Commentary: Climate crisis accountability

The following is a commentary for the Opinion page submitted by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By Bryan Van Gorp, Alexandria MN

Fossil fuel use and extraction are responsible for about 80% of the climate crisis. Land use changes including deforestation and agriculture are responsible for the rest. Common sense dictates that the any effective solution must include leaving the bulk of fossil fuels in the ground.

Fossil fuel companies market ideas they have made token investments in, to “greenwash” their reputations. They talk about carbon capture and hydrogen fuels. Both technologies require more energy and therefore more emissions than they save, causing a net negative. Both these technologies may be viable in the future, but they are not today. Only a fool bets the farm on something that might be possible in the future.

There is one method of carbon capture that is a net win. Sequestering carbon back into agricultural land. Current carbon levels are only about 25% of what they were prior to industrial agriculture. Changing to more perennial crops, cover crops, decreasing tillage will re-sequester some of the carbon and improve soil health.

Ethanol is another false solution marketed by the Corn Growers lobby and the ethanol industry. Recent studies by midwestern Land Grant Universities tell us that when the holistic picture, including land use changes and fossil fuel usage are considered, it is break-even at best.


Energy efficiency and energy conservation measures could reduce U.S. use by 50% without reducing quality of life. This would also save money and reduce pollution. We know this is possible because Europeans use only half the energy per person we do and have a similar quality of life. Obviously they are not doing everything they can.

We need campaign finance reform to end the purchase of politicians by these polluting industries. We must stop letting lobbyists write legislation. We need to end regulatory capture that occurs when corporate executives and lobbyists cycle in and out of regulatory agencies and control the agenda.

Human’s unique evolutionary gift is a brain that can envision the future and act in ways that make survival more likely. Let’s use that gift. Infinite economic and population growth on a finite planet cannot be sustainable.

What should we do? As with many problems, there is both individual and collective societal responsibility. Each person can drive less or drive a more efficient vehicle, upgrade the heating and insulation of their home, eat a more local plant rich diet, consume less stuff — especially high carbon footprint stuff, consider a smaller family and vote.

Individual actions are necessary and important. They are also entirely inadequate to the scale of the problem. The pandemic showed us that 1/3 of people will not act in the common interest. We need government regulation and enforcement. We can incentivize change by taxing emission sources and subsidizing things that reduce emissions.

We must elect people with the vision and courage to use the “bully pulpit” to educate, and are willing to do the hard work of stewarding our future. Sustainability, like other aspects of national security and justice require governmental intervention. We need leaders with the knowledge, will and courage to protect “Nature’s Trust.” Instead many parrot their financiers marketing slogans.

Contact your elected leaders and ask about their plan for dealing with global warming. If they don’t have a realistic plan, ask yourself who are they serving. Is it special interests or your children’s future? Perhaps they are lazy or bought off or perhaps they have not educated themselves on the most important issue of our time.

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