Oil Pipeline Pumping Station in rural Nebraska. By shannonpatrick17 from Swanton, Nebraska, U.S.A. (Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline)
© [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Oil Pipeline Pumping Station in rural Nebraska. By shannonpatrick17 from Swanton, Nebraska, U.S.A. (Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline)
How does climate change obsession affect families? A NYT post about the Valve Turners provides an unexpected insight into the tragic consequences of what happens when someone truly believes in climate doomsday.
'I'm Just More Afraid of Climate Change Than I Am of Prison'

How a group of five activists called the Valve Turners decided to fight global warming by doing whatever it takes.


On Oct. 11, 2016, Michael Foster and two companions rose before dawn, left their budget hotel in Grand Forks, N.D., and drove a white rental sedan toward the Canadian border, diligently minding the speed limit. The day was cold and overcast, and Foster, his diminutive frame wrapped in a down jacket, had prepared for a morning outdoors. As the driver, Sam Jessup, followed a succession of laser-straight farm roads through the sugar-beet fields, and a documentary filmmaker, Deia Schlosberg, recorded events from the back seat, Foster sat hunched in the passenger seat, mentally rehearsing his plan.

When Jessup pulled over next to a windbreak of cottonwood trees, Foster felt the seconds stretch and slow. For months, he'd imagined his next actions: He would get out of the car, put on a hard hat and safety vest, retrieve a pair of bolt cutters from the trunk and walk to the fenced enclosure about 100 feet away. He would snip the padlock that secured the gate and approach the blunt length of vertical pipe in the center of the enclosure - the stem of a shut-off valve for the 2,700-mile-long Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast. He would cut the chain on the steel wheel attached to the stem, and turn the wheel clockwise until it stopped.


Most of the Valve Turners say that their acute concern about climate change, and their decision to break the law because of it, have come with significant personal costs. Some have lost friends and partners, and all have found that "climate freakout people" are not popular at parties. Still, most have reached an accommodation with those who don't share their alarm.

Foster has found such accommodations - with himself, with others - nearly impossible. When Foster committed himself to the climate movement, he also recruited his children, then 8 and 10, to march and speak alongside him. His older child, now a cleareyed 16-year-old, says that both siblings were initially happy to participate - in part because it gave them a chance to spend time with their father, whom they saw less and less of as his activism increased. But before long, they felt pressured. "When we would try to refuse, when we would say, 'Hey, I'm tired,' or 'Hey, I have homework,' or 'Hey, I have school today,' it would be: 'Don't you care about the planet? Don't you care about the future?' " the older child explains. "That felt awful, because of course we cared, of course we wanted to do our part. But it felt like he was using our voices to spread his message."

Foster was also determined that his household reduce its own carbon footprint. He tried to talk his family out of a Hawaiian vacation and other travel. He tried to talk them out of buying a Christmas tree and getting a cat. "Everything I do and don't do today, to pollute or stop polluting, changes what lives and dies on the planet for the next 300 years - in a very specific, particular way," he told me. "I can't let myself off the hook."

He couldn't let his family off the hook either, and resentments deepened. "When people asked me how things were going, how I was doing, I'd say, 'He's doing important stuff, and it matters,' " says his ex-wife, Malinda, who asked that her last name and her children's names not be used to protect her family's privacy. "I'd also say, 'I really respect Gandhi, but I wouldn't want to be married to him.' " Both Malinda and her older child say they felt constantly judged, and frustrated, by Foster's inflexibility. In 2014, Malinda filed for divorce, and his children said they no longer wanted to be part of his activism - or part of his life.

Malinda says the emotional scars Foster left are profound. "I think he believes he is doing what's right, and he would be the first to say he's doing this to protect his kids," Malinda told me. "What's tragic is that he's traumatizing his kids' present, and what good is the kids' future without their present?" Things might have been different, Foster's older child added, if he had presented climate change to his kids as something to be aware of, not something to fear. If he had responded to their occasional reluctance with understanding instead of anger. If he had listened. "When I hear someone mention climate change now, I just feel this overwhelming guilt," Foster's older child said. "I think, 27 trees. I've only planted 27 trees. I haven't done enough. I have so much further to go."

After his divorce, Foster, who had already closed up his private therapy practice to focus on climate activism, moved into a room in a house owned by two fellow activists. He now lives on less than $500 a month, usually traveling by bus, train or bicycle. While low-carbon living affords him some peace of mind, he can't entirely eliminate his own impact on the climate, and he sometimes stands in the grocery store, wondering what he can possibly justify eating. He is not in regular contact with his family - a situation that clearly pains him deeply - and his voice still shakes when he talks about his children. "I am so sorry that I was not able to listen, or sit still enough, or be present with them enough so that they could share whatever they were feeling," he says now. "I failed to stay close and safe, and be somebody they could count on, and that will always be my single greatest shame."

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/magazine/afraid-climate-change-prison-valve-turners-global-warming.html

If convicted, Foster has to serve the time for what he did. I'm not suggesting there should be any leniency because Foster messed up his own life. Any leniency would encourage other acts of eco-terrorism, with potentially tragic consequences. Ultimately Foster is responsible for his own actions.

But I'm also pointing the finger at the relentless ongoing climate propaganda effort by mainstream media, the unconscionable climate indoctrination which starts with primary school children, and works its savagery on young people at every stage of their emotional and mental development.

We'll never know whether Foster would have led a normal life, if he hadn't succumbed to climate negativity. But there is at least a possibility Foster's kids would still have a relationship with their father, there is a chance that a needless and in my opinion heartbreaking family breakdown could have been averted, if Foster had not been subject to the relentless public climate propaganda, which in my opinion likely contributed to Foster embracing the twisted worldview of an eco-extremist.

One day people who churn out endless negative climate propaganda will have to face their public. Those with any sense of decency of conscience may even have to face themselves when they finally realise and fully appreciate the harm they have done, to anyone whose life and health is impacted by the fanaticism such climate negativity invites.