Moral Leadership for Climate Justice: An Evening with Tim DeChristopher

IMG_3980Starr King School for the Ministry’s MASC anniversary events are off to a strong start in 2016. Following Christine Boyle’s firsthand account of the COP 21 climate conference in Paris, Starr King welcomed another climate activist and Unitarian Universalist Seminarian; Tim DeChristopher.

Co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, DeChristopher is best known for disrupting a controversial Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leasing auction in Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in 2008. As Bidder 70, he outbid oil companies for 22,000 acres of land he had no intention of paying for (or drilling on). This act of civil disobedience earned him 21 months in federal prison, followed by numerous guest appearances with the likes of David Letterman and Bill Moyers.


During his visit to Starr King, DeChristopher gave a personal account of the aforementioned events, touching on themes such as the necessity defense, the power of civil disobedience, and society’s struggle with moral authority.

Prior to the auction in 2008, DeChristopher recognized the need for bold, confrontational strategy within the climate movement. “(It) didn’t look like other successful movements” he had been studying at the time. In order to keep up with global consumption of environmental resources, he explained, the movement for climate justice needed to transcend symbolic protests and half measures, and awaken society’s collective conscience.

DeChristopher went on to explain what makes civil disobedience effective. Although we tend to associate power with dominance, civil disobedience “taps into a different kind of power.” It accomplishes what petitions and letters to congress do not. It uses the “power of vulnerability” to invite judgment and engage people on a level that is profoundly human. In acting peacefully, transparently, and embracing the consequences of his actions, DeChristopher created a situation that clearly resonated with people’s sense of morality.

Looking ahead, our featured guest challenged leaders of the climate movement and religious institutions to live up to their principles. Despite the hardships that await our planet, he said, it is “gratitude for the gifts around us” which motivates us to act.

To view Tim DeChristopher’s presentation in its entirety, click here (skip to the 27:00 minute mark).

“Moral Leadership for Climate Justice” is part of an ongoing event series celebrating the 10th anniversary of Starr King’s Master of Arts in Social Change (MASC) degree program. For a complete list of MASC anniversary events, click here.