In early June, the Jefferson Center and Macalester College hosted 70 Twin Cities metro area residents at the Science Museum in St. Paul to discuss climate and energy issues as part of a global day of public deliberation. Organized by the World Wide Views Alliance, 75 countries around the world conducted World Wide Views on Climate and Energy forums in the largest global citizen consultation on climate change to date. The goal was to gather quantifiable public input to inform decisionmakers at every level, but particularly negotiators at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). Participants worldwide were selected to reflect the demographics of their country or community. In the Twin Cities, we selected to match the political, ethnic, and socioeconomic profile of the seven-county metro area.
Each of the 96 host sites followed the same agenda, covered the same material, and addressed the same questions. Participants were asked to discuss and vote on a series of questions reflecting potential policy debates that may arise at the COP21 talks in Paris this December. The resulting data is credible and consistent, making the results an important asset to both researchers and politicians.
Ninety-four percent of Minnesota participants are either very concerned (67 percent) or moderately concerned (27 percent) about the impacts of climate change. Seventy-one percent think efforts to address climate change should balance mitigation and adaptation. Ninety-seven percent think America should reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if many other countries don’t.
Carrots over sticks
When it comes to dealing with climate change, Minnesotans appear to favor carrots over sticks. Participants expressed greater reticence about a potential carbon tax than most of the rest of the world, with a quarter indicating they would not support any carbon tax. Conversely, participants favored R&D support and other subsidies for low-carbon energy deployment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Participants also drafted messages for the State Department officials negotiating on behalf of the United States at COP21, indicating a clear desire for action:
- “Don’t come back until you commit to a plan to deal with climate change.”
- “Show how the U.S. can help lead the world to a cleaner, greener, more secure future.”
- “Set high, yet attainable goals. The U.S. needs to set an example, take action.”
We also asked participants to think about the impacts of changes in our local climate. Many expressed concern with the financial and health impacts of extreme weather and new pests. Others worried about potential impacts on our water and food supplies. Some fretted over potential losses in plant and animal species, as well as Minnesota’s cultural identity, which seems inexorably tied to our climate and our outdoor heritage.
Recommendations for action
Participants also offered recommendations for action for government, businesses, individuals, and communities:
- “Local ordinances to address building codes to enforce energy efficiency and to support renewable energy.”
- “I would like to see individuals and communities eat more local produce and buy more local goods.”
- “State and Local government should work to educate the public and initiate incentives for conserving energy.”
- “Have grade schools throughout the state include curriculum and education on climate change, causes, efforts to mitigate, etc.”
Messages to delegates, local concerns and recommendations, and more are available here.
Input to policymakers at all levels
Over the coming weeks and months, we will disseminate participant input to policymakers at the local, state, national, and international levels. Staff and participants from all four U.S. host sites will meet with State Department officials this fall to brief COP21 delegates about the interests of the U.S. public. A delegation from the Twin Cities, including project staff, will attend the COP21 meetings in Paris to promote local views during the global negotiations. We will continue to engage local residents and participants to follow the negotiations and provide ongoing input.
Want to add your voice?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at firstname.lastname@example.org.)