Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
The Walz Administration declared the past week Climate Week in Minnesota, raising awareness of this paramount issue and showcasing the state’s efforts to advance a climate-friendly agenda. But if the past several weeks are any indication, every week is Climate Week: climate change is in the public awareness like never before.
In the past month, Minnesotans have witnessed wildfire smoke from the tragedy on the West Coast drifting across our skies, a visible reminder that the climate crisis is upon us. Closer to home last month, another catastrophe struck south of the state line. A derecho storm with hurricane-force winds blew in with little advance warning and caused damage in multiple states, devastating eastern Iowa. It’s estimated that the storm caused at least 17 tornadoes and damaged 40% of Iowa’s corn and soybean crop.
Climatologists have said that it’s tough to conclude with complete certainty that climate change was the direct cause of the derecho, though a link is likely. But taken together with the wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast, and flooding in Minnesota in recent years, it’s clear that once-in-a-century weather events are a thing of the past – they’re happening frequently and with less warning.
We know that the single most important thing we can do to prepare for these storms is to force the fossil fuel industry to cut carbon emissions. The warmer the climate, the more fertile the conditions for fires and floods.
This is not a situation in which we can sit around and wait for someone else to lead. The simple fact is that every state, every country, everywhere, needs to do its part for the climate, and the more places that do so, the easier it will be for the others to gain the knowledge to do the same. Minnesota, a famed exporter of agricultural and medical technologies around the globe, should be at the cutting edge.
How do we get there?
Most of the good news on Minnesota’s emissions in recent years comes from our electricity sector. With the advent of cheap renewable sources that require little or no subsidization to compete, power companies are retiring coal plants rapidly. (Unfortunately, they are still leaning on natural gas – a fossil fueled pathway that does not get us where we need to go – in some situations.) Electricity needs to get greener, but in Minnesota, transportation and land use are the main issues we need to solve.
With transportation, the solution has many moving parts, but it boils down to a simple formula: we need to reduce the number of miles traveled in oil-powered vehicles, and we need to switch the miles that remain to electric-powered. The Walz Administration’s laudable Clean Cars plan and recent public and private investments in charging infrastructure is a helpful step toward the second problem. But more ambitious efforts are needed to make it easy and well worth it to Minnesotans to drive less. Making transit and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure accessible, convenient, and as ubiquitous as possible can help us do that.
Land use and agriculture are also large contributors to the climate crisis, but this sector has the opportunity to be a net carbon sink. Soil-building farming techniques, forest and prairie restoration, and ending the dominance of factory farms can reverse emissions and lock carbon into the ground. Our food system is not inevitable – it’s a product of our choices. Agricultural revolutions have happened before, and it’s time for Minnesota to lead the next one.
We need to address these three areas, as well as industrial and residential energy efficiency, with haste. Doing so has the potential to create sorely-needed jobs and economic activity, while dragging our feet will consign all parts of our economy to more disasters and upheavals.
Elections will determine our course
There are now less than 40 days remaining until the general election, and the results will determine our policy direction at all levels of government. Minnesotans need to vote, to volunteer as election judges, and to demand that our candidates commit to the bold solutions that science tells us are necessary. MEP’s voter resources page is a good place to get started. We ask that you make sure those around you aren’t sitting this election out – our people, cities, farms, and forests are counting on our commitment to action.