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Valve Turner's View: Action taken 'in the face of extinction'

Michele Naar-Obed, one of the Four Necessity Valve Turners, recently wrote an Op Ed published in the Duluth News Tribune. The full text is below:

It is sometimes hard to appreciate the fragility of our natural world, especially when it seems to be thriving. Our 10,000 lakes and our forests, fish, and wildlife are stunning; and we hold 10 percent of the world's freshwater here in our backyard, where we also have four distinct and beautiful seasons.

I grew up on the East Coast in a small city along the Hudson River. In the 1970s, parts of the river were pronounced dead due in large part to industrial pollution. It took an active, engaged, and informed citizenship to stop the dumping of industrial waste, hold the industries accountable, and create federal protection acts.

For 47 years, I lived and traveled along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia. Industrialization ran rampant, destroying economic, social, and environmental stability, leading to the destruction of cities, towns, societal safety nets, and the environment. The result was the region's vulnerability and inability to adapt to the stresses of global warming and climate change.

At a recent forum at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the city of Duluth was presented with the likelihood of climate migration from coastal cities that will not be able to recover.

When I moved to Duluth in 2002, I was so impressed with the pristine environment and city planning with an abundance of green space, as well as the strong social network with good safety nets. However, it didn't take me long to realize that the same threats we faced on the East Coast were lurking here, too.

Since living here, I have volunteered in shelters and community houses for those who have experienced homelessness and marginalization. I helped establish the Hildegard House Catholic Worker which offers hospitality and support to survivors of sexual exploitation. I have volunteered and worked with at-risk youth and people suffering from the violence of poverty. I volunteer with the Benedictine Sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery, where, in return, I learn so much about the Benedictine values of hospitality and social justice.

During my work with an international human-rights and violence-reduction team, I was able to develop personal relationships and share them here through the International Sister City Organization. In 2015, after 10 years of personal relationship-building, the city of Rania in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq became Duluth's newest sister city, thereby strengthening our reputation as being a city built on peace.

I point to these things only because I care deeply about this city that I now call home. I want to do all I can to make it strong, vibrant, and resilient in the face of all forms of stress. Unless in denial, we know the stressors from climate change are upon us, and catastrophic danger is imminent.

On Feb. 4, I participated with three others — the "Four Necessity Valve Turners," as we call ourselves — in nonviolent direct action. We attempted to temporarily turn off the flow of deadly, poisonous tar sands oil that comes through a foreign company's pipeline across our region destined for Asia and other markets. Tar-sands oil produces 17 percent more carbon dioxide than other oil, and there is a direct link with carbon-dioxide emissions and global warming.

With the UN report giving us the science, and the social outcry particularly from our youth who feel terrorized by these industries, as well as our moral imperative from our faith perspective, we Four Necessity Valve Turners felt compelled to take this nonviolent direct step. We were fully informed of the safest way to proceed with the shutdown process. We put no one in danger, and we even replaced the lock that we cut to get inside the enclosed area. Our only intent was to address the imminent threat to our lives, common home, and planet and to call for a timeout to the pumping of poison through the heart of our Mother Earth. We leave it now in the hands of the judicial system to determine the act as one of criminality or responsibility in the face of extinction.

Michele Naar-Obed of Duluth is a member of the National Catholic Worker Movement and its house in Duluth, the Hildegard House.

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