ruckus to get our leaders to REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS!

On a snowy morning in October 2016, retired state employee and genial grandfather Leonard Higgins did just that. He entered a barbed-wire enclosure near Coal Banks Landing, Montana, and, after declaring he was taking action to prevent run-away climate catastrophe, he closed a safety valve on a crude oil pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands into the US.

It was an act similar to throwing tea into the harbor in Boston, similar to the parade of 10,000 workers who buried Frank Little in Butte, similar to Jeannette Rankin’s decision to run for Congress, similar to the children with soldier escorts who desegregated schools in Little Rock.

Now Leonard stands trial for this bold act of civic responsibility in Fort Benton on November 21. But, denied by the judge the opportunity to justify this act by citing the necessity of acting to avoid our impending climate calamity, he will present his case directly to an audience of his peers in the “mock trial.”

His cast of characters includes expert witnesses prevented from testifying in the Chouteau County courthouse: Steve Running, professor of climate science at University of Montana, Tom Hastings, academician and civil disobedience expert, and Andrew Holland, climate and US security expert. Plus, Leonard’s mock trial will feature prosecutor (Summer Nelson), judge (Bob Gentry), court clerk (yours truly), and other actors portraying defense attorneys, company officials, pipeline safety experts, and others.

The mock trial is consistent with Leonard’s view of the world. It’s a world where we’ve thrown off the shackles of denial, where every U.S. citizen is taking his/her citizenship seriously, where we’re behaving as though we are in a real emergency and taking the commensurate response, shutting off the sources of greenhouse gases.

We hope to see you there.

Jeff Smith, co-chair, 350 Montana