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Attention policymakers: Bike trek shows rural Minnesotans, youth innovatively seek climate-change solutions

On Oct. 10, Reed Aronow set out in the snow for a two-week bike trek around Minnesota. I joined him for the four nicest days of the trip, while most of his days were filled with sleet and snow. Nothing was going to stop Aronow, the Will Steger Foundation‘s Minnesota delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. In fact, his snowy travels seemed true to the spirit of Will Steger’s expeditions, the inspiration for this trek.

Aronow was on a mission to learn from people around the state about clean energy, sustainable agriculture and solutions to climate change. As he and I set out on the Gateway Trail in St. Paul, I quickly realized that we were not just going on a bike ride. Along the trail, Aronow stopped anyone willing to talk about climate-change solutions to take pictures, conduct interviews, or simply discuss the future of our planet and our role in sustaining it.

Over the next two weeks, Aronow stopped at farms, clean-energy facilities, campuses, cooperatives, congregations and organizations to bring awareness to the many ways people are striving to create more robust and sustainable communities. He learned that campuses have begun to run on clean-energy technology, farms are employing an array of sustainable techniques, and organizations such as the Women’s Environmental Institute are striving to connect rural and urban communities while working toward environmental justice and sensible public policy.

I am proud to say that through Aronow’s work, I am beginning to understand the extent to which rural Minnesotans are leading our way to a just, sustainable planet. For stories from Aronow’s trek, please visit the websites of the Will Steger Foundation and Bike MN 350.

Coordinated events in 181 countries
The trek ended at the Capitol this past Saturday, when Aronow joined hundreds of bikers from across the metro area for an event in honor of 350.org‘s International Day of Climate Action. It was one of more than 5,000 events in 181 countries; this day of climate action was the largest in history, showing that climate change is an issue that requires global partnership for action and survival. In the Twin Cities, bicyclers set out from schools — including Augsburg and Macalester colleges and the University of St. Thomas  — to ride along University Avenue and gather at the Capitol for an event co-sponsored by Will Steger Foundation, 1Sky, Oxfam America, HECUA, and Augsburg College. We heard from six outstanding elected officials who are also climate champions, responding to the voice of their constituents.

I am inspired and hopeful for my future; it has been a long time since I have felt so positive. As someone who can reasonably hope to be alive in 2050, I see action on climate change as critical to my future. Luckily, I am not the only young person full of the energy and the need for a sustainable future. Youth energy at Saturday’s event blew me away, and I am happy to say that youth momentum to slow climate change has grown incredibly powerful in recent years.

That being said, the United States has a lot of work to do. Our country is responsible for approximately half of the world’s historical emissions of greenhouse gases. We need to commit to cutting our emissions drastically in order to achieve anything close to a just treaty in Copenhagen. This is part of the message Will Steger Foundation’s Expedition Copenhagen will take to Denmark. Through this expedition, Will Steger will be leading 12 Midwest youth to the international negotiations in order to make youth voices heard. These youth have been working in their states to pass a strong climate bill that can be used as a tool for leadership in Copenhagen.

According to an assessment in 2005, if the Midwest (including Ohio and Indiana) were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Yet, as Aronow’s trek has shown, we also live in a hotbed for innovative thinking on climate solutions, and we have the wind, manufacturing potential and agricultural know-how to move forward.

We therefore live in a critical region for national and international climate policy, and it is extremely important that our states follow the lead of our youth and strongly support federal action on climate change.

Maia Dedrick is the logistics coordinator for the Will Steger Foundation’s Expedition Copenhagen.

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