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Minneapolis should address environmental impacts of its 2040 Plan

We should be able to address our housing challenges, confront climate change, and improve opportunity for our diverse populations in more equitable ways without waging devastation on our city’s environment.

Northeast Minneapolis
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
“I can’t believe you people,” ranted the angry voice on the phone. “You value birds more than people!” followed by slamming down the phone before I could utter a word. He may have been reacting to media coverage of our Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis’ effort to persuade the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to prevent birds from fatally crashing into the expansive glass windows of US Bank Stadium. But even that charitable guess completely ignores how thoroughly false his claim is.

In September the journal Science published a widely reported article about the loss of bird populations throughout North America. Barely two-thirds of the bird population 50 years ago survives today, and more are dying every year. According to Peter Marra, coauthor of the report, “the domino effects [of this loss of birds] can lead to the decay of ecosystems that humans depend on for our own health and livelihoods.”

Then National Audubon on Thursday, Oct. 10, published a study entitled: “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink.” The effects of climate change threaten extinction for two-thirds of all American bird species, according to the study, bringing severe threats to human communities as well. Contrary to the dismissive rant from my irate phone caller, our well-being depends on the overall health of our entire ecosystem. Humans do not exist as an island independent of the rest of the natural environment. 

Devastation from human activities

According to the Science article, studies document bird deaths not only from widespread loss and degradation of habitat, but also “from predation by free-roaming domestic cats; collisions with glass, buildings, and other structures; and pervasive use of pesticides.” Human involvement in climate change is now well documented as well. In other words, vast numbers of birds are dying as a result of human activities. This devastation is our fault. To the degree that loss of birds signals a corresponding loss in the earth’s capacity to support human life, we are bringing this disaster on ourselves.

Keith Olstad
Keith Olstad
We are even doing it locally, while many look the other way. The Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis, collaborating with Smart Growth Minneapolis, is deeply distressed by the environmental damage coming with implementation of the Minneapolis 2040 Plan in its current form. The 2040 Plan is being considered without prior professional assessment of environmental impact. To confirm the validity of our concerns, Smart Growth Minneapolis contracted with a respected environmental engineering firm to assess the current plan’s impact.

Report suggests multiple sobering impacts

The resulting Sunde report is available on the Smart Growth Minneapolis website. It suggests sobering impacts on water and air quality, dramatic losses in green space and plant life, and huge increases in glass and other impervious surfaces often fatal to birds and others. All these deficits could be addressed without significantly diminishing the laudable rhetoric found in the 2040 Plan. We should be able to address our housing challenges, confront climate change, improve opportunity for our diverse populations in more equitable ways without waging such devastation on our city’s environment. 

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In our concerns for our whole community — people and all living beings — our Audubon chapter simply wants to make sure that development authorized by our city actually accomplishes admirable goals without destroying our city’s environment for birds, people and other living things. We want the community we live in to be alive with healthy people living fruitful lives enriched by the beauty of birds brightening our lives with song as they migrate through.

Keith Olstad serves as chair of the board of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis.


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