Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Opening Remarks for Candidate Education Forum on Clean Energy and Clean Jobs (Brian E. Konkol)

The following opening remarks were made while hosting an education forum for candidates running for seats in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The gathering took place at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) on August 13, 2014, and included representatives from the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light.

It is good to be here today to consider matters of economics and ecology, which are matters that, I believe, truly matter.

To begin, we recognize that the context of those setting an agenda determines the content of an agenda. Therefore, the agenda of this gathering begins with an honest and open recognition of our current context in the state of Minnesota, a context in which there continues to be a divide between the so-called “brown agenda” of economic opportunity and the so-called “green agenda” of environmental sustainability. 

On the one hand, a “brown agenda” concerns economic opportunity, or in other words, the alleviation of poverty. In light of ongoing distress surrounding malnutrition, infant mortality, and unemployment, the brown agenda is important, urgent, and quite worthy of our support. 

On the other hand, a “green agenda” relates to environmental sustainability and care for the Earth.  As scientific reports affirm the reality of climate change, and in recognition of decreased access to clean water and biodiversity around the world and in our own back yards, the green agenda is also deeply important, urgent, and worthy of support.

And so, with these thoughts in mind, one recognizes that both brown and green agendas are essential for the promotion of life in the state of Minnesota and beyond. However, the proponents of each agenda seem to be at odds with the adherents of the other, especially in elections seasons such as these.

For example, far too many with a “brown agenda” believe that the best way to reduce poverty is to reduce environmental controls, and to the contrary, those engaged with the “green agenda” too often place the needs of the Earth before the livelihoods of the human poor and marginalized. As a result of this persistent struggle between “brown” and “green”, progress on both agendas is limited, and our path toward economic opportunity and environmental sustainability through clean energy and clean jobs is put severely off course. 

So the question is, “Where do we go from here?”

In recognition of the ongoing tussle between economic opportunity and environmental sustainability in Minnesota and beyond, a growing number of people are embracing an alternative agenda, for as polling numbers indicate, an increasing number of people recognize that the brown agenda (of economics) and green agenda (of ecology) are deeply connected agendas; as both agendas are about the Earth and all that lives on it, and both agendas are about our responsibility to faithfully steward all of life on the planet.

And so, since this gathering is taking place here at a Lutheran college, I propose that we ask a Lutheran question and consider, “So What Does This Mean?”

For what it means, I believe, is that we need to get on board with the ever-increasing and ever-expanding agenda which combines both brown and green, an Olive Agenda, an agenda that holds together that which political and religious discourse too often rends apart, matters that matter, such as: Earth, land, climate, labor, time, family, food, nutrition, health, hunger, poverty, power and violence.

Among other things, an Olive Agenda is rooted in an understanding that economic production and consumption, as well as human reproduction, are unsustainable when they no longer fall within the borders of nature’s regeneration. In other words, an Olive Agenda recognizes that if we do not recognize that the laws of economics and the laws of ecology are finally the same laws, we are in – what my children like to call – deep doodoo.

In other words, while both brown and green agendas are “fundamentally right”, we also recognize that taken in isolation each is tragically wrong, and we must therefore integrate the brown of economics and the green of ecology into an Olive Agenda that offers sustainable livelihoods for all.

To conclude, as a person of faith, as a citizen of this state, and in response to the responsibility that I believe God has placed upon humankind to serve as faithful stewards of life on Earth, I believe matters of economics and ecology are not only connected, but they are matters of religion, matters of ethics, matters of morality, and yes, even matters of mortality. These matters matter, as they touch upon the core essence of what we as the human community are supposed to be about.

As a result, I hope that what we do today matters, as clean energy and clean jobs are not only smart politics during election season, but even more so, clean energy and clean jobs are part of an Olive Agenda that brings sustainable livlihoods to all on this Earth, now and into the future. Therefore, we must continue to transition to clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar power, increase energy efficiency, and make it easier to generate local power. 

These matters are the defining matters of our generation. It is how the history books will judge us. I pray that we will be on the right side of history in such books. And it continues with writing another new page today.