Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance

Film. Directed by Jan Haaken and Samantha Praus. Work in Progress. 58 minutes. Pilot for a series on direct action for the climate, the film explores the work of attorneys, valve turners, and other water protectors in Minnesota.
Time Periods: 21st Century
Themes: Climate Justice, Environment, World History/Global Studies

Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance  takes up gripping questions at the heart of the fight to save the planet. As activists increasingly call for acts of civil disobedience and federal and state laws impose criminal penalties for pipeline activism, how do concerned citizens decide whether to join the resisters? What are the legal considerations and consequences of engaging in direct actions to stop the pipelines and oil trains? And how do regional activists form alliances across potential divisions, including race, gender, nationality, and class, in responding to the climate emergency?

Grounded in people and places at the heart of the climate crisis, Necessity traces the fight in Minnesota against the expansion of pipelines carrying toxic tar sands oil through North America. The film is structured around two stories of indigenous and non-indigenous activists engaged in civil disobedience and using the necessity defense, making a moral case for acts of civil disobedience.

One case centers on activists locking down a local Wells Fargo, a major investor in the pipelines. The other centers on climate activists as they prepare for a landmark jury trial after temporarily shutting down the flow of tar sands oil as part of a multi-state coordinated action. Movement lawyers defending activists in court must prove that the threat of the climate emergency justified acts of civil disobedience and that there were no legal alternatives.

Water Protector Debra Topping guides us through areas where pipelines cross tribal lands and where native resistance is mounting. Tribal attorney Tara Houska shows how the destructive path of these pipelines endanger indigenous communities most directly. Necessity brings climate struggles and their legal consequences down to a personal and practical level while attending to the larger contexts and meanings of climate action.

Watch the trailer

Necessity is still a work in progress, but is available for classroom use by request and with the agreement that you will send feedback. A list of feedback questions will be provided to you when you request the film.

If you would like to stream the film in a class or other educational setting, please fill out the form linked below.

We offer a free lesson, Teaching Climate Disobedience: Using the Film Necessity in the Classroom, for grades 7+ by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca. Students are introduced to the central figures profiled in Necessity: Oil, Water, and Climate Resistance through a mixer role play. The lesson includes multiple cohorts of climate activists: Indigenous leaders in the Climate Justice Movement, valve turners using civil disobedience to stop the flow of oil, and the legal team that uses the “necessity defense” in the courts.

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