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Local View: Abandon fossil fuels to avoid climate catastrophe

Minnesota's economy is at full employment, and our state's share of GDP is growing. Our productive teamwork funds a high quality of life.

But we run 75 percent on fossil fuels, and that adds risks to our future. Minnesota is sending more than $18 billion a year out of state by purchasing fossil fuels, according to a 2016 Minnesota Environmental Quality Board report.

Gov. Tim Walz sees it as a turning point: "We face an existential threat," he said. The governor recommends we improve efficiency and investments to avoid climate catastrophe. He recommends we become the third state to focus on using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Last year we witnessed three climate reports. Each summarized fuel-emission trends and concluded that we have 12 years to change course. As our agricultural forebears would say after looking at the threatening horizon, "It's a good time for a change." We need to build teamwork and innovation that can bring a second industrial revolution to Minnesota, one powered by local energies and imagination. The first step will require improvements in energy efficiency. The timing is so tight that we need to listen to Gov. Walz's plan and invest in energy savings, the Citizens Climate Lobby, and an array of clean energies that may help us stabilize a sustainable economy for our kids and communities.

The bad news is that growing inequality in the U.S. has been taking an undemocratic toll on American politics and policy at the state and national levels. The Gini Index is a measure of economic inequality. The index for the U.S. is .48, the highest concentration of capital in U.S. history. Much of this wealth was built from fossil-fueled industries. Now we have more than 600 billionaires. The top 1 percent own more income than the bottom 90 percent of households, according to the index.

Many of these wealthy citizens are wrapped in a cocoon of privilege. They do not perceive climate catastrophe in 12 years. The Koch brothers use their "dark money" to buy representation for the radical right, threatening our democratic process. Excess wealth has turned American politics into a bloodsport where the middle and lower classes, in addition to kids and people of color, are not represented. This story inspired the book, "Dark Money." Many citizens often feel prosperity is a sign from the market that they are entitled to more representation than others.

This poses a problem for U.S. leaders interested in a Green New Deal as a path to avoid climate disruption in our communities. Fossil fuel-inspired billionaires seem to want to buy a future that feels like the 1950s. Two organizations indicate the challenges we face. Cambridge Analytica targeted U.S. voters and 50 million Facebook accounts to develop "new Republicans" to vote for President Donald Trump, as intended by U.S. and Russian oligarchs. This corrupt corporation was funded by billionaires Robert and Rebecka Mercer, Rupert Murdoch, and David Koch, and run by Steven Bannon.

Another fossil-fueled political operator is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which acts in Congress and in Minnesota to influence critical policies and votes. ALEC is a threat to both the Green New Deal and Gov. Walz's hopes for investments in efficiency and clean energies. The ALEC website announced that Rep. Pat Garofalo and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer are active in the Minnesota Legislature, representing the wealthy right wing. They seem to take instructions directly from the national ALEC office in Arlington, Va. They don't seem to recognize the climate threats to kids, communities, or creation.

Looking at this horizon, it might be time to restrain these unrepresented voices. Corporate persons lack conscience and do not represent us. They should not be allowed to undermine democracy and destroy creation.

Bill Mittlefehldt of Duluth is a retired educator who taught civics and economics. He's active now in Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light's Lake Superior Network.

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