‘Severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” will occur unless we aggressively address climate change, according to a draft of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

With each successive sobering report about global warming, there are various responses. Most people simply ignore the problem, some because they deny there is a problem, despite the growing scientific consensus and the visible evidence of more severe and erratic weather events. Others believe the situation is hopeless, and there is nothing they can do to make a difference.

But as a recent report on Minnesota’s energy policy reminds us, our energy future is a matter of choice, not fate. If we plan ahead, we can end our state’s costly reliance on fossil fuels, making it an opportunity to build a better future.

This requires extensive long-term planning. Unfortunately, in politics “long-term” too often means “the next election.” But with virtually the entire scientific community expressing deep concerns about catastrophic impacts from human-caused climate change, it is time we develop public policy for the next generation, not the next election.

To move us forward, I authored a law designed to formulate a thoughtful path to make Minnesota the first state in the nation to transition to a 100 percent renewable-energy economy, eliminating use of fossil fuels.

Our first step was to commission an analysis of where to begin. That study was completed last December. It spelled out both challenges and opportunities.

The next step is to bring together consumers, utilities, labor and industry, environmental advocacy groups, and technical and scientific experts. Working together, we can develop a strategy and timeline that moves the state forward in a manner that protects the environment, creates jobs, and saves money for Minnesota families and businesses.

Through this stakeholder process, we will develop a clean-energy strategy for each sector of the economy: electric power generation, transportation, industry, agriculture, and heating and cooling. This initiative dovetails nicely with the Dayton administration’s strong leadership on climate change.

Opponents often argue that a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy would be too costly. These arguments fail to recognize that it is our current system that is too costly. Not only are the costs of unmitigated climate change almost unimaginable, but in immediate impacts, Minnesota’s economy burns through $18 billion every year to import fossil fuels.

That is where our opportunity lies. Developing renewable energy in Minnesota makes good economic sense. By investing in solar, wind and homegrown renewable energy instead of buying fuels from other states and countries, we support Minnesota workers and Minnesota businesses. Minnesota has already seen rapid growth in energy efficiency and renewable-energy jobs from our renewable-energy standard, carbon-reduction goals, and last year’s solar legislation. Minnesota’s clean-energy jobs more than doubled since the year 2000, in contrast to overall economic growth of only 11 percent.

Moving forward in this energy transition and breaking our reliance on fossil fuels will also yield significant health and environmental benefits, including less heart disease and fewer asthma problems and even reducing fish consumption advisories from mercury pollution.

Now is the time for Minnesota to aggressively push to become fossil-fuel-free. Because this is a generation-long transition, thoughtful planning gives us the opportunity to ensure that businesses and workers currently employed in fossil-fuel delivery or power generation are able to use their skills and experience in the clean energy economy. If we sit around and wait until we are forced to act, the transition will be painful and disruptive for workers and businesses.

Across the globe, people are beginning to demand change. On Sunday, in support of the United Nations Climate Summit, activists and everyday citizens are planning the largest climate action in history, with coordinated rallies around the globe — from New York City to Cape Town, Riyadh to Reykjavik, Helsinki to Hong Kong — demonstrating support for bold international solutions. In Minnesota, events are happening in St. Paul, Rochester and Mankato.

Our children and their children and the entire human race depend upon the Earth for our survival. There is no “plan B”, or perhaps we should say, no “Planet B” to which we could move if Earth cannot sustain human life.

Minnesota can be a leader here.

 

John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.