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Climate changes are all around us: It’s time to speak up

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Chris Heeter
It’s March and dogsledding is in the air — the one time of year where sled dogs are featured for their amazing athleticism and beautiful spirits. It’s Iditarod season, and the 1,100 mile dog-sled race from Anchorage to Nome is on.

As a guide who has led dog sledding trips for 30 years, I’ve gotten to experience northern Minnesota winters firsthand — and, therefore, I’ve also witnessed the dramatic changes to the climate over those decades.

Climate research is studied in 30-year increments, and sometimes can seem very distant and far off, like the iconic heart-wrenching photo of the polar bear balancing on a small chunk of ice.  But even here, on the edge of big cities, impacts of climate change are all around us.

Where once there was reliable snow and steady temperatures for dog sledding or other winter activities, now even in January and February it’s a roll of the dice in terms of conditions. I don’t even want to calculate how many hours we’ve spent shoveling snow from the woods onto the trails over the past eight years in order for there to be enough snow for the dogs to run.

These changes to climate have shifted to freeze/thaw/freeze/thaw, disrupting not just snow conditions, but visibly and powerfully altering the habitat in significant ways.  Without steady frigid temperatures, the tick population, for example, isn’t culled. Insects like the emerald ash borer don’t die off. This is real, you guys. And here. Affecting us in ways large and small, even as you read this.

In 33 years of guiding canoe trips in the summer, my – and my co-guides’ – anecdotal observations add up quickly. It used to be that guiding a trip in the Boundary Waters for a week meant there might be a storm or two, but generally, big storms were few and far between.  Now, if you are out for a week, you need to expect and plan for violent storms, lots of lightning, the potential of trees coming down.

So where do we go from here?  It would be easy to be disheartened and pretty hopeless.  But fresh off a workshop with Climate Generation, I am reminded of how many of us are out there collectively, asking questions, speaking up, making a difference.

And it’s not as hard as it may seem to become part of this difference. To take a stand on behalf of wildness — inside and out. For starters, pay attention. No doubt you’ll start noticing how much is changing in your backyard and beyond. Once your awareness is heightened, you’ll see it everywhere, from floods and wildfires to whole cultures and classes disrupted by these changes.

Take heart. We are smart and crafty. And collectively, we can be brilliant. It’s time. It’s time to take pen to paper and start speaking your mind. Get familiar with your representatives, become a regular in letting them know the policies you care about. Talk with neighbors and community groups, see what you can come up with to inspire less use of fossil fuels and more alternative or efficient ways of heating, cooling and moving around. A small group of people can make a difference. And, it’s pretty fun to see what kind of wild trouble you can stir up on behalf of this planet we all call home.

Chris Heeter is founder of The Wild Institute, a canvas for her speaking and team building programs. She freely admits that much of what she’s learned about humanity comes from dogs and rivers — from her team of 16 sled dogs, who she helped breed, raise, and train, to her decades of guiding whitewater canoe trips. This story was crafted through Climate Generation’s Talk Climate Institute, taking place this year in Duluth on March 25-26. Learn more at climategen.org/talk-climate-institute

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 03/12/2019 - 04:56 pm.

    I’ve been on the Range for over 6 decades. I’ve seen brutal winters, late 60’s early 70’s, I’ve seen barely any snow late 90’s early 2000’s. I am here to state unequivocally, the weather does change. Not sure man has anything to do with it.
    There you have it, another confirmation that weather changes from a Northern MN person.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/13/2019 - 08:07 am.

      I would agree. I’m curious, what prevents you from accepting climate change as fact? Surely, if you accepted it as truth, the impact would be negligible to you day-to-day life.

  2. Submitted by John Clark on 03/13/2019 - 02:48 pm.

    Very well written article, Chris. Yes, we do need to step up and collectively make our voices heard. And, It’s obviously an enormous uphill battle! But, getting the powers that be (whether they be political, economic or whatever) to ultimately act in the best interests of the majority of the world’s population, is just plain the “wild trouble” that we need to “stir up on behalf of this planet we all call home”.

    There’s a few things, though, that hopefully, we’ve got working in our favor here: Polls do show that roughly 80% of this population now agrees that our climate is changing (it’s getting kinda hard to ignore this often brutal in your face reality). And what is even more encouraging is that, even in the Good Old U. S. of A, where scientific literacy is sometimes a little lacking (e.g., one in four folks still believe that the sun goes around the earth), over 50% of the citizens here now do understand that climate change is largely man made, and that the science that says this is for real. The general population has a little way to go to reach the 95% confidence in this matter that climate scientists have, but the trend is going in the right direction.

    Plus, there is the real bottom line here too. And that is, the economics, that says that renewable power, such as wind power is cheaper per KWH to produce than fossil fuels. That is certainly one encouraging factor that makes this stirring up easier! Let’s just hope that the fossil fuel industry will not try to block this kind of progress!

  3. Submitted by Janette Dean on 03/14/2019 - 12:09 am.

    Thank you, Chris, for sharing your firsthand experience with climate changes in Minnesota. Our state is one of the fastest warming states in the country. University of Minnesota professors and scientists recently testified to this very concerning fact at our Minnesota Legislature in January. As largely predicted, the sum of climate change effects throughout our state are becoming more damaging to our ecosystems every year and more disruptive to society every single year. Every governmental body in the country including our federal agencies, our states, our counties, and our cities should be using their authority with urgency to help end greenhouse gas emissions promptly by implementing, fostering and encouraging renewable energy use across all sectors and other sustainable practices across all industries. All regions must do their part as leaders by example in the world, especially those from our own longtime & heavy carbon emitting country, the United States. Time is ticking ever so quickly to protect ourselves locally and globally on this planet that is everyone’s only home. We should all be supporting the strongest legislation possible that will help Minnesota reduce greenhouse gases and other environmental pollution and destruction much more quickly while building a far more equitable state. Everyone (including other species) should be able to not only survive, but also thrive as I and others have been emphasizing.

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