A group assembled by Gov. Tim Pawlenty is strategizing how to cut greenhouse emissions by getting Minnesotans to drive less.
For the sake of the planet, kids born this year could be the first generation of Minnesotans since the invention of the automobile to drive less than their parents.
In fact, they would drive a lot less, and so would everybody else, as part of a broad transformation of behaviors, policies and economies that a governor's panel is weighing in an effort to blunt Minnesota's contribution to climate change.
"The question is, 'Can we get there and what's it going to take?'" said Jan Callison, mayor of Minnetonka and a member of the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group. A reduction in driving is "one piece of a really big and complicated puzzle," Callison added, "but one conclusion is probably that we're going to need to change our driving habits."
The advisory group is a panel of more than 50 business, environmental and community leaders assembled by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to design strategies to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions -- primarily carbon dioxide -- by 80 percent by 2050. The group is more than halfway through nine months of brainstorming intended to produce a package of proposals for the 2008 Legislature to consider.
Because transportation contributes about 27 percent of the carbon dioxide poured into Minnesota's atmosphere, one of the panel's goals -- a rollback in miles driven in Minnesota to 1990 levels by 2025 -- could significantly reduce or even help reverse pollution trends.
Minnesotans are expected to drive 60 billion miles this year and 82 billion in 2025 if generations-long trends continue. They drove 38.9 billion in 1990 -- 35 percent less than they'll drive this year and less than half what they would otherwise be expected to drive in 2025.
'Incredibly aggressive' goal
The mileage-reduction goal is for a period when the metro area alone is expected to gain nearly 1 million residents. It mirrors a standard already adopted by a similar governor's panel in Vermont but exceeds those in several other states. Callison called it "incredibly aggressive."
But Callison and Barb Thoman, project director for the group Transit for Livable Communities and, like Callison, a member of a transportation subgroup of the governor's panel, both noted that the goal depends on much more than just setting the parking brake. It would build on broad strategies designed in part to get people to drive less: locating jobs and people close to one another, redeveloping core cities and expanding mass transit.
Rising gas prices might also help Minnesotans cut back on their driving, Thoman said, noting that Minnesota's vehicle miles traveled in 2005 nearly matched those from 2004 after decades of sharp increases.
"It promises substantial change in the way we develop our communities," Callison said. "It's going to take a lot of thought and attention to implications beyond greenhouse gas reductions."
Paying to drive?
The transportation panel is also recommending having people pay directly for road use, parking and other transportation features whose costs are now concealed by public subsidies.
That, along with land-use changes and transit options, is critical, said University of Minnesota geography Prof. John Adams, who is involved in a parallel study on transportation and greenhouse gases. But will Minnesotans stomach driving less or paying more for the privilege?
"That's where leadership comes in," Adams said.
Some suggestions from the advisory panel may not require legislation and could be enacted by state agencies, said David Thornton, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Almost certain to emerge from the process is a "cap and trade" policy that, in tandem with limits on greenhouse gas pollution, would allow big producers of carbon dioxide, such as utilities, to buy and sell carbon credits.
But that's only one of more than 50 emissions-reductions proposals involving energy, waste management, agriculture, construction and other activities the panel is considering. Consultants are determining both the cost and the emissions reductions each idea represents.