Climate change confronts the whole globe, with causes and effects that overwhelm national borders and hemispheres. So it's appropriate that the world's attention will soon focus on Glasgow, Scotland, where leaders and scientists from around the planet will gather to discuss the struggle to avoid climate catastrophe.
But given the uneven success of previous summits in producing significant progress, it's wise not to get one's hopes up too high. As the Swedish climate crusader Greta Thunberg points out, these events give world leaders a chance to offer nice words that may lead to little or no positive action.
That's reason enough to take some comfort in a climate-change story with a local focus: the establishment of the Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center at the University of Minnesota. With funding from the federal government and cooperation from scientists and tribal leaders around the Midwest, the center will help shine a light on the effects of climate change that are specific to our region. It can also spotlight ways in which our region might be able to help the wider effort to avert the worst of the crisis.
Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment at the university, described the center's mission as aiding in the "successful management of resources in the face of a changing climate." As an example, she pointed out that forest-management practices might have to change during times of persistent drought and chronic wildfires.
As the Star Tribune reported, the adaptation center will join eight other centers across the country that help fish and wildlife managers respond to climate change. The center to be housed at the U is the newest; since 2012, Minnesota had fallen under the purview of a center based in Massachusetts. Hellmann credited U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., with helping secure funding for the center in St. Paul.
A statement from McCollum's office said she had led "an intense fight against the Trump administration's climate denial," which included efforts to cut funding for the adaptation centers. "Confronting the consequences of climate change on the environment, biodiversity, and human health is the most significant scientific and policy challenge of this generation," the statement quoted McCollum as saying.
Hellmann said there's no shortage of issues for the center to take on. The changing climate can promote algae growth in Lake Superior, pose challenges to populations of moose or threaten stands of wild rice.
But rather than limit itself to preserving species and other resources, Hellmann added, the center can also join the search for local solutions. Farm and forestry practices can help sequester carbon, and farm fields can be adapted for renewable energy production like solar and wind, she said.
Done intelligently, Hellmann suggested, an increased emphasis on carbon storage and renewable energy can bring economic benefits to Minnesota and the surrounding region — turning the perceived burdens of climate change into opportunities. "If there's an economic incentive, it could be beneficial," she said.
Compared with some other parts of the country, Minnesota is blessed with abundant water and a stable climate. Accordingly, it may become increasingly attractive to businesses looking to relocate, Hellmann said. Such a development could mean good things for Minnesota's economy — while producing more pressure on the state's natural resources.
If so, the help of the Climate Adaptation Science Center will be even more needed, and welcome.