Five Questions with Rep. Keith Ellison – On Climate; On Hillary; On being Muslim

As in previous years, I again lined up a series of Five Questions interviews at Netroots Nation. This year’s group includes House Democrat Keith Ellison, co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; economist Dr. Stephanie Kelton; and Democratic strategist and activist Robert Cruickshank.

Rep. Ellison gave a fascinating interview. I asked three questions about climate, partly as a way to assess his position and partly as a way to present an idea that I knew would be new to him (but not to regular readers) — that we may have no “burnable carbon” and no “carbon budget.”

Your grandchildren's East Coast of the United States

Your grandchildren’s East Coast of the United States

His response was practical — he pointed to legislation he and Senator Sanders were sponsoring, the End Polluter Welfare Act, which would immediately terminate all subsidies to the carbon industry.

As he said later in the interview, this legislation is bill S.1762 in the Senate and bill HR.3574 in the House. Watch for them as they move through these chambers. Ending billions of dollars in gifts to the coal, oil and gas industry is a high priority and is a requirement for moving in a carbon-free direction.

We also talked about how to terminate, not just the subsidies, but the entire industry. For a person who hadn’t thought in these terms before, his list of ideas was impressive.

After the carbon questions I asked about Hillary Clinton and her expected 2016 candidacy. His answer surprised me. Finally, at 15:00 he discusses his spiritual transition from good Catholic to practicing Muslim.

It’s an interesting interview. Pay attention first to Mr. Ellison grappling with what I knew would be a new idea, the concept of “no burnable carbon” if we want to save the climate. He handles himself well and is clearly open to the idea that to keep the earth livable, we need to at least consider an idea that the Carbon Lords (to borrow from Doctor Who) will hate.

Cong. Keith Ellison

Cong. Keith Ellison

About the religion question — as I explained in the interview, Islam is not a religion of orthodoxy in the eyes of most practitioners. It’s a religion of practice and, as Mr. Ellison says, of service and surrender. As such, it is less filled with intolerance of ideas than Christianity, which is much more a religion of orthodoxy. Ellison is wonderfully articulate in his answer.

Next up, my Five Questions interview with economist Dr. Stephanie Kelton. Stay tuned.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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