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Conscientious individual action is not enough: We need corporate regulations on carbon emission to guarantee our future

We live in a world where over 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 were caused by 100 fossil fuel companies.

photo of article author
Photo by Evan Pak Photography
Liz Penny
We live in a world where over 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 were caused by 100 fossil fuel companies. And in less than 12 years, if we do not radically alter our energy sources, we doom ourselves to climate disaster. Climate change cannot be fixed solely by regular people. My friends, coworkers, and I can recycle and compost, we can bike or walk to work, we can buy recycled clothes, repair them, or make our own. But our little acts of defiance against a corporate chokehold will not save the world. We must also take measures to regulate emissions produced by corporations. In Minnesota we need House File 700 and companion bill Senate File 850.

A small number of people control fossil fuel companies. They greatly benefit from the profits of the industry. As they profit, they are also responsible for destroying cultural heritage, polluting land, water, and air, and damaging the health of people who live near extraction sites, refineries, and transportation corridors. Unfortunately for us, companies have a lot of money, which gives them a lot of power.

Example: Enbridge’s Line 3 proposal

Take, for example, the Line 3 pipeline. To force an unnecessary tar sands pipeline expansion project through northern Minnesota, Enbridge continues spending unimaginable amounts of money. Despite objections from the Department of Commerce, the Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, an administrative law judge, Indigenous people, land owners, young people, and other groups and organizations, Enbridge and supporters are still pushing the pipeline through. With 68,000 public comments opposed to the pipeline and just 4,000 in favor, this project should end.

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With the immense amount of damage that climate change and fossil fuel extraction and transportation do to marginalized communities it would seem obvious that this project, and projects like it, should not continue. But this doesn’t account for the amount of money fossil fuel companies invest to get their way. An MPR article quotes Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner’s claim that these excessive expenses was necessary “to give voice to the thousands of women and men across Minnesota who support the replacement of Line 3.” Emphasizing the will of 4,000 public commenters over the will of 68,000 is another testament to the lengths companies will go to expand their industries.

A start — but not enough

Minnesota needs stronger corporate regulations to keep fossil fuel barons from controlling Minnesota. This is something the bills address. They set a 100 percent carbon-free energy standard for corporations by 2050. These regulations and timeline are not enough. We know we only have 12 years to dramatically change our energy sources, so change by 2050 will be too late. These bills still do not address the unchecked monetary influence of fossil fuel corporations on our government.

I do not expect to see perfection in these bills, or that the change we need will come through policymakers. I think that this is a start, albeit a late one, and it is better than nothing. We need to stand up to these companies and hold the people behind them accountable for their actions. These bills are not enough. They won’t do our work for us. We must contact our legislators and ask them to support these bills and to push them to where they ought to be. But we also need to get organized and extend this pressure beyond just the legislature. We need to let these companies know we are watching, and we do not approve.

We can do better, but we need to wage a multifaceted fight for change.

Liz Penny is an environmental justice organizer and activist, doing most of her current work in opposition to the Line 3 pipeline and in support of a clean energy future.