You can’t eat money, Governor

A boy when the Great Depression ravaged families across America, my grandfather told stories of riding the rails in search of work, and his mother scraping together enough food to feed the neighbors’ kids and sometimes their parents. He told stories about hunting ducks, and of packing ice deep down into straw to keep foraged, hunted, and grown food cold all summer. He saw hard times, but there was a thriving natural world at hand, and his family relied on it to get through the great gaps in their lives as greed from the rich consumed our national economy. He always said, “you can’t eat money,” and from a young age I got his meaning. If you have cash, but poor soil, you could starve. If you have cash, but no game or domesticated animals, you will starve. Cash in hand can mean nothing when the dust flies and the cupboards are bare.

As the great powers of the world meet to discuss the money in the age of climate, and other powerful leaders make proclamations about how to handle themselves and their investments during the climate crisis (e.g. Blackrock–top Northwestern Energy investor), we should keep this phrase in mind.

It may seem like the powers-that-be are taking action. But it seems to me that they are only stirring to the possiblity of action. They are just buying time, or hedging their bets, attempting to find an escape hatch for their business models and transition to something new on as long a timeline as possible, in order to not lose money. (Exhibit A: Shell and its shift to plastics production, yielding toxic results, and continued climate impacts.)

In Montana, some of our leaders are hedging their bets as well.

One example: Governor Bullock has spent seven years in office and he’s just now recognizing climate change as a critical issue that needs immediate attention.

The Governor’s Climate Council is a step forward. But, of course, the Council’s job is to simply advise Governor Bullock. The Council has no power to implement recommendations and they are all volunteers. Many members are competent, informed, and care deeply about our future. 

But I wonder if the Govenor really aims to make the kind of changes we need? For example, why is the council aimed for greenhouse gas neutrality in the electric sector by 2035, and not 2030? And, even as the council deliberates on what kind of changes Montana needs to make, there are issues moving forward right now that need immediate attention and action. 

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Legal battles continue, but if Governor Bullock takes his responsibility to act on climate and prevent harm to Montanans seriously, he should come out swiftly and decisively against this decision, and formally withdraw his support for Keystone XL.

Why would we risk our land and water so that a Canadian company can enrich itself transporting dirty fuel through our country only for it to be exported overseas?  (That’s right, we don’t even get to use the fuel.) This pipeline will harm Indigenous communities, endanger the Missouri River and other important waterways in perpetuity, and make our communities less safe, and for what? Who stands to gain in Montana if this deal gets done? 

I would challenge Governor Bullock, as well as Montana agencies and businesses to move forward with policy changes and business practices that will make our future brighter, not one to be feared. To political and business leaders standing in the way of strong climate action, including rejecting the Keystone XL project, I would ask the following questions: 

Are you okay with the risk that tar-sands oil may pour into the Missouri River, or other Montana waters, at some point? (Like the pipeline accident that dumped 50,000 gallons of oil and cancer-causing toxins into the Yellowstone River five years ago?) 

Are you okay if we continue to contribute to global temperature increases, and see Montana warm 6.0° F degrees by 2040? 6.0° F is the higher end of 4.5 – 6.0° F mid-Century predictions made by the Montana Climate Assessment–how much we warm depends on emissions. If you’re okay with contributing to the higher end of warming, I would like to know how will you pay for increased services? How will you support Montana families plagued by devastating droughts, increased flooding, and the relentless wildfires and family health crises that will come with dramatically warmer temperatures? (According the to Montana Climate Assessment, we’ve already warmed 2.0-3.0°F degrees since 1950. Remember 2017? When state services were gutted to pay our fire fighting bill?) 

If you’re not okay with these scenarios, find your common sense and courage, and tell the truth to your shareholders, your supporters, and all Montanans.

Taking bold climate action in Montana would create jobs, save us enormous amounts of money, and reduce pollution and harm to our health, environment, and quality of life. Doing it sooner, rather than later, would help to limit global warming. It would help us better maintain our quality of life over the long-term, and ensure a just transition for workers and communities impacted by changes in fossil-fuel heavy sectors. It’s not a political position, it’s a fact of physical reality. The shift is coming. Make it now and there will be more resources to support our communities as we shift. Make it after years of extreme weather, fires, droughts and floods? Less resources to support the transition, and a degraded world less capable of supporting us all.

We can’t solve the global climate crisis by ourselves, but we can lead and help improve conditions for Montana families. If we don’t, we will continue to heating up our planet, eroding of our way of life, and life itself.

Unite behind the science, and then unite behind the solutions (ready, reliable, affordable, long-term investments–see Colorado). Montana should lead, and no one should stand in the way.

On Monday, January 27, and Tuesday, January 28, the Governor’s Climate Council is meeting in Missoula at the University of Montana, University Center Rooms 330 – 332. There is a brief public comment period both days: Monday, Jan. 27, at 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 3 p.m.

To express your opposition to Keystone XL, sign this petition.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Winona Bateman

Winona Bateman is a concerned Montana voter, founder of Montana group Families for a Livable Climate, wife, and mother to Ellis, who she hopes has a livable future.


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  • So well stated – without a livable climate we will lose our natural resources of healthy soil, clean water, and ability to grow our food, what is the value of money?! Also, the KXL pipeline will pipe millions of gallons of tarsands oil which is the most polluting method of oil extraction on this planet.

  • How much tax money has Montana lost so far?

    It was based on TransCanada’s estimate that it would spend $1.4 billion on the Montana stretch of the pipeline. The tax rate for centrally assessed property such as pipelines is 12.9 percent.

    That would generate $171 million in new taxable value that would generate $64 million in property taxes a year.

    An additional $16 million in new revenue from the pipeline, based on the 2009 estimate, would go to the state for school equalization taxes, and $1 million would go toward the state university system.

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