Why does Adam get two life sentences in The Overstory by Richard Powers?

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The 2018 Richard Powers novel The Overstoryfollows several environmental activists in their intertwining journeys as they attempt to protect the remaining giant redwood trees. At the climax of the novel, the main characters set large fires to some logging equipment. One of the activists, Olivia Vandergriff, is accidentally killed...

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The 2018 Richard Powers novel The Overstory follows several environmental activists in their intertwining journeys as they attempt to protect the remaining giant redwood trees. At the climax of the novel, the main characters set large fires to some logging equipment. One of the activists, Olivia Vandergriff, is accidentally killed during the arson.

Years later, Adam Appich is given 2 life sentences, or 140 years, for these destructive and deadly fires. For context, it is important to know that despite 5 activists being involved in the incident, Douglas was the only one who got caught. When forced into naming at least one accomplice, he decides to name Adam rather than his friend Mimi.

While these fires destroyed property and even resulted in the death of Olivia Vandergriff, Adam is given such a long sentence primarily because of the Terrorist Penalties Enhancement Act, which went into effect in 2004. This act essentially allows for those that are labeled as eco-terrorists, or environmental terrorists, to be given extremely long sentences as violent war-related terrorists would.

Adam is hurt to have been given up by Douglas, but in the end, even he seems to think his actions were justified. He reminds the reader that his 140-year sentence is rather insignificant when compared to the life span of the giant redwood trees he's been trying to protect, which can live for over 500 years. However, this novel offers a lot to think about, especially in regards to the safety of environmental activists and the nature of the Terrorist Penalties Enhancement Act.

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