HESP February 2, 2018

We see news every day about how climate change is affecting people and places in other parts of the world. Some effects are directly measurable, such as in Venice, Italy, where the city is succumbing to sea level rise and apparently sinking into the ocean[1]. Other effects are associated with or correlated with climate change but not directly measurable, such as the intense and increased storm damage in Texas, in the U.S., and in the Caribbean Islands off of the U.S. coast due to recent Hurricanes Harvey and Irma[2]. In fact, insurance claims for damages due to natural disasters in the U.S. totaled $134 billion (with a “b”) in 2017, which was the second-highest total on record[3]. Other recent events correlated with climate change include the drought in the Eastern Mediterranean, which, according to NASA scientists, is the worst drought in the region in 900 years[4] and Cape Town, South Africa, which is expected to run out of drinking water on April 22, less than three months from now[5].

As frightening as these stories are, and they are frightening, for most people, me included, these stories are happening in places that are far away and out of mind. However, just like people say, “All politics are local,” it is also true that climate change is local. The effects of climate change are being felt in every corner of our world, including in our own backyards.

Where I live, in Minnesota, in the U.S., climate change is affecting everything from agriculture to tourism to transportation to health. My state is becoming warmer, much warmer, with ten of the top 20 warmest years on record, since records began in 1895, occurring since 2001[6]. In the past 17 years alone, the average temperature has risen by 2° Fahrenheit. While this may not seem like much of an increase, especially in a state known for its frigid winters, this has led to earlier snowmelts in the spring. This decrease in snow cover has resulted in a decline in the populations of the Minnesota Lynx, which needs deep snow to hunt and an increase in bobcats, which require less snow to hunt.”[7] Shorter winters and warmer temperatures have also resulted in an increase in the incidence of Lyme disease. This is because the black-legged deer ticks that carry the Lyme disease vector are more prevalent in warmer regions7. Aspen and tamarack trees are dying out and being replaced with Maple trees7. The range in Minnesota suitable for moose habitat is shrinking. The primary range for moose is now limited to the extreme northeast corner of the state, where it used to cover almost the entire northern half of the state7. Birds have been affected, too. For example, “the center of the purple finch range… has shifted northward by hundreds of miles over the past 40 years.” 7 The growing season has increased by about 15 days compared to the start of the 20th century, which may benefit some crops (while harming others); however, the hardiness zones are moving northward which may shift the types of crops farmers are able to grow on their lands. Unfortunately, for allergy sufferers, the allergy season has been extended by 18 days due to the longer growing season6.

Tourism in Minnesota is being affected because warmer winters mean less ice on lakes, both in terms of thickness and the number of days, which results in less time for ice fishing and other winter sports. “Three of the top five earliest ice-out dates [in Minnesota] have occurred since 2000.”6 Shorter winters with less snowfall result in less cross-country skiers and less income for businesses that support winter sports enthusiasts.

To combat climate change, Minnesota has an aggressive 2025 Energy Action Plan in place that addresses energy production and consumption in five major categories: transportation, energy supply and grid modernization, efficient buildings and integrated energy systems, industrial and agricultural processes, and local planning and action. Many Minnesota cities also have energy action plans. For example, where I live in Eden Prairie (a suburb of Minneapolis), goals have been set by the city council to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 30% by 2025 and by 80% by 2050. These goals are in line with the recent Paris Climate Agreement, which all 195 nations on Earth have signed (the U.S. potential withdrawal notwithstanding). However, in Minnesota, like most places, it is not clear that the pledged carbon reduction goals are sufficient to keep the increase in average global temperatures to 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) and, perhaps more alarmingly, it is not clear that the promised goals are achievable, especially when considering the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2080.

While we, as a state, have made significant strides in greenhouse gas reductions by improving the energy efficiency of our buildings and energy generation systems, by switching from coal to natural gas for much of our electricity generation, and by installing renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels, much more is needed if we are to meet and exceed our goal of an 80% reduction in fossil fuels by 2080. We need to take a long and hard look at how we heat our buildings in Minnesota today (primarily using natural gas furnaces and boilers) and how we will heat our buildings in the future (likely using solar thermal and electric heat pump technologies). We also need to look more deeply into the upcoming transition in transportation from fossil fuels such as diesel and gasoline to electric, which will impact the overall electric grid. In addition to transitioning automobiles from gas to electric, we also need to improve our public transportation systems by adding rail, light-rail, more bus routes, and potentially autonomous electric taxis, when that technology is ready for market. We need to continue to increase our renewable energy infrastructure, including adding more renewable energy at homes and businesses throughout the state. We need to revise our building codes and standards to require zero-net energy homes and commercial buildings, first by requiring zero-net electricity and second by requiring zero-net energy (which includes eliminating the burning of natural gas currently used to heat our buildings). We need to have fair and balanced net-metering laws that encourage the installation of renewable energy systems on homes and businesses and we need additional incentives to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel based transportation and towards renewably sourced electric transportation.

I once saw an image online that said, “Climate change is real, it’s bad, we are causing it, and we can fix it.” I believe this to be true. Although most news stories about climate change are global, extreme, and seem so far away, climate change is everywhere and affects all of us. The solutions to climate change are local. The choices that we make in our homes, at our businesses, at our city halls, and at our state legislatures are important in our efforts to reimagine and re-engineer our energy systems. We have the intelligence, the capital, and the ability to end our addiction to fossil fuels. All that we lack is the political will in some of our governmental bodies. As Al Gore is known to say, “Political will is a renewable resource.” We, the people, have the power to renew this political resource every year or two in the voting booth. So, however climate change is affecting you, please join me in the effort to decarbonize our energy systems and replace them with clean, reliable, affordable, and renewable energy from the Sun.

 

 

Daniel A. Katzenberger ©2018

 

Suggest a Correction

 

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4285386/Venice-disappear-100-years-sea-levels-rise.html Accessed 1/31/2018

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/15/us/2017-atlantic-hurricane-season-fast-facts/index.html Accessed 1/31/2018

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/2017-insurance-record-natural-disasters_us_5a4e01d7e4b025f99e2015d0 Accessed 1/31/2018

[4] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/nasa-finds-drought-in-eastern-mediterranean-worst-of-past-900-years Accessed 1/31/2018

[5] https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/24/africa/cape-town-water-crisis-trnd/index.html Accessed 1/31/2018

[6] http://features.weather.com/us-climate-change/minnesota/ Accessed 1/31/2018

[7] https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/02/02/climate-change-primer Accessed 1/31/2018

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