Environmentalists Should Care About What Happens to Julian Assange
April 3, 2023
At a time when the world is running out of time to stop climate change that will exceed nations’ capacity to adapt to it, we, the public, deserve the truth about how critical decisions are made in our name. A free and independent press and protections for whistleblowers are crucial for keeping politicians and the government accountable to the people. Environmentalists are aware of the threats of certain media outlets denying that climate change is real, but many don’t realize how much our cause is undermined by facts that aren’t revealed to begin with.
Take the United Nation’s annual climate change Conference of the Parties (COP15), in 2009 in Copenhagen. U.S. diplomats sought to impress upon the world that the United States was a leader in addressing climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for global warming and ever-intensifying extreme weather, while making sure there would not actually be any binding limits on those emissions.
Ahead of the conference, and bypassing U.N. protocols, U.S. delegates drafted an agreement that would overturn the existing Kyoto Protocol, which held that wealthy countries must reduce their emissions faster than lower-income countries who had contributed less historically and emitted less per capita. In the 13 years since COP15, global emissions have continued to rise, threatening to wipe out some of the same island nations that were coerced into the Copenhagen accord, and risking climate change “beyond the limits of what nations can adapt to.”
We know about the United States’ underhandedness at COP15 because anonymous sources with access to internal diplomatic memos leaked a trove of communications via a secure, encrypted portal. During its operation between 2006 and 2019, the portal facilitated thousands of leaks from whistleblowers from around the world who were determined to share disturbing government and private sector secrets with the public. Major newspapers, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and others, relied on these publications as source material. This portal is now mostly silent as its founder sits in solitary confinement in a maximum-security prison in the United Kingdom, under conditions that the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture has determined amount to arbitrary detention, torture, and cruel and inhuman punishment.
This portal is Wikileaks and its founder is Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and activist.
Wikileaks is perhaps best known for the 2010 leak of the collateral murder footage by American soldier Chelsea Manning. The 2007 video shows an American helicopter gunning down and killing unarmed Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters reporters, and severely wounding two young children. The U.S. military did not report this act or take disciplinary action against the soldiers or commanders. When the video came out, it was evidence of a war crime under international law. For its part, the United States sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison. The collateral murder video has become a symbol of the U.S.’s double standards on transparency, human rights, and imperialism.
The U.S. government cracked down on Assange and Wikileaks for publishing evidence of crimes and misconduct by people in high levels of government administration and political power that challenged the narrative they wanted the public to believe.
Environmentalists are well accustomed to being misled and gaslit by politicians and government agencies. President Joe Biden’s recent approval of the Willow project in Alaska, breaking his campaign promise of no more drilling in the Arctic, is just the most recent example. If Wikileaks were still operational, what might the public learn about how this decision came about?
The persecution of Assange puts a chill on media outlets, journalists, and whistleblowers at a time when we most need them to tell us the truth. It is our duty to act now to stop the worsening of climate change. It is our duty to act now and free Julian Assange.
Julia Hansen is a climate activist based in Boston.