What Love Looks Like

After serving two years in federal prison for disrupting a controversial oil and gas auction, climate activist Tim DeChristopher is free.

In December 2008, in protest of a Bureau of Land Management auction that put acres and acres of public land—much of it near Utah’s Arches National Park—at risk of mining for fossil fuel, Tim picked up a bidder’s paddle and began raising lease prices. Within minutes, he had won fourteen parcels of land for nearly $2 million dollars.

In 2011, Tim was sentenced to two years in federal prison with a $10,000 fine, followed by three years of supervised probation. He refused to entertain any type of plea bargain.

Before his imprisonment, he spoke with Orion friend and contributor Terry Tempest Williams, who had been following Tim’s story closely:

From the moment I heard about Bidder #70 raising his paddle inside a BLM auction to outbid oil and gas companies in the leasing of Utah’s public lands, I recognized Tim DeChristopher as a brave, creative citizen-activist. That was on December 19, 2008, in Salt Lake City. Since that moment, Tim has become a thoughtful, dynamic leader of his generation in the climate change movement. While many of us talk about the importance of democracy, Tim has put his body on the line and is now paying the consequences.

In celebration of his release from a Salt Lake City halfway house late on Sunday, here’s an excerpt from Tim and Terry’s conversation, published in the January/February 2012 issue of Orion:

TERRY: I think what your actions say to us as your community is, “How are we going to respond so you are not forgotten? So that this isn’t in vain?” And I think that brings up another question: we know what we’re against, but what are we for? Our friend Ben Cromwell asked this question. What are you for? What do you love?

TIM: I’m for a humane world. A world that values humanity. I’m for a world where we meet our emotional needs not through the consumption of material goods, but through human relationships. A world where we measure our progress not through how much stuff we produce, but through our quality of life—whether or not we’re actually promoting a higher quality of life for human beings. I don’t think we have that in any shape or form now. I mean, we have a world where, in order to place a value on human beings, we monetize it—and say that the value of a human life is $3 million if you’re an American, $100,000 if you’re an Indian, or something like that. And I’m for a world where we would say that money has value because it can make human lives better, rather than saying that money is the thing with value.

TERRY: I think about the boulder that hit the child in Virginia. What was that child’s life worth—$14,000? The life of a pelican. What was it—$233? A being that has existed for 60 million years. What do you love?

TIM: I love people. [Very long pause.] I think that’s it.

TERRY: I think that’s why people are inspired. Because I think they feel that from you. And I really feel if we’re motivated by love, it’s a very different response.

Read Tim and Terry’s entire conversation here, and listen to Tim’s interview with Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now!—his first interview following his release—here. Painting by Robert Shetterly.


  1. when common sense goes out the window, the Justice System starts to send the wrong people to prison.

  2. Very inspiring interview. Glad to hear Tim is out in the sun again.

    And still, we’ll have less salmon this year than last. It’s hard to continue when nothing seems to be working…

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