In Charles Dickens' classic tale "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge is graced by a silent visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future. The vision is so frightening that when Scrooge realizes he's still alive and has been granted a new lease on life, he's overcome with joy and wastes no time in making amends to save his mortal soul.
The story is, of course, fiction, and real life is rarely so redemptive — but it can be. In my case, my 2-year-old grandnephew, James, lives in Duluth, not far from the terminus of Enbridge's Line 3 — a 1,000-mile pipeline being constructed to deliver tar-sands oil from Alberta. James is in good health and, fortunately, his immediate future is not in jeopardy as was Tiny Tim's. Still, his future world haunts me because of what the project portends.
As a professional strategic planner, I am convinced Enbridge's Line 3 project is a loser on two fronts. First, the plummeting cost of renewable energy, combined with the emerging trend of electric automobiles, will continue to diminish demand for Enbridge's oil. Secondly, the growing focus of investors, regulators and politicians on the topic of decarbonization will create an increasingly unprofitable environment for the company.
It is not, however, Enbridge's shuttered oil pumps and inevitable bankruptcy that concerns me, it's the prospect that until the company shuts down its pipeline, oil will continue to flow. This poses a clear and present danger to James and all of his peers for the simple reason that it will contribute to global climate change.
Another terrifying future vision is the all-too-real possibility that Enbridge's toxic sludge (tar-sands oil is the dirtiest fossil fuel) will leech from its pipes into the land and spill into the pristine waters of the Mississippi and Crow Wing Rivers. (For the record, Enbridge is the perpetrator of the largest inland river spills in American history and, to this day, the Kalamazoo River in Michigan remains hideously discolored as a result.)
My personal epiphany is that the real debate over Line 3 isn't about economics or the environment, it is an ethical and spiritual matter. On the moral front, just as it was wrong to silence Native Americans', African Americans' and women's voices in centuries past by denying them the right to vote, it is now equally reprehensible to disenfranchise the voices of future generations.
You may not see or hear these people that don't yet exist, but I do, and the cries of ghosts of future generations echo in my ears. Why, they ask, do we continue to act as though they will never exist?
On a spiritual front, I have come to appreciate what Indigenous people have known all along: that the lands, the lakes, the rivers, the animals are our relatives and are as worthy of our protection as any other living entity.
Granting the Mississippi and Crow Wing Rivers "legal personhood" might seem like an absurd idea, but for years the Maori people argued that the Whanganui River was a living entity and deserved legal protection. In 2017, the federal government of New Zealand finally agreed. More recently, the citizens of Orange County in Florida (home of Orlando) approved an amendment granting similar legal protection to two rivers in their community on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis (89% of the vote).
In Minnesota, the home of the headwaters of the Mississippi River, we have ignored our responsibility to protect one of the world's greatest rivers. In my dreams, I hear the river's pleas. Why, it asks, did we accord Enbridge and other corporations "legal personhood" and not accord the source that brings us life the same right?
The time is running short, but it's not too late to stop Line 3. Like Scrooge, though, we need to stop viewing life and projects like Line 3 through the shallow and shortsighted visor of money and jobs. All we need to do is listen to voices unheard and imagine visions unseen and wake up — and act — before it's too late.
Jack Uldrich is the former head of the Office of Strategic Planning for the state of Minnesota. He is now an author and professional strategic planning consultant.