Mankato Free Press - Why I'm (cautiously) optimistic about climate change

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by Leigh Pomeroy
Saturday, October 20, 2018

For decades climate scientists have warned about the effects of humankind’s propensity to shift carbon from its stored state in the earth to the atmosphere, with the results being rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures; higher sea levels; more dangerous storms; flooding from severe rain events; ocean acidification; and melting glaciers and ice caps in Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctic.

It is now apparent that we are seeing these events today, as detailed in a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. What were once reported as future effects are happening now.

We know these changes are only going to get worse with negative effects on fresh water systems, agricultural production, forests and biodiversity. Livability in many parts of our planet will be impacted by unbearable heat, flooded coastal areas and desertification, leading to populations trying to move to less affected areas, creating conflict and instability.

So why the title of this piece? Why am I “optimistic”?

The reason is that we’ve reached a turning point in the climate change debate. Except for a handful of politicians in our nation’s capital (and some even in Minnesota), gone are the man-made climate change disbelievers. Around the world, the science of human created climate change is accepted without argument.

Fortunately, many people are doing something in an attempt to ward off the worst effects of climate change. Cities, counties, states and other nations are striving to become carbon-free. Led by the technology industry, businesses are actively working to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric utilities are deploying wind and solar while shutting down aging coal-fired plants. Much research is being done on how to make our electric grid more efficient, interconnected and decentralized so as to accommodate new renewable energy technologies and energy storage systems.

Just recently, a group of billionaires under the name Breakthrough Energy Ventures has funded new companies that are breaking the mold in developing clean energy solutions, including ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere — the holy grail for dealing with our carbon addiction.

Methods for reducing carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are available, for example, in the book Drawdown and at drawdown.org. Some of these solutions are very simple, like planting trees — lots of trees. Others are more complex and, for the moment, farfetched, like small-scale nuclear fusion.

Local, agricultural related methods to reduce greenhouse gasses were presented at the recent Gustavus Adolphus College Nobel Conference on soil. By minimizing tillage, planting cover crops and implementing broader crop rotation, Minnesota farmers can reduce the amount of carbon and nitrogen that are emitted from the soil into the atmosphere — all the while maintaining or increasing yields at a lower cost for fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, and using less fuel for farm equipment.

Fortunately, Minnesota is ahead of the curve in implementing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs as a result of the state renewable energy standard adopted by the legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2007.

Our electric utilities are taking up the call, as Xcel Energy has recently committed to using 60 percent renewable energy sources and to be 85 percent carbon-free by 2030.

Locally, because of energy use reduction and commitments to community solar, the City of Mankato is now getting nearly 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Plus, North Mankato, Blue Earth County and Nicollet County have all signed contracts to receive energy from community solar projects.

Pessimists may scoff that this is not enough. What about China? What about our country’s current administration and majority party in Congress, both of which refuse to recognize climate science altogether?

China is today the world’s largest producer of solar panels and has built a number of massive wind projects. And all it takes is an election or two to change the U.S. ship of state.

To continue the ship analogy, it takes a long time to alter the direction of a large freighter at sea. Changing our direction on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions will take a while as well. We may not avoid future catastrophes, but today we are finally taking steps to at least try to avoid them.

Minnesota may not be a big player in the worldwide game, but in our own small way we can be a leader. And since Minnesota has often been a leader among states, isn’t working towards a healthy planet the right way to lead?

Leigh Pomeroy is a board member of the Southcentral Minnesota Clean Energy Council and sits on the Southeast Steering Committee of Clean Energy Resource Teams, part of the University of Minnesota Extension.

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