In a year of record-setting billion-dollar climate disasters, one might be tempted to say Minnesota got off light.
A storm that includes “baseball-sized” hail has a tough time competing for headlines with the wildfires in Maui, and Hurricane Idalia destroying homes and Florida. The United States has seen 23 billion-dollar climate disasters so far fueled by a summer of record-setting heat and recording ocean temperatures.
Minneapolis, like every other city in the U.S., is in a race against time to reduce that are fueling this crisis of carbon in the atmosphere, but our cities are also the drivers of electrification and decarbonization thanks in part to what voters already accomplished.
The Inflation Reduction Act marked a milestone in American climate action. The true scope of the bill has not been well understood, but if the world manages to turn the corner on the climate crisis, it will owe a huge debt to the blood, sweat, tears and courage that went into passing that historic investment in clean energy. Every single person from the U.S. senator down to the youngest protester sitting on her parent’s shoulders holding a sign deserves a piece of that victory.
Similarly, Minnesota’s 100 percent clean energy legislation, along with a host and environmental initiatives passed this session represent one of the most forward-thinking policy packages in the country. Over the next two decades, thanks to its voters, Minnesota will benefit from clean energy deployment, cleaner air, healthier wildlife and new energy jobs. The lesson is so simple: If we vote, if we agitate, if we demand action, then we will get action.
Now Minneapolis has the power to utilize those two laws to push forward an aggressive and ambitious clean energy revolution. As cities become the front lines for climate action, Minneapolis’ Climate Equity Plan is an impressive step forward, one that can serve as a model for cities across the country.
Along with financing to help access IRA and state funding, the plan could unlock the potential for a neighborhood-by-neighborhood transition to clean energy homes and buildings through initiatives that will pay for things like weatherization and electric heat pumps in low-income households. It can also create high-paying union jobs in communities that have borne the brunt of marginalization, redlining, and racist disparities in housing and employment. But only if the city is willing to fill the gaps in state and federal funding and remove the burden of stopping carbon pollution from renters and homeowners. That responsibility belongs to the polluters, not Minneapolis residents.
The proposed Climate Legacy Initiative would take the first step toward that vision. The City Council must approve the measure, and more.
To paraphrase a character in my novel, climate action is not just about the environment, it is also the way we build a more just, equitable and prosperous world. So often environmental action is framed in what we must stop or take away, but now it’s time to build, build, build and build some more, not just to transform our energy infrastructure, but our social, economic and racial infrastructure. The inequitable policies and practices, constructed over the last two centuries, that helped put George Floyd in the path of the police officer who murdered him, cannot be left unaddressed in this transition, and with measures like the Climate Equity Plan, they won’t be. From reduced air pollution to increased public transportation to job opportunities in a unionized workforce, climate action creates justice as its byproduct.
Where do citizens come in? The associated Climate Legacy funding needs your support. On Oct. 19, the Minneapolis City Council will vote for a franchise fee increase that will raise an adequate but unsexy $10 million in 2024. In order to unlock the full promise of the Inflation Reduction Act and create a fully supported, neighborhood by neighborhood transition to clean energy homes, Minneapolis will need to ramp up to $118 million over the next six years.
Call your City Council member. Send them a copy of “The Deluge” (I hear good things). Email your council member a picture of your child, whose future depends on these small actions taken by local governments in the coming decade to build unstoppable momentum for decarbonization.
It may seem ridiculous to propose that you taking 5 minutes out of your day to hector a local council member is a key component of the battle to keep the Earth from warming past 1.5 degrees, but frankly, it’s the only thing that will actually work.
The answer to our crisis has always been democracy, has always been tenacious, decent, hard-working, joyful citizens who care about their community demanding that their elected representatives show some actual courage and do something. And if they won’t do something, then come next election, the voters of Minnesota can go ahead and find someone who will.
Stephen Markley is the national bestselling author of “Ohio” and the recently published “The Deluge,” a major work on the scale and gravity of climate change. Markley will be speaking at Magers & Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis on Nov. 6.