Who are you going to believe about climate change — 91 scientists from 40 countries who draw conclusions from more than 6,000 scientific studies, or the Republican candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s First District?
That was the juxtaposition presented quite by coincidence last Monday to this newspaper’s Editorial Board. It was the day the Intergovernmenal Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told the world that dire environmental consequences are just a few decades away if humans don’t stop spewing large amounts of carbon-laden gases into the atmosphere. And the day that Jim Hagedorn came to call.
The IPCC report said with italicized high confidence (that’s how scientists yell, I believe) that average world temperatures are on track to climb another 0.5 degrees Celsius from today’s levels, reaching that level between 2032 and 2050. And they’ll keep climbing if nothing is done about human-generated carbon emissions.
Acting now to prevent that post-2050 temperature climb is life-or-death stuff for millions of this planet’s creatures, human and otherwise, the report concluded. Things will be bad enough if the temperature increase can be held to 0.5 degrees. Seas will rise, storms will intensify, some species will vanish, some cropland (listen up, Minnesota) will lose its utility.
But real trouble will come if average temperatures go another 0.5 degrees higher in the last half of this century, as models now say they will. The report’s litany of consequences is scary stuff. It describes the irreversible loss of ice fields in Antarctica and Greenland and an accompanying sea-level rise that would displace millions of people. The extinction of plants and animals would more than double if average temperatures rise 1.0 degree Celsius from today’s levels, it says. Agriculture would collapse in many places, spurring both famine and mass human migration.
Fortunately, the report also sounds a hopeful note. It’s not too late to avert a post-2050 catastrophe. “There are a wide range of adaptation options that can reduce the risks of climate change (high confidence),” it said. Many of them require government action, or would benefit from a government nudge. In this situation, the speed of change matters, the IPCC emphasized.
That report was top of mind as the Editorial Board met with candidates for Congress on Monday. First up: Hagedorn, running a third time for the seat being vacated by DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz. He brought a sweeping counterpoint to the IPCC: — a mix of faith-based reassurance (it’s in God’s hands) and fatalism (nothing meaningful can be done).
“I’m a Christian guy. I believe the world’s been heating and cooling since God created it,” Hagedorn said. He scoffed at past predictions “that things were going to change, that by now we’re supposed to be under water in some places in the United States, that the world was coming to an end.” Rather, he said, what’s happening now is what the planet has experienced “for generations and generations and generations.”
But, he added, whether climate change is “so-called ‘man-made’ or not, the proposals I’ve seen out there wouldn’t change that trajectory or solve the problem.” All they would do is put the U.S. economy at a disadvantage, he argued. Money would be better spent helping dislocated people resettle, he said. (But evidently not here: Hagedorn also wants more restrictions on immigration.)
Hagedorn said he saw no need for federal efforts to improve clean-energy technology, such as electricity storage units. That’s up to the private sector, he said. With the tax-aided wind farms that have sprouted in southwestern Minnesota, “we’ve done our part already.” What the nation needs instead is more drilling for crude oil for the sake of energy independence, he said. “The most damaging thing you can do to an economy is drive up energy prices.”
Let it be noted that Hagedorn’s DFL opponent, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Dan Feehan, offered a different view to the Editorial Board later that same day. He thinks combating climate change is an urgent matter of national security; that government ought to keep promoting and funding renewable energy development; and that southern Minnesota is nowhere near maxed out on its contribution to a lower-emission future.
By better deploying wind, solar and biofuels, “my vision is that the First District can become energy independent,” Feehan said.
As if on cue, the Nobel Prize committee also weighed in on Monday. The winners of this year’s prize in economics are William Nordhaus, whose research demonstrated the utility of imposing a tax on carbon emissions, and Paul Romer, who studied how governments can hasten innovation for the sake of big projects such as slowing climate change.
There was one more dot to connect on Monday. Before the day ended, reports arrived about a tropical storm gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico. Its name: Michael.
By week’s end, I was left wondering whether the people who live on the Florida Panhandle would agree with Hagedorn about the worst thing that can befall an economy. And whether the farmers in the First District, inundated by heavy October rains that are delaying an already rain-diminished harvest, are willing to literally bet their farms on Hagedorn’s view that government can’t do anything meaningful about climate change.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.