Jennifer Vogt-Erickson: Get engaged in fighting for causes you support

Published 10:25 pm Monday, April 17, 2017

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson of Albert Lea is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.

In April, the soil around here starts to wake up after a long winter rest. Farmers will be out doing spring’s work, and gardeners will be digging in their plots, itching to plant.

April is also a groundswell month for protests this year. This past Saturday, people participated in tax marches across the country, demanding that President Trump keep his promise to release his taxes. (Yes, 74 percent of adults really do care.) The marches also called for an end to unlimited, undisclosed sources of political funding, which have damaged the functioning of our two major political parties and poisoned our democracy.

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I marched in the St. Paul protest with a group of friends. The rally featured U of M Law School Professor Richard Painter, who was George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007 and has a reputation for scrupulously avoiding ethics violations. He supported Marco Rubio in his Minnesota caucus but voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election. Through Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), Painter filed suit against Trump in January for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution. (“Emoluments” is an archaic term for any good or service of value.) Since Trump refused to place his assets in a blind trust, he is continually violating the clause by receiving cash, loans, trademark registrations and building permits from foreign governments and other foreign entities. His conflicts of interest are labyrinthine.

Show us the money. Bring the details into the light. We cannot sustain democracy without transparency.

The protests continue Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day), and thousands of people across the U.S. will be marching for science. They’ll be standing up for science education, research funding, effective communication with the public and evidence-based policymaking that serves the common good.

We are often asked to thank a farmer for the food on our plate or thank a veteran for our freedom, but we are rarely asked to think about the ways our health, food supply, transportation system, air and water quality, communications and wider economy are built on the fruits of scientific endeavors. This will be a good day to thank a scientist.

I’d like to give a personal shout out to Hope Jahren, a native of nearby Austin, for her work as a geobiologist. I love her memoir, “Lab Girl,” published last year. In an interview with the Chronicle for Higher Education, Jahren spoke about grappling with cutbacks in science funding in order to keep her research lab running. She said, “If America wants to kill science, it’s on its way.”

Trump’s proposed budget includes major new cutbacks in funding for all kinds of scientific research. This is one of the most backwards positions we could take for our economic and environmental well-being. We must push back decisively against this myopic, Dickensian plan and embrace the pursuit of science and facts for a livable, peaceful future.

The primary March for Science will be in Washington, D.C., and I’ll be taking my kids to Peace Plaza in Rochester for one of the “satellite” marches closer to home, starting at 11 a.m. A dozen other marches are scheduled in Minnesota, including St. Paul.

A week later, on April 29, People’s Climate Marches are planned across the country and around the world, including in Minneapolis and Duluth.

The climate marches will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change and improve health, investing in clean renewable sources of energy, building resilient infrastructure in communities directly threatened by climate change, promoting environmental justice for all people and improving workers’ rights.

One possible solution, proposed by retired NASA scientist and climate expert James Hansen, is a carbon fee and dividend plan, which Republican leaders James Baker and Henry Paulson are now promoting. In an interview with Scientific American, Hansen explained, “The only effective way of addressing climate change is to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society. That could be done in a simple way of collecting a fee from the fossil fuel companies that would gradually rise over time — a carbon fee and dividend [to each legal resident]. Studies show this would benefit the economy and this is a conservative approach, where you let the market move you toward a better situation.”

Solutions are within our reach. We can meet our climate challenges, and time is of the essence. From sea to shining sea, the impacts of climate change are already being felt. Miami is wading through water on a regular basis, and Alaska’s fisheries (representing 50 percent of the total U.S. catch) are contending with both warming waters and ocean acidification.

Many people have woken up and become politically engaged in a way they haven’t felt compelled to before. The fields of dissent are fertile.