Climate Minnesota provides the seeds of change for climate action

southwest journalThe energy and hope was apparent among the 120 west metro residents who attended the Climate Minnesota: West Metro convening on Nov. 12. You could hear it in the way the audience reacted to Paul Douglas’ keynote talk on climate change impacts in Minnesota, and you could see it in the five solutions breakout groups filled with attendees talking and brainstorming around community-based solutions to climate change.

At the reception that concluded the evening, the bulk of the questions and conversation centered on making connections, next steps, and plans in the works — for community solar subscriptions, for smarter consumption habits, for better watershed management, to name a few. The feeling at the end of the night was clear: this was not your typical event on climate change.

Thursday’s event was part of Climate Minnesota: Local Stories, Community Solutions, a two-year public education project launched by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy in response to the need for increased awareness of local climate change impacts and sustainable behavior change among Minnesotans. While roughly three-fifths of Minnesotans acknowledge that climate change is happening and human-induced, according to the Yale Six Americas study, they are not likely to talk to others about the issue, or take action. Climate Minnesota is focused on building climate literacy and community empowerment to address climate change, and a key part of the project is a series of 12 public convenings across Greater Minnesota, including in the west metro community of Hopkins.

These Climate Minnesota convenings recast climate change as a local, personally relevant, and solvable issue by sharing the knowledge of local experts and the stories of individuals working to address climate change in their communities. At the west metro convening, after Paul Douglas spoke about the meteorological changes he has been witnessing, a panel of three local storytellers — a skier, a doctor and a high school senior — shared their experiences of teaching climate change in the classroom, making the public health case for climate action, and joining the youth movement for a sustainable future. Across the state, we’ve found that these stories from fellow community members have helped increase the confidence and motivation of convening attendees to address climate change in their own lives and communities.

And at the end of the convenings, attendees have the chance to learn about specific actions they can take, which have been as locally varied as the state: in agricultural communities such as Crookston, solutions workshops featured sustainable farming solutions, and in Duluth, Minnesota Sea Grant highlighted rain gardens and runoff management as a way to build resiliency in the aftermath of the 2012 flood. West Metro solutions included home energy efficiency, making smarter consumer choices, and drawing on the power of storytelling, learning how to tell and share your own personal climate story.

Based on the preliminary evaluation of the first four Climate Minnesota convenings in the spring, we found that 90 percent of participants said they had taken some steps toward mitigating or adapting to climate change since the convening. Judging from the enthusiasm of west metro attendees, it seems that they, too, will draw on the solutions and personal pledges made last Thursday evening to enact local climate solutions in their communities, whether it’s giving relatives “experiences” instead of gifts during the holiday season, or volunteering with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District to improve the management of our local watershed. For us, it is the translation of personal action to coordinated action, which can scale up to the institutional changes needed to address an issue as wide-ranging as climate change. Education and empowerment to engage in climate solutions is the first step in that transformation.

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