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Declaring a climate emergency means holding Big Oil accountable

How do you plan for a future when the world is on fire?

ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery
In 1982, Exxon distributed an internal document detailing that its own research showed global warming was real and caused by fossil fuel combustion.
REUTERS/Kathleen Flynn

In a coordinated campaign, St. Paul, Northfield, Grand Rapids and 13 other Minnesota cities stepped up last month to declare climate emergencies. They’re asking for state and federal funding to slow the effects of climate change. This effort, which is both symbolic and concrete, marks an important step toward more action on climate change. But the question remains, who will foot the bill? 

To explain why this is important to me, I need to go back to 2018.

My then-fiance and I are sitting on an overstuffed couch in a small room, facing a premarital counselor. We’re in our third of five sessions and feeling like we are ready for anything. We’ve talked about our family histories, our approaches to money, our thoughts on religion, politics and end of life.

 But then the question comes that we knew, of course, was going to come. “Do you want to have children?”

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 We look helplessly at one another. It’s something we’d talked about at length, but how do you plan for a future when the world is on fire?

We had done our research. Articles I read stated that there’s nothing more harmful to the planet than more humans. I attended an online meeting with 80 other women about whether it’s ethical to have children when we’re in the middle of a climate catastrophe. The general consensus seemed to be, “No, it’s not ethical.”

I felt completely lost. How is it that one of the most important decisions a person can make — the choice to bring new life into the world — seemed to have already been decided for me? It was decided not by me, but by people and industries who saw this coming, who knew the irreversible impact of fossil fuels on our planet, and did nothing. They chose this.

In 1982, five years before I was even born, Exxon distributed an internal document detailing that its own research showed global warming was real and caused by fossil fuel combustion. Further, if reductions weren’t made, “There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered.” Chillingly, Exxon also predicted that once the effects were measurable, they might not be reversible.

Despite all of this, Exxon and other fossil fuel companies chose to quietly prepare their equipment for climate change impacts while publicly denying the validity of this research . . . their own research.

They knew what was happening and how to fix it and they chose to lie and put us all at risk. They took away our choices.

Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, Exxon and Shell seemed to point the finger back at me, telling me I would be a bad person if I chose to bring a child into this mess. Into their mess.

We know that responding to climate emergencies is going to be a costly and, unfortunately, regular and ongoing occurrence. In declaring a climate emergency, these 16 cities from across the state join hundreds of communities across the country in calling on state and federal governments to commit resources to protecting our communities from further damage. 

Is it fair to ask taxpayers to pay for what these companies chose to do? Are we going to let them get away with it? Again?

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In Minnesota, we expect businesses to tell the truth and to be held accountable when they do wrong. I recently started working with the climate justice organization MN350. Our Big Deception campaign raises awareness about the urgent need to hold fossil fuel companies accountable and highlights a Minnesota lawsuit that is making its way through the courts. In that case, Attorney General Keith Ellison is suing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute for taking away our choices, limiting our options and blurring our vision for the future.

Jessie Roelofs
Jessie Roelofs
We all know the importance of choice. We make choices every day to stay informed by reading the news, to engage with topics we may not agree with, to show up in our community to make an impact. 

My husband and I also made a choice. We decided to make a bet on the future; a radical act of hope. Late last year, I found out that I am pregnant.

I hope those of you reading this will join me in making a bet on our future while holding accountable those who seek to limit our options and take away our choice. Please, for the sake of the next generation, contact your elected officials and let them know you support holding these greedy companies accountable. Don’t let them take away our choice to live safe and healthy lives.

Let’s put the pressure on. Let’s make them pay for taking away our choices before we even knew we had them.

Jessie Roelofs grew up in central Minnesota and now lives and works in Minneapolis. She is the communications manager at MN350.