The votes have been tallied and Tim DeChristopher has been selected as the 2011 TreeHugger Person of the Year. While all of this year's nominees deserve our admiration, both the majority of voters and the TreeHugger staff feel that DeChristopher deserves this recognition for his courageous activism.
For those unaware of his story, here's the background on why Tim DeChristopher is now spending the next few years of his life at a federal prison in California:
In December 2008, Tim DeChristopher entered a federal auction for oil and gas exploration leases for several parcels of land in the southwest, several of which were around Utah's national parks. Initially intending to simply protest the auction, when entering the auction he was asked if he was a bidder. Tim said yes, he was. With no review of his credentials, he was allowed to bid, as Bidder 70, alongside bona fide members of the oil and gas companies.
DeChristopher managed to drive up the prices on several parcels of land and won the leasing rights for other parcels worth $1.8 million. Eventually the ruse was discovered and DeChristopher's bidding stopped. Not only was he not viewed as a genuine bidder, but at the time he had no way of paying for his winning bids.
Quickly after the situation gained publicity, the money needed to pay for the exploration parcels was raised, but the US government would not accept the money. DeChristopher was charged with falsely representing himself at a government auction, charges which could have meant 10 years in jail and fines up to $750,000.
Almost three years after the bidding, and after a trial in which jurors were not allowed to consider the fact that the Obama administration invalidated the entire leasing process in which DeChristopher took part or that he did in fact raise the money needed to pay for his bids in full, Tim was convicted of two felonies, for which he is now serving two years in jail and issued a $10,000 fine, followed by three years of supervised probation.
In sentencing DeChristopher the judge said, "Civil disobedience can't be the order of the day" as it would lead to "chaos".
For his part, Tim wrote:
The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it's that I have greater respect for justice. Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code. I know Mr Huber [the prosecuting attorney] disagrees with me on this. He wrote that "The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of 'civil disobedience' committed in the name of the cause of the day." That's an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience. ... The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.
As for why the TreeHugger editors picked Tim DeChristopher as person of the year:
Lloyd Alter sums it up simply, writing, "Tim is a hero. He is in jail because of an unjust system where the villains are free."
Mairi Beautyman expands on that:
Tim DeChristopher represents a terrifyingly unfair system. He threw himself into the fire to point a spotlight on some seriously shady practices by oil companies gearing up to destroy unspoiled land. A process that was in fact later acknowledged to be illegal. And yet, this guy, 28 at the time and now only 30, loses two entire years of his life in prison. The audacity of the "justice" employed in this case should be a warning to all of us.
While we know this award will not do much to right the injustices that put DeChristopher behind bars, we hope it will warm his spirits and encourage those that stand beside him in the eternal fight to protect the environment.