Paul Austin

Paul Austin is the director of Conservation Minnesota, a statewide non-profit. In that role, he gets to hear and share Minnesotan’s stories about our lakes, lands and way of life. Paul’s past lives include election as a small town mayor, serving at the US Agency for International Development, and managing a small marketing firm. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two small children and one very large dog.

Are you ready for Election Day?

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: November 3, 2014 - 2:18 PM

Tomorrow is Election Day and I wanted to provide you with some handy information to make the day easy and smooth.

Sometimes life can get in the way of showing up at the polls.  As you prepare for Election Day, research shows that the best way to make sure you don’t miss your opportunity is to ask yourself these questions ahead of time:

  • What time of day do you think you’ll vote?  Where will you be coming from at that time?
  • How will you get there?
  • Will you go with someone, or vote by yourself?
  • Will your children be with you?  Do you have someone to watch them?
  • Do you know where you vote?  Check here if you're not sure.

 
By answering these questions today, you can be sure you cast your vote tomorrow!  Here are some other helpful items:

  • Are you registered to vote at your current location?  If not you can register on Election Day.  Here is some great information on same day registration.
  • Most Minnesota polling places open at 7 a.m. and all polls close at 8 p.m.  If you are in line at 8 p.m. you have the right to vote and cannot be asked to leave or told that you are too late.
  • Need a Sample Ballot?  Here you go!
  • Do you know your legislator’s record on conservation issues?  You can learn about their votes by checking out www.checkmylegislator.org

If you have any questions, feel free to email my organization, Conservation Minnesota.  I hope you have a happy, safe, and smooth Election Day, tomorrow, November 4th.

Are you ready for Election Day?

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: November 3, 2014 - 2:18 PM

Tomorrow is Election Day and I wanted to provide you with some handy information to make the day easy and smooth.

Sometimes life can get in the way of showing up at the polls.  As you prepare for Election Day, research shows that the best way to make sure you don’t miss your opportunity is to ask yourself these questions ahead of time:

  • What time of day do you think you’ll vote?  Where will you be coming from at that time?
  • How will you get there?
  • Will you go with someone, or vote by yourself?
  • Will your children be with you?  Do you have someone to watch them?
  • Do you know where you vote?  Check here if you're not sure.

 
By answering these questions today, you can be sure you cast your vote tomorrow!  Here are some other helpful items:

  • Are you registered to vote at your current location?  If not you can register on Election Day.  Here is some great information on same day registration.
  • Most Minnesota polling places open at 7 a.m. and all polls close at 8 p.m.  If you are in line at 8 p.m. you have the right to vote and cannot be asked to leave or told that you are too late.
  • Need a Sample Ballot?  Here you go!
  • Do you know your legislator’s record on conservation issues?  You can learn about their votes by checking out www.checkmylegislator.org

If you have any questions, feel free to email my organization, Conservation Minnesota.  I hope you have a happy, safe, and smooth Election Day, tomorrow, November 4th.

Recent Xcel Announcement A Win For Minnesotans

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: October 21, 2014 - 11:40 AM

In what can only be described as a win-win for the residents of Minnesota, Xcel Energy announced last week that it will curtail their use of coal at its Black Dog Power plant in Burnsville next spring. 

Burning coal for power is linked to increased mercury in lakes, asthma, and heart disease. The decision to stop using coal for electricity generation at the plant will drastically reduce harmful emissions, while also protecting consumers from the increased costs that would have been required to add the necessary technology to allow it to continue burning coal.  

Changes in federal law would have required the plant to reach a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions by next April.  By eliminating coal, the plant will experience a 100 percent reduction in mercury emissions. 

The decision on Black Dog will continue the existing trajectory of coal usage in the state.  From 2008 to 2012, coal energy production decreased from 58 to 44 percent of the state’s electricity portfolio.  But even at 44 percent, Minnesota’s electricity producers still imported 12 million tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming, which puts Minnesota eighteenth in national rankings of net coal imports.

The state’s increase in natural gas as a form of energy production shows some short-term benefits in the form of air quality and cost.  But for long term stability in cost and emissions, the keys will be increasing usage of renewable options, and increasing efficiency.

Minnesota is recognized as a national leader in the move toward  renewable energy, and the decision by Xcel to be less dependent on coal is an important step forward.  

Is the yellow-bellied sapsucker destined to be our new state bird?

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: September 16, 2014 - 11:31 AM

Imagine a scenario in which Minnesota legislators were forced to change the Minnesota state bird from the Common Loon to the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Seem far-fetched?

Perhaps.  But if a recent study conducted by the Audubon Society is to be believed, there stands a chance that Minnesota will find itself in the market for a new state bird if evolving changes in the climate continue at the current pace.

Using three decades of data compiled and analyzed by their scientists, the Audubon report, which can be found at http://climate.audubon.org, tracks the winter and summer ranges of 588 breeds of birds. It identifies climactic suitability ranges for each bird, and then maps how those ranges will shift based on current scientific understanding.  The most concerning of the findings was that 314 of the birds studied will see at least half of their current ranges changed by century’s end. 

And that list includes the Common Loon which will see its summer range shift north into Canada almost completely by 2050.  By 2080, there will be little to no trace of the state bird found anywhere within our borders during the summer months.  I say summer months, because the winter range for the loon, which is currently in the region around the Gulf of Mexico, will also start shifting north, and .  By 2080 Loons that once summered in the north woods and wintered along the Gulf Coast may find themselves spending summers in Canada, and winters in northern Iowa and extreme southern Minnesota.

And yes, the yellow-bellied sapsucker may soon be a staple of Minnesota birder's checklists, as it should have a statewide reach, at least in the winters, by decade's end.   

The problem of changing bird habitats obviously doesn't just affect Minnesota.  The country may also be in need of a new national bird if the trends continue. Removed from the endangered species list only seven years ago, the bald eagle is facing a loss of 73 percent of its current breeding range by 2080. 

But before we take the advice of Benjamin Franklin and switch to the wild turkey as our national symbol, lets recognize that the report estimates the wild turkey is in more jeopardy that even the bald eagle.  The study suggests that the wild turkey will lose 87 percent of its current winter range by 2080. 

Animated maps show how the habitats for the birds studied are expected to change between the years 2000, 2020, 2050 and 2080. The consistent view across all species is a northward shift of both the summer and winter ranges of all birds studied. 

While the topic of climate change remains charged, more so in the political than in the scientific arena, this first-of-its-kind study deserves commendation and more importantly, our immediate attention.  

Time For A New Minnesota Miracle

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: August 15, 2014 - 9:26 AM

Forty one years ago this week, Time Magazine placed a picture of Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson on the cover holding a Northern Pike and declaring that the good life had been found in Minnesota. 

This article described what has become known as the Minnesota Miracle, a revolution in the state’s policy and political landscape that ushered in an era of state prosperity.

Could Minnesota be on the verge of providing a second act to the Minnesota Miracle? 

Recent articles in the New York Times and other publications have pointed at Minnesota’s nation-leading efforts to shrink the state’s carbon footprint through expanded use of renewable energy sources.

Currently Minnesota gets more of its electricity from wind power than all but four other states.  And from its peak in 2003, the state has slashed the amount of coal burned in its power plants by nearly one-third. 

How did this happen?

The legislature has helped, by setting aggressive carbon reduction goals and providing incentives for public utilities to reach them. But where the similarities between the Minnesota Miracle and the current carbon curbing efforts are the greatest is in the desire by all parties involved to be part of the ultimate solution.    

Utilities are finding that while state and federal subsidies for wind and solar were important to get these industries off the ground, the costs are now low enough that they are beating traditional energy production costs and likely would continue to without being subsidized.  While the fluctuation of coal and natural gas prices cause similar fluctuations in the cost of electricity produced by these sources, solar and wind power generation have a much more stable fixed cost.

Which brings us to another interesting front in this debate. Recently Governor Mark Dayton said that he wanted to see the state kick its coal-powered electricity habit altogether. 

Making his comments at the state’s first Clean Energy Economy Summit in July, Dayton challenged the leaders in the room to come up with ways to wean the state off of coal. 

"Tell us what a timeline would look like, what has to happen for that timeline to be met and what kind of incentives or inducements do we need to provide to make that happen," the Governor said. 

Minnesota is already on an impressive trajectory when it comes to renewable energy use. Were the state to find a way to eliminate its current reliance on coal from its energy production equation, it is fair to believe that the nation would stand up and take notice of the second coming of the Minnesota Miracle.   

Vikings Hometown Pride Is For The Birds

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: July 29, 2014 - 8:03 PM

Minnesota sports fans love their homegrown talent. 

It was a no-brainer when the Twins drafted Joe Mauer first overall in the 2001 draft.  And when Lindsay Whalen decided to come back home to play for the Lynx, she brought back hope and with that hope came championships. 

Even when they may struggle (I’m looking at you, Joe), the fans will always hold a special reverence for a hometown kid who plays for the hometown team. 

And this is why I am so baffled by the debate over the glass in the new Vikings Stadium. 

While to some, it will seem like the age-old story of a big bad business refusing to buckle to the desires of the tree hugging environmental group. 

And in some ways it is.  But in many others, it isn’t.

The folks at the Audubon Society correctly point out that nearly half of North America's bird species, and about 40 percent of its waterfowl, spend at least part of their lives in the Mississippi river flyway. That flyway generally follows the Mississippi river in the United States and the Mackenzie river in Canada. Being a mile off this avian superhighway makes the giant glass facade of the new stadium a legitimate risk to the birds of North America. 

And the team is right.  Every time they turn around, the cost of the stadium seems to increase.  They are currently inching toward the $1 billion barrier, and construction has hardly even started. Eventually you have to draw the line somewhere. There is a lot of glass in this stadium, so glazing the windows to make them less of a threat to birds would cost around $1 million. 

And that is where hometown pride comes in. 

The contractor that is providing the glass for the stadium, Viracon, is an Owatonna based company. While they certainly are great at providing clear glass, they also work in the more bird-safe glass as well.  One need only look at the new Central Library in Minneapolis to see an example of their work with glass that is glazed to prevent bird strikes. 

So, the Vikings have two real options.  They can draw the line in the sand, and hope that the risk the building poses to birds is not as serious as expected. Or they can increase their partnership with a Minnesota company to provide a stadium of which everyone can truly be proud.  

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