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

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.

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.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/09/2019 - 09:41 am.

    Hear hear! It’s great to see the younger generation realizing that collective action via regulation is one of the most effective tools we have. My generation (I’m 57) of baby boomers sank into egoism and consumerist fantasy when we decided that government was irrelevant and that we’d “consumer” our way out of problems with personal choices. It was a weird form of megalomania. The consequence of our conceit has been decades of crises left in the cue that could have long ago been cleared.

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 04/09/2019 - 04:01 pm.

    With all those regulations come a huge cost increase, mostly a burden to middle and lower class folks. Also no matter how nice “green” sounds, it is not functional as of now. Fear not, in the early 90’s it was predicted that the polar ice packs would be gone and coastal cities would be under water by 2015. The 12 year scare tactic now being used will go the same way in a dozen years.

    • Submitted by Larry Moran on 04/10/2019 - 08:50 am.

      I’m going to guess that Enbridge is not worrying about the “burden on middle and lower class folks.” If they were they’d worry about the environmental, health, and societal costs that Ms. Penny is concerned about.

      Importing any oil to this country is beyond understanding (“bringing coal to Newcastle” comes to mind). I like Canada as much as the next person but bringing their high sulfur sludge from Alberta makes no sense. We extract so much oil and gas here that we’re exporting it. I realize that Canada doesn’t have refineries that can handle the tar sands but bringing it from Alberta to the gulf, and running it through sensitive environmental and indigenous areas, is providing an unneeded benefit to a private company. And while the masses are not always right, in this case they seem to have the support of some even tempered, practical allies.

  3. Submitted by John Evans on 04/09/2019 - 06:51 pm.

    Our culture has been so deeply conditioned by advertising that we actually think that individual consumption choices are a realistic substitute for political action. It’s a ridiculous fallacy that is disproven every day by actual market behavior.

    Large scale change comes through large scale action.

  4. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 04/10/2019 - 07:31 am.

    Human population needs to be on the agenda.

  5. Submitted by Janette Dean on 04/10/2019 - 07:45 am.

    Great words of wisdom and recommendations, Liz Penny! We must be far more climate wise and take much bolder and faster action to protect everything and everyone we love in the next decade to turn accelerating climate change around! Let’s push for the most timely renewable energy, energy efficiency and other important sustainable practices that we can! 100% goals can and will be surpassed years ahead with the momentum, technology and ambition they bring asMinnesota has already proven with its last renewable energy standard of 25% by 2025 (met 7 years early)! #100PercentMN #GreenNewDeal

  6. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 04/10/2019 - 09:20 am.

    “We need to let these companies know we are watching.” Beyond the debate of carbon emissions and energy this is just another lame socialist rant meant to tell everyone how to run their lives. Corporations are always the boogeyman.
    In the 60s and 70s, it was the earth is too cold and it needs to be stopped. Now it’s nothing like the ever extending doomsday.
    Mt. Pinatubo recently belched more into the atmosphere than humans could do in over a year. A giant meteor killed off the dinosaurs millions of years ago. Yet the earth is still here.
    Yes, we need to take care of the planet as best we can. But this religion has gone off the deep end. And they continue to demand that you to do whatever they want for their unproven cause.

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