Duluth News Tribune OpEd – A professor’s view: Minnesota is a leader in facing climate-change challenges

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

By Efi Foufoula-Georgiou

It may seem strange to raise the implications of climate change brought about by global warming given that last winter was the coldest in several decades in much of the Eastern and Midwestern United States. But with so many recent stories focusing on the global ramifications of a hotter world, it is important we remind ourselves of what climate change really means to Minnesotans.

Increased levels of heat-trapping gases have increased the average global temperature, but this does not always equate to consistent warming at the local level. Climate change-induced shifts in the distribution of heat around the planet can lead to unusually wetter, cooler conditions in some areas yet drier, warmer conditions in others. As we already are experiencing, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours like the ones Minnesota has received and floods. The results can be catastrophic: severe soil erosion, more frequent algae blooms in our lakes, and added costs to maintain transportation and infrastructure. With a vast majority of Minnesotans residing in urban areas with aging infrastructure, cities and suburbs particularly are vulnerable to climate change-related flooding and heat waves.

According to the National Climate Assessment Report released this summer, climate change is a very serious threat, especially in Minnesota, which is the third-fastest-warming state. Heavy downpours have increased 37 percent in the Midwest, and Minnesota has seen four one-in-a-thousand-years floods in less than 10 years. According to the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, extreme weather events have made Minnesota among the top three states in the nation for catastrophic losses. As a result, homeowners have seen premiums skyrocket.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

We can grow America’s investments in renewable energy, powering more homes with wind and solar energy.

We can advance energy efficiency policies and use better appliances and equipment that avoid wasting energy and save us money on utility bills.

We can manufacture and drive more fuel-

efficient cars that save us money at the gas pump, lessening America’s dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse-gas pollution.

We can invest in a Midwest high-speed passenger rail system that improves mobility, reduces pollution, creates jobs and pulls together the regional economy.

We can improve infrastructure that makes trains and other public transit work better and bicycle riding a safer option for commuters.

And we can and should educate ourselves about the current state of climate science. We can use one of the most pressing issues of our lives as an opportunity to foster open and frank dialogue about the ways for people to work together to ensure the Earth’s productivity now and for generations to come.

Fortunately, Minnesota is a leader in addressing climate-change challenges. We can use the passage of our recent solar-energy standard as a springboard for decreasing fossil-fuel usage and increasing our use of renewable-energy resources.

Now is a time for more responsible action at the national level that supports Minnesota’s work to cut pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed the first limits on carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants. Cleaning up dirty power plants is the strongest step the nation can take to protect our state’s economy from the harmful effects of climate change. Minnesotans need to ensure they’re not just preparing for expensive climate impacts but are tackling the problem at its source: coal-burning power plants.

Smart bipartisan policies have put Minnesota on a clean energy path that is strengthening the economy and creating healthier communities while cutting carbon pollution. As a result, every electric utility is meeting its share of Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard, generating at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable energy by 2025.

Efi Foufoula-Georgiou is a McKnight University professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota.

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