Minnesotans Need Leadership on Climate Change

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As we weigh the stands of candidates running for Minnesota governor, we see many issues dividing the electorate: taxes, gun control, health care, school funding, roads and bridges, immigration, and more. Yet we see one issue as meaning more to Minnesota’s future than any other - maybe not so much for each of us who will cast a ballot in November, but for future generations.

Today’s leaders must take a stand on climate change if we are to leave a habitable earth to our children and grandchildren. Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) candidate U.S. Rep. Tim Walz understands that imperative. Republican candidate Hennepin County Board Chair Jeff Johnson doesn’t. Apparently, Johnson’s position is: It doesn’t matter because Minnesota is just too inconsequential to make a difference.

 “They just won’t make a difference,” Johnson said of programs to slow climate change. “Even if we do it on a nationwide scale, but if we do it on a statewide scale, even less so,” he said in the gubernatorial debate Aug. 17 with Walz that aired on Twin Cities Public Television.

On climate, Walz’s website says his administration would:

- Expand the Renewable Energy Standard to end our dependence on fossil fuels. By 2030, he wants at least 50 percent of Minnesota’s energy coming from renewables.

- Reduce carbon emissions in all sectors to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Johnson does not list a position on climate on his campaign website. We would suggest that Johnson’s dismissive attitude toward the challenge climate change poses for Minnesotans is tied tightly to President Trump’s pro-fossil fuel stance and rejection of the Paris Climate Accord. He has linked his campaign to Trump.

A firm stand by the state’s governor, in alliance with the governors of other states, sends a potent message to Washington, D.C., and the president to get going on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Johnson cited the cost of measures to curb climate change as a reason to question state spending on programs that would lower greenhouse gas emissions.

He said politicians only promote such measures because it is seen as “the right thing to do” even though pointless. “We have to end that era of making decisions that hurt people because it makes politicians look good or feel good,” Johnson is quoted in an article on his climate change position by MPR’s Cody Nelson. What Johnson means by “hurting people” isn’t defined.

Johnson’s position is at odds with Minnesota’s scientific community. “The scientific consensus is that people can take tangible steps to mitigate climate change,” ecologist Jessica Hellman, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, told Nelson.

“Climate change is a global problem that can be mitigated through massive collective action, such as emission-reduction agreements like the Paris Climate Accord or the Kyoto Protocol,” she told him. “Even if climate targets aren’t hit, less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is better for the climate.”

Why does climate change matter to Minnesotans? Let us count the ways.

- “In general, the researchers found that temperatures have been climbing more in summer than in winter….” Ron Meador of MinnPost writes. Extended summer warmth is changing the ecology of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Someday, the pine forests are likely to be gone, replaced by a savannah with a few trees.

- As the nation’s Southwest, including California, suffers increasingly extreme and extended droughts, the demand for water will become critical. They are eyeing the Great Lakes as a potential source of fresh water.

- Shorter, less intense winters lead to more toxic algae blooms. The Associated Press reports that “University of Minnesota-Duluth researchers are studying how shorter winters may increase the presence of harmful algae blooms and impact fishing.” But it’s not just fishing that is threatened. “The harmful blooms can make humans sick and kill animals that drink the contaminated water.”

- Less intense winters and warmer summers lead to the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks.

- Warm air holds more moisture, which is leading to an increase in torrential rainfalls in Minnesota, overflowing rivers, flooding communities, and drowning crops. We are seeing more days with rain.

- The USDA’s plant hardiness zones have moved more than 200 miles north meaning plants that once could only thive in southern Iowa now grow in southern and central Minnesota. This is good for crops and gardens, but also allows more invasive species to move north.

- These seemingly gradual changes are happening at a pace far too fast for animals and plants to adapt, creating hardships and possible extinction.

 “Global warming is screwing up nature’s intricately timed dinner hour, often making hungry critters and those on the menu show up at much different times, a new study shows,” AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein writes.

“Timing is everything in nature. Bees have to be around, and flowers have to bloom at the same time for pollination to work, and hawks need to migrate at the same time as their prey. In many cases, global warming is interfering with that timing, scientists said.”

Messing with nature’s dinner hour could one day mess with our food sources.

- Some of the plants that are blooming earlier and expanding their range intensify allergies and make asthma worse.

There are many other signs around us of nature being warped to fit a changing climate. The consequences of the changes will one day make themselves forcefully, dangerously and expensively present in the lives of our children, grandchildren and succeeding generations.

Can you think of a political cause more pressing than for our new governor to lead on an issue essential to the quality of life for future generations of Minnesotans?

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