Climate Generation

November 29, 2021
By: Media

Minnesotans join push for change at U.N. climate summit

Star TributeBy Jennifer Bjorhus
November 3, 2021

60 Minnesotans travel to Scotland to show state’s environmental efforts.

As Minnesota entrepreneur Jamez Staples sees it, the high-level climate change conversations filling the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, are crucial.

But he’s in Glasgow to help ensure the ideas involve people on the ground, lower-income folks living through the worst impacts. Like people in his north Minneapolis neighborhood.

“You should be able to answer how you’re going to deliver these things,” he said.

Staples, chief executive of Minneapolis-based solar developer Renewable Energy Partners and one of more than 60 Minnesotans attending the summit, is creating a large training center to bring clean-energy jobs to people of color on the North Side.

He shared his story Wednesday from Glasgow in a webinar hosted by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and U.S. Climate Action Center. Called “Designing an Equitable Carbon Free Future in Minnesota and the Midwest,” the session offered hands-on examples, including those from University of Minnesota internal medicine professor Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni, a Line 3 activist with Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, and Virajita Singh, associate vice provost of the U’s Office of Equity & Diversity.

“We should be talking about no new fossil fuel infrastructure and leaving fossil fuels in the ground,” Surapaneni said.

The two-week conference, known as COP26, is aimed at hammering out strategies to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement to avoid climate catastrophe.

Nations are far off the mark, and the stakes are enormous. The Earth has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius since the mid-1800s, and a U.N. report last month showed the Earth’s temperature will rise a disastrous 2.7 degrees Celsius by end of the century. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at record levels.

Members of Minnesota’s contingent say they are in Glasgow to support faster, definitive change.

“It’s really easy to slip into climate doomerism,” said Anishinaabe artist Ashley Fairbanks. “I think it’s really essential that we also figure out ways to feel empowered and take action.”

Fairbanks, a White Earth citizen and creative director for the 100% Campaign in Minnesota, is part of the delegation from Minneapolis nonprofit Climate Generation. On Tuesday she will facilitate a webinar broadcast from the summit about the Indigenous-led resistance to the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline.

It’s her first climate summit. Fairbanks said she’s most eager to meet other Indigenous people from around the world to learn about their work — and to experience the wealth of climate art at the summit.

Piling on horrific climate change facts can paralyze and freeze people rather than spur action, she said.

Art offers a great entry point for people who don’t know where to start, she said, adding that she wants to help people find “joyful and artistic and creative ways to form the seeds of the communities we would want to live in.”

For her, the climate summit is as much a “make it or break it moment” for attitudes, as it is for climate policy.

“We have to find a way, as individuals, to believe that the future that we want to live in can exist,” she said.

It’s also the first climate summit for state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. He said he’s there because he sees humanity at a crossroads.

“This conference will really set the stage for whether we’ll be seriously addressing climate or not,” he said.

“If this is our last best chance to deal with the climate emergency, I think it’s important to show up and be a part of it, and bring the ideas from this event back to Minnesota.”

‘Entirely different world’

Rising winter temperatures have made Minnesota one of the fastest-warming states in the U.S. Climate change is generally making the state warmer and wetter, and it played a role in Minnesota’s record-breaking string of air-quality alerts this summer as smoke drifted from wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada.

The state has also completely missed its own greenhouse-gas reduction targets, ones that legislators set back in 2007 with the Next Generation Energy Act.

It’s scrambling now for concrete strategies to meet them. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to tighten the old state reduction targets to meet new international standards.

The state’s climate subcabinet is slated to release a draft Climate Action Plan for discussion in late January.

In Glasgow, Bella Garrioch, another member of the Climate Generation delegation, said she’s excited to be in the middle of so much change.

Garrioch is majoring in environmental studies at Macalester College. She said she thought she’d be sitting in auditoriums watching world leaders negotiate. They can’t due to COVID, she said, but that’s OK.

“What I found is this amazing, valuable and entirely different world,” she said. “Yesterday I talked to a Russian artist who goes to Canada every year and paints the same sea ice. Tomorrow I’m trying to get into a panel on Indigenous voices and science. Tonight we’re going to an open mic poetry slam about climate change in the city.”

Humans are entering a period of deep transition, Garrioch said, as they shift away from fossil fuels and deeply ingrained habits.

“I feel like I’m in a moment of history right now.”

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