Much of Minnesota has experienced springlike temperatures this December, often in the 40s. Warmer weather has become the norm; since 1998, the Earth has experienced 10 of the warmest years on record. And 2015 is expected to break last year’s record as the warmest yet.
This is why we all should be celebrating that nearly 200 countries have reached consensus on a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Paris Climate Agreement puts the world on a path to avoid the worst effects of climate change by keeping any increase in global temperature below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Gov. Mark Dayton and I strongly support bold action to tackle climate change. Doing so will be good for our environment, good for our health and good for our economy.
We know that our climate is changing because of human activity. Minnesota has experienced three 1,000-year floods since 2004. We have seen our moose herd decline by 50 percent. We have watched our northern forests of spruce, fir, aspen and birch retreat. Minnesota is already experiencing the impacts of climate change.
We also know that public health and climate change are inextricably linked. Car exhaust and coal-fired power-plant emissions that damage the climate also hurt our health. Air pollution causes Minnesotans to miss work and school — costing us more than $800 million a year — largely due to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. The President’s Clean Power Plan is projected to result in 300,000 fewer missed days of work and school nationally each year. When we are physically healthy, our economy is healthier, too.
What many people don’t realize is that tackling climate change will help Minnesota’s economy grow and contribute to our global competitiveness. Minnesota has already seen the economic benefits of taking action, after setting aggressive renewable-energy and energy-efficiency standards and bold goals to reduce greenhouse gases. Today, Minnesota is a clean-energy leader, with more than 15,000 clean-energy jobs, which contribute more than $1 billion in wages to our economy. Our coal use has dropped 33 percent since 2005 — something that seemed impossible a decade ago.
Renewable-energy sources now account for 20 percent of the state’s annual electricity generation, up from 5.8 percent in 2000. Minnesota wind energy is reducing carbon emissions by more than 5.4 million metric tons each year, the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road. Today, wind energy is providing over 16 percent of our state’s electricity — that’s the equivalent of 1 in 6 Minnesota homes, businesses and community institutions.
Not only do renewable sources of energy account for 20 percent of our electricity, but our residential electrical rates are consistently below the national average.
Our actions have put us ahead of the curve in confronting this challenge. Now, we must continue to pursue bold action to transform this challenge into an economic opportunity — making our position in clean energy a competitive advantage. Minnesota could add 35,000 jobs and generate more than $2 billion in additional wages during the next 15 years if we capitalize on this opportunity.
People say that patience is a virtue. However, it’s not my virtue, especially when it comes to climate change. We need to move decisively.
And to the naysayers who say it can’t be done or that it will cost too much, we need only look back a few years to 2007 and the bipartisan leadership of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Together, they set a goal to meet 25 percent of our energy needs through renewables by 2025.
We are on a path to surpass that goal, while keeping our utility rates below the national average. We can, and must, do it again.
Tina Smith is Minnesota’s lieutenant governor.