They say crisis is opportunity. That’s for sure this time. The world is in crisis, and there’s pressure for a quick fix and to make some jobs. Let’s do that, but let’s do it in a visionary way.
Gov. Tim Walz seized an opportunity this month to be that visionary leader. The governor decided on Aug. 18 that the state Department of Commerce will continue its challenge to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. By renewing his opposition to this obsolete, outmoded and risky pipeline, the governor took a daring political leadership role in what’s called the “just transition,” the changes necessary to make a healthy society and a healthy planet.
Let me place the governor’s decision in the larger context. The oil age is ending. Tar sands oil, the dirtiest oil in the world, is going to stay in the ground. Line 3 is the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired power plants. It’s time to get serious about making the transition from fossil fuels to a green, renewable economy.
The COVID pandemic is just a taste of the crisis ahead. And the investors know that; they are moving on. That’s to say, some of the biggest new mining projects have been canceled (for example, the Teck Mine in Canada in February) while financial divestiture is widespread and growing. Deutsche Bank dumped financing in the Alberta tar sands oil — the stuff coming through Line 3 — in July; in February, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, announced one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would no longer put money into it as well.
And, according to the New York Times, “In December, the insurance giant the Hartford said it would stop insuring or investing in oil production in the province, just weeks after Sweden’s central bank said it would stop holding Alberta’s bonds.”
The handwriting is on the wall: Last year, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund — a state-owned investment fund that’s worth approximately a trillion dollars — announced it was terminating its funding of oil and gas exploration companies around the world. Enbridge itself has now cut the oil going through all its pipelines by almost 400,000 barrels a day — the equivalent of what is in the present Line 3.
Opponents to Line 3 challenge its supporters who want the jobs the line will bring. Instead, we argue, “Let’s make jobs that don’t operate the equivalent of the gas chamber for the planet. Let’s make jobs that don’t cause conflict.”
My suggestion? Just dig up that old line and begin to decommission. That will cost up to $2 billion — and that’s all jobs, not hardware. Employ local, and for sure Native, people to make sure it’s right, since it’s our wild rice and water at stake.
And, since Enbridge already has six lines up here in northern Minnesota, this cleanup of legacy contamination will be a good start. Nationally, there are more than 1 million miles of fossil-fuel pipelines. Those pipes are getting old, and so someone — like Enbridge, the biggest pipeline company in the world — should set a standard and do the right thing. Just take it out. The removal of Line 3 would mean jobs for northern Minnesota, and we would like them — easily 4,000 jobs, and they could all be local.
And don’t buy the argument that opposing fossil fuels means killing the economy. In 2018, there were 2.4 million jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, compared with half that many in fossil energy. Even without a price on carbon, installers and service technicians for solar and wind are forecast to grow 11 to 13 times faster than the U.S. average. Train our workforce.
As for Minnesota’s mining industry, those Iron Range jobs are not coming back. After all, the ore deposits in Minnesota are the bottom of the barrel, in global supply terms, say l% copper. That’s a lot of toxic waste. Let’s rebuild industry in northern Minnesota in a way which makes sense. Take, for instance, the stuff we tried to buy from China and could not when COVID choked off global supply chains. Re-industrialize the Twin Ports to make sense. Most small-scale tools manufacturing equipment is made in China. We used to make them in Duluth. Do that again.
What else could be in the “just transition”? If solar and wind are the fastest-growing renewable energy sources, quit importing the equipment from Europe and China; make them in Duluth. And let’s make less waste. Take the idea of the Bayern Brewery in Missoula, Mont. Those guys rewash bottles from beer, cider and the works. Instead of wasting all that energy throwing away and crushing and remaking glass, just subsidize some breweries in Minnesota to wash and refill those excellent beverages. That’s the New Green Revolution.
Build infrastructure, like pipes for people, not for Canadian oil companies. That’s to say that there’s billions in water infrastructure needed for this state, and more will be needed as the climate change crisis comes upon us. Build first-world infrastructure.
And then there’s cannabis. Legalize cannabis across the board and rebuild the hemp industry. Minnesota used to have 11 hemp mills, it was a powerhouse in the rope and fiber industries; and the word canvas comes from cannabis. Let’s do that again. And then just go legal with medicinal marijuana. It’s a big help, and would save a good deal on opioid damage. There’s an opportunity which has been illustrated to create a locally grown industry to bring income and tax revenue to the state, to support local growers, and instead of incarcerating people of color for cannabis, allowing them to own some dispensaries. That’s what justice looks like.
There’s no going back to normal. It’s time to be better. Arundhati Roy, an Indian writer, talks about pandemic as a portal: She writes, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew.”
This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our databanks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
That would be a just transition. And Gov. Walz has stepped up again to help do it.
Winona LaDuke, of Callaway, Minn., is executive director and co-founder of Honor the Earth.