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Climate change is everywhere – from our homes to the Minnesota Legislature

Minnesotans need our state government to lead a coordinated, well-supported, statewide climate adaptation effort.

St. Paul houses for sale
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
366% is the increase in homeowner insurance rates between 1998 and 2015 in Minnesota, increasing from $368 to $1,348 per year.

It’s a statistic that most Minnesotans missed at a state legislative hearing earlier in February. But it’s a number that most of us would care about.

366% is the increase in homeowner insurance rates between 1998 and 2015 in Minnesota, increasing from $368 to $1,348 per year. This average rate increase – shared by the Insurance Federation of Minnesota – is a stark reminder that risk is increasing in our state.

These increased risks are, in large part, driven by climate change.

The statistic made me think of the annoyance I felt while pressing my fingers against a wet concrete wall in my basement as I talked to a drain tile contractor. He’d been busy through another abnormally wet Minnesota spring. Climate impacts are hitting home … quite literally.

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Like homeowners, governments are also dealing with increased climate costs. Gratefully, many are forging proactive policy responses. One of the most exciting trends is at the Minnesota State Capitol, where climate change is a topic in one legislative committee after another.

The 366% statistic came from a House Capital Investment hearing focused on climate change and infrastructure. The hearing also highlighted $13.5 million in state bonding money appropriated to help rebuild the iconic, but storm-damaged Duluth Lakewalk.

Meanwhile, the head of Minnesota’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) Division testified in front of the House Industrial Education committee about Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account. This account has paid out an average of $22 million each of the last three years to help communities respond to disasters.

HSEM is paying close attention to climate change. It made climate adaptation a central part of Minnesota’s 2019 State Hazard Mitigation Plan, the disaster preparedness plan Minnesota submits to the U.S Federal Emergency Management Agency every five years.

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The House Preventative Health and House Transportation Finance Committees went next, both holding hearings on the impacts of climate change.

All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned the House Climate and Energy Committee. That committee is working its way through a series of important climate bills, including a bold 100% Clean Energy proposal supported by Gov. Tim Walz.

Kate Knuth
In short, climate change is showing up everywhere at the Legislature (or, at least in the DFL-led House). 

This new “climate everywhere” reality is welcome and needed. Without significant effort, Minnesota won’t realize the economic, health, and environmental benefits of moving rapidly toward a net-zero carbon economy. Nor will we be ready for the climate impacts ahead.

This preparedness work, often referred to as climate adaptation and resilience, is a second promising trend. As a state, we’re starting to get serious about getting ready. 

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St. Paul and Northfield have impressive climate adaptation and resilience plans. Tribal nations are ahead of the curve on climate adaptation. The Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership has convened a climate adaptation conference annually for over a decade. The adaptation work in state agencies is growing. Walz put funding for a resilient communities program in his budget proposal this year.

This is all necessary work, but it’s not enough. Minnesotans need our state government to lead a coordinated, well-supported, statewide climate adaptation effort.

To address this gap in state policymaking, I wrote a white paper on climate adaptation and resilience in Minnesota with the support of the 100% Campaign. In short, we need (1) better understanding of and planning for the climate impacts we know are coming, (2) more state support for local governments to lead on climate action planning and adaptation, and (3) clear recognition that building resilience is inextricably linked with building racial, gender, and economic equity. Systemic injustices make some Minnesota communities more vulnerable to climate impacts.

As someone who has spent years working on climate, I get that grappling with climate adaptation is hard. It means reckoning with the reality that for generations we’ll face increasing climate instability. On bad days, I feel anxious watching my daughter play under a sunset made milky red by smoke from climate-change-charged fires in California. Or I get annoyed by our wet basement.

Yet work on climate adaptation and resilience is about moving beyond fear or anger. It’s about getting real and getting creative, together with other Minnesotans. It’s some of the most hopeful work I can imagine.

Kate Knuth, Ph.D., is a former three-term Minnesota legislator who later led a development program for graduate students at the U of M’s Institute on the Environment and served as Minneapolis’ first chief resilience officer. She is the founder of Democracy and Climate.

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