Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here. This article relates to Star Tribune Opinion's June 4 call for submissions on the question: "Where does Minnesota go from here?" Read the full collection of responses here.


Yet another Minnesota summer with record-breaking air pollution makes it clear: The earth doesn't negotiate with us on climate change. If we want a sustainable future for our kids and grandkids, we must deal with it effectively — making climate change and climate justice lenses for virtually all public policy.

If we don't get climate policy right, it will make every other issue worse. Air pollution impacts public health. Extreme flood and drought cycles impact farmers and food production. Warmer lake waters kill game fish and increase toxic algae blooms, making lakes unusable. In addition, climate change's impacts in Minnesota fall disproportionately on BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and the less fortunate among us. Climate justice ensures that those who feel the biggest impacts also receive commensurate benefits.

If we do get climate policy right, it provides huge side benefits. Here are just three areas where smart climate policy yields added dividends for Minnesotans:


Even with some recent strength in housing construction, Minnesota has one of the worst affordable housing shortages in the nation — a more than 100,000-unit deficit, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Shortages drive prices up. Lower-income families are especially affected, often having to live farther away from their jobs to find affordable housing. If we apply a climate lens while adding housing, we see that denser neighborhoods reduce greenhouse gases. When your job, grocery store and favorite restaurant are all closer, you're driving shorter distances — or using transit, biking, walking, etc.

There are many more benefits: lower transportation costs for families, stronger communities where people see each other more often, more vibrant local businesses, less wasted time in a car and a healthier lifestyle created by more walking or biking.


Transportation is Minnesota's No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions, making up 25% of our total. Electric vehicles, powered by a clean energy-based grid, are an obvious solution — passenger vehicles and trucks comprise 70% of transportation emissions. We made significant progress by passing the 100% law this year, which will get us to a 100% clean energy grid by 2040.

But electrification isn't enough. Gas-powered cars will be on our roads for decades. And even for EVs, grid electricity won't be fully carbon-free until 2040. That means we also need to examine how much we are forced to drive to live our lives. More transit, better pedestrian and biking infrastructure, and intelligent land-use decisions help reduce driving miles.

The upside? It's $91 billion of direct health, safety and vehicle operation costs. According to RMI, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability, this is how much Minnesotans can save if we reach the Minnesota Department of Transportation goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) 20% per capita by 2050.

We put up with a lot of pain as a car-centric society. Average car ownership costs are almost $11,000 per year. But personal costs are steeper: Each year, nearly 4,000 Minnesotans die from air pollution; almost 400 die in vehicle fatalities. And that pain is unequally distributed. Historically disadvantaged communities, often close to highways, experience far higher air pollution and rates of asthma. And owning a car may be financially impossible for lower-income families, which often forces them to pay a "time tax," taking longer to get places if transit is not frequent or readily accessible.

Crop agriculture

Farmers are important to our state — and could even save the day. Currently in Minnesota, crop agriculture creates more greenhouse gas emissions than generating electricity. But practices like cover crops, no-till and precision fertilizer management have the potential to turn farms into greenhouse gas sinks — removing more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than they produce. And the additional benefits are many: cleaner water, less pollution from fertilizer runoff, improved soil health and even more nutritious food.

Smart land-use decisions also benefit the agriculture sector. Reducing urban sprawl through housing density means residential development won't take valuable farmland out of production. According to a study by American Farmland Trust, promoting compact development can save almost 300,000 acres of Minnesota farmland from being paved over by 2040.

All these examples illustrate that climate policy is just smart policy. By making decisions through climate and climate justice lenses, we'll be simultaneously cleaning our air and water, helping Minnesotans be healthier and strengthening our communities.

Larry Kraft, DFL-St. Louis Park, is a member of the Minnesota House and is the vice chair of the Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee.