Seventy years ago, Minnesotans were begging for rural electrification throughout the state.

For fifty years I’ve watched as the evidence has grown on the impact humans are having on the planet. And I’ve been disappointed as lawmakers, corporations, and everyday people have ignored the science, kicking the climate change can down the road, never fully reacting to its urgency.

Until now.

In the 500 days since the IPCC 1.5° report, we’ve seen an awakening as many begin to comprehend the speed at which our impacts on the planet are developing into real weather emergencies and climate changes that are changing lives on a massive scale.

I feel like apologizing to every young person I meet.

We’re realizing the fragility of our food systems as we find farmers around the state unable to access their wet fields until much later in the spring, pushing out plantings and preventing the possibility of a second crop. Then we see dry spells in the summer when we need that moisture to provide for robust outputs. And further exacerbating the problem, a cold and wet fall prevent these same farmers from harvesting their feeble crops, again with fields too muddy to access with heavy farm equipment. This pushes into the next year of growing where farmers will again see delays as they clear the old crops before they can make way for the new plantings.

And the problem isn’t just rural Minnesota. Seed sales nationwide were down 37% in 2019. Around the globe, crop outputs in places were down up to 40%. Some are expecting multi-bread basket failures in the coming years as our weather gets more unpredictable. And now locust swarms in Africa look to devastate their food economy,

I volunteer at an organic farm and we’re seeing not only new and unexpected pests like root maggot that decimate early plantings but reductions in pollinators, reducing fertilization rates. We feel strong winds near Rice Lake drying out the moisture we do get in summer. And we too rush to bring in the harvest as snow starts to fall or cold wet weather freezes crops into place. In 2017, we harvested potatoes and pole beans as the snow fell on October 26th. In 2018, snow came a month earlier, September 26th, leaving much of the produce in the field. At least we can rely on these plants for nourishment to the soil when they are tilled.

These climate changes are a result of our reliance and continued dependence on the fossil fuel economy which we have all been too slow to abandon. However, abandon it we must, if we hope to maintain human habitation on planet Earth.

Our children recognize the problems. Last year, Minnesota Youth gathered at the Capitol for a School Strike For Climate begging lawmakers to stop all fossil fuel infrastructure development. They were asking for a realization that Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 must be stopped to avoid the almost 200 MT of CO2 that pipeline expansion would promise, the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants.

A big way we can proactively reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) is to mitigate our effects of day-to-day transportation.  I hope we are all driving less by consolidating our errands or carpooling to work. And, where we can, let’s reduce the carbon footprint by using hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs). I love riding to The Cities for an MPCA meeting with three others from Northern Minnesota in Willis’ hybrid! 

But did you know that Minnesotans are often left with little choice on EVs? Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Washington D.C. have all adopted California’s emissions standards and dealers prioritize hybrid/EV inventory to these states. 

At the recent Senate hearing on Clean Car Standards, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop shared her story of searching to find the model she wanted in Minnesota, and how she eventually found it… in California.  As Senator Dibble made clear in his testimony that, while Minnesotans want access to the latest models, “fully half of the models” are unavailable and some manufacturer’s models are “oversubscribed and they’re only going to be bringing those models to the LEV and ZEV states.”  Senator Dibble also clarified the authority of the MPCA as given by the legislative branch in MN Statute 116.07, to “adopt standards of air quality, including maximum allowable standards of emission of air contaminants from motor vehicles, and adopt rules for the prevention and abatement or control of air pollution without limitation.”

Commissioner Bishop explained that Minnesota is falling short to meet the Next Generation Energy Act goals, requiring additional action to meet our 80% reduction by 2050.  She described the process of getting public input from around the state on this issue and explained the health impacts on Minnesotans reporting 2000-4000 deaths in 2013 attributable to air pollution. 

Sadly, many Senators seemed more interested pushing for mining in Minnesota to support EV battery manufacture or voicing concern about the extra costs that might come with manufacturers bringing LEV/ZEV vehicles to our Minnesota showrooms.

Senator Eichorn asked about the effects on the farmers and Commissioner Bishop expressed surprise by his concerns, and explained, as she had done in discussion with Farm Bureau presidents the day before, that the MPCA rule-making for Clean Cars has no effect on heavy equipment.  In fact, Commissioner Bishop made clear that the rule-making, in addition to having no requirements for emission testing, has no requirement for people to give up the vehicles they currently own or to purchase an LEV/ZEV vehicle.  Everyone will still be able to purchase conventional trucks and SUVs.  But those seeking LEV/ZEV will have more selection, including F150 EV trucks!

I know we can do this.

Five years ago I moved from Indiana to Minnesota.   And thanks to the rural Broadband projects in Minnesota, I have faster internet in the woods of Alida than I ever did in the suburbs of Indianapolis!  When we focus our efforts on finding ways to help all Minnesotans, we find success. 

But I worry now that rural Minnesota will again be left behind as we move to the new energy economy.  We’re being offered last century jobs in the dying fossil fuel sector when we should be seeing investment and development of Minnesota’s future through solar farms, wind turbines, and EV charging stations!

As manufacturers make bolder and bolder claims, not acting quickly means Minnesota will miss opportunities to lead.  Toyota announced last year that half their sales will be EV by 2025, a full five years earlier than anticipated.  Honda noted that every model in Europe will be partially electrified by 2022 (three years earlier than previously projected).  And with the growing understanding of our climate crisis, and global divestment from fossil fuels, these timetables are all likely to collapse, quickening our transition.  Minnesota’s proposed standards would not go into effect until 2024.

It’s time to recognize our future and work to bring it to a reality. 

Yet some Senators continue to claim that the MPCA doesn’t have the authority to make these rule changes.  In fact, it appears this idea may get more attention in coming weeks as some legislators stress that these efforts should not be demanded with rulemaking but enacted through a bill.  Commissioner Bishop didn’t miss a beat noting that this administration “would welcome the Legislature taking action on this”, but until that time, the MPCA will use their authority, granted by the bipartisan legislature in 1967, to protect Minnesotans and their environment by making rules to reduce air pollution and mitigate climate change.

Let’s stop line 3 and move to EV!

Of course, the future we need will also require a lot more Non-Car solutions

Transportation is the largest source of climate warming emissions in the United States because we put so much effort into making the automobile the sole solution for our transportation needs. We ask it to crawl along narrow city streets, race across the country on highways, carry a single passenger with a laptop and lunch, haul a soccer team, pull a boat to the cabin, advertise our social status and take us to the gym because we’ve been sitting in traffic too many hours per day. As a result, cars are overbuilt, overhyped and inefficient.

They have also wreaked havoc on the infrastructure of our communities. Our roads are too wide. Our houses, with prominent two-car garages, are more inviting to automobiles than people and our casual interactions are limited to the half a dozen families in our cul-de-sacs. None of these problems will be solved by electric cars or more efficient internal combustion engines. Changing the engine isn’t the solution.

We have to change the way we get around.

Doug Shidell, of Minneapolis is publisher of Bikeverywhere – Strib LTE 2-29-20

I’d argue that we will soon need to plan to “get around” a lot less.