The public now knows the astonishing extent of Putin-directed Russian hacking of the Clinton-Trump election. It reached into the voting records of at least 21 states, and included a sweeping effort to influence voters with targeted fake news, fake Facebook posts and fake tweets, not to mention the hacks of e-mails from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Clinton Foundation that dominated the news cycle the last four months of the campaign. In what the Washington Post report — reprinted in the Star Tribune — called the “crime of the century,” Vladimir Putin won, and so did Donald Trump.
What is missing from all of this reporting is the “why.” The answer is simple: fossil fuels. Putin has one viable export industry, oil and gas, and Clinton’s campaign expressly stated that it would continue sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama on those exports as a penalty for the invasions of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, throughout the campaign, Trump overtly stated his friendliness for Putin and his interests.
The proof is in the pudding. As president, Trump has installed the most virulent anti-climate-science, pro-fossil-fuel officials at the EPA, the Energy Department and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress, dominated by Mitch McConnell, representing a coal state, and James Inhofe and Lamar Smith, from oil states, pursue a radical anti-climate-science, pro-fossil-fuel agenda while stonewalling serious action against Russia.
In state legislatures, including in Minnesota, Republican politicians are determined to repudiate climate-friendly policies, lest they face candidates from further right, often well-funded by the anti-science, pro-fossil-fuel Koch brothers.
What are Minnesota voters to do in the face of these climate-science assaults, in addition to being hypervigilant that the stories they see and believe and pass along are created and vetted by credible sources, not made up by internet manipulators?
First, Minnesotans need to remember that we are not a state beholden to the largesse of coal and oil interests. We import all of our fossil fuels. Plus, we are blessed with remarkable solar and wind resources. State and local policies have sparked non-fossil fuels to remarkably fast growth — more than 20 percent of the state’s electricity, on the way to 50 percent possibly as soon as 2030.
Winners in this transition are everywhere, from taxpaying wind farms in southwestern Minnesota to solar farms blooming all over the state. Minnesota utilities such as Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power and Great River Energy are pushing forward fast.
There are losers, which is why Becker, Minn., was awarded a natural-gas plant to replace its coal-fired boilers, saving 100 or so well-paying jobs and a big chuck of tax base for Sherburne County, albeit sacrificing equivalent growth through wind and solar investment in the rest of the state.
It is perfectly understandable that representatives from Sherburne County, Oklahoma and Texas represent the interests of their largest industries. What is not acceptable is that Minnesotan politicians undercut voter faith in climate science and policies that stem from it.
Yet U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen is silent on climate change. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer is silent on climate change. U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, as a radio commentator, spread false information about climate science. And they vote fossil fuels.
Climate science should not be a partisan issue, yet it is hostage in the war between the rich fossil-fuel industry’s fight for self-preservation vs. the destruction of the climate system we have grown up with. That system is changing now at a historically unprecedented, frightening pace, evidenced in Minnesota by four devastating 1,000-year rain events in the last decade, runs of 60-degree temperatures last January and February, and much more.
Minnesota’s leaders of both parties have a stake in policies based on these facts. And informed voters must not punish politicians who face them, though well-funded outside forces — from Russia to the Koch brothers — will try.
James P. Lenfestey is a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune covering education, energy and the environment.