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Minnesota knows the way to cut carbon — now we need the will

Twelve years. That’s all the time we have to make one degree of change.

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Matt Samuel
Twelve years. That’s all the time we have to make one degree of change.

Of climate change, that is.

On Oct. 8, a report from the United Nations’ scientific panel said preventing the Earth from warming one extra single degree would save tens of millions of people from facing life-threatening water shortages, disease and starvation by 2040.

Also on that day, the medical journal The Lancet released a report that says the human-caused climate crisis “threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health,” from heat waves to the spread of deadly infectious diseases.

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In August, the Trump administration offered its own assumption in its environmental impact statement: Our planet will warm by a disastrous seven degrees by 2100, the Washington Post reported.

Seven degrees. Only unlike the other reports, there wasn’t a call to action. There was simply a call for — well, nothing.

The report states that sharply reducing carbon emissions, “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”

That assumption is particularly dangerous for Minnesota. A climatologist for the DNR recently reported our temperatures are changing faster than any other state than Alaska.

And, it’s flat wrong. In fact, this year’s Nobel prize for economics went to two U.S. economists who have proved otherwise.

Wind power: less expensive electricity than any fossil fuel

Clean, carbon-free energy is not just technologically and economically feasible, it is the least expensive source of electricity for Minnesotans. According to a report released in March 2018 by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in Minnesota in 2017, wind power cost $45 per megawatt, while natural gas rang in at $49 with coal at $66 — a price nearly 50 percent higher than wind.

Renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels for several reasons. First, Mother Nature delivers the “fuel” to make the electricity where it is needed for free. Fossil “fuels” require expensive drilling and pumping, as well as pipelines, ships, trains and trucks to get to power plants.  

Innovation will continue to drive down the price of renewable energy

The price of wind and solar will continue to drop as scientists and engineers continue to innovate and improve. The cost of wind energy dropped 67 percent between 2009 and 2017. Since 1976, the cost of solar power plummeted over 99 percent.  

Surrendering would not only put our environment in danger, but our economy as well. The wind industry has invested nearly $6 billion in the Minnesota economy. Solar energy jobs are growing nine times faster than the overall economy. Wages come in well above our state’s average. Two of Minnesota’s leading construction companies build more than 65 percent of all wind turbines in North America. Anderson Trucking Service of St. Cloud is the No. 1 wind energy transportation company in North America.

As an intellectual property and technology and innovation attorney, I know that our economy depends on technological innovation. From Scotch tape (3M), to the pacemaker (Medtronic) to the fastest computers in the world in the 1960s and 1970s (Control Data and Cray), Minnesotans have a proud history of innovating to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. And right now, I can’t think of a better motivator for innovation than to save our planet for our children. We have 12 miles of a thin shell of atmosphere, and every day we spew 110 million tons of global warming pollution into it.

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Since the Ice Age, we’ve more than doubled the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. Without bold – but doable – action, we will double the amount again by the end of the century. As the Trump administration’s statement pointed out, that will raise Earth’s temperature by seven degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists say that will end civilization as we know it, leaving big, coastal cities deep underwater.

We can make this happen

What does bold action mean this moment? On Oct. 3, I attended Fresh Energy’s annual breakfast, where they laid out an ambitious vision for hundreds of Minnesotans. By 2030, 60 percent of Minnesota’s electricity must be from wind and solar, and half of our cars and all of our buses should run on clean electricity. By 2045, we need 100 percent carbon-free electricity powering a completely carbon-neutral economy.

If we let go of 19th-century technology and invest in 21st-century innovation we can make this happen, and solve the climate crisis that threatens us right now.

Matt Samuel is an intellectual property and technology and innovation attorney, and the advisory board chair of iMatter, a grass roots, youth-led movement working to solve the climate crisis.

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