With the growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and virtually the entire scientific community expressing deep concerns about human-caused climate change, our energy policies appear to be racing towards a climate cliff, driven by those who profit from our consumption of fossil fuels.
Bill McKibben, the author and journalist who has done as much as anyone to educate the public about the consequences of climate change says, "So far, we've raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods." McKibben suggests we are headed for a "global catastrophe" unless we change course.
While some still doubt the climate scientists, people are looking out the window and seeing that things are changing. Recently the lobbyist for the Minnesota Insurance Federation testified before our Senate Environment and Energy Committee that homeowner insurance premiums have more than doubled in the last decade primarily due to an increase in tornadoes, floods, and other catastrophic weather events.
Minnesota's Will Steger, who has spent over four decades exploring the earth's polar regions, is an eyewitness to the impact of climate change. He points out that polar ice has melted so much that "you can no longer sled to the North Pole. That's history." Steger explains, "the effects of global warming are pervasive. We humans continue to burn fossil fuels. The burning creates a blanket and the blanket forms a greenhouse over our earth. We cannot delay in slowing and reversing this trend. Our health, economy, national security and the environment demand it."
In the Minnesota legislature, there is a push for a transition to a sustainable energy economy. Rep. Melissa Hortman and I, as chairs of the House and Senate Energy Committees, are working with environmental advocates and the Dayton administration on an Omnibus Energy bill (Senate File 901 / House File 956) that would beef up Minnesota's energy conservation and efficiency efforts, jump start the solar energy industry in Minnesota, and develop a framework to make Minnesota the first state in the nation to transition to a 100% renewable energy economy that no longer uses fossil fuels as an energy source.
Moving to a fossil-fuel free energy economy won't be easy and may take a few decades. Opponents often argue that such a transition would be too costly. But it is our current system that is too costly to continue – Minnesota families and businesses currently spend $13 billion to import fossil fuels from other states and countries.
At a legislative hearing on energy, Marty Kushler, Senior Fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told legislators that while Minnesotans regularly debate the impact on the economy of the $18 billion in taxes that pay for the state general fund budget, they are largely unaware of the $13 billion that Minnesotans spend to import coal, oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels. Yet, he points out, the state budget dollars are spent in Minnesota, by Minnesotans, and are recycled in Minnesota's economy. In contrast, virtually all of the $13 billion used for fossil fuel purchases goes out of state, causing a huge drain on our state economy.
Replacing those lost energy dollars with investments in solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources is, in essence, replacing the ongoing cost of importing fuels, with paychecks for Minnesota workers at Minnesota businesses, installing, operating, and maintaining these electrical generation facilities – which don't have to pay for fuel because the wind and sun are free. Replacing fossil fuel import spending with funding for Minnesota businesses and jobs boosts Minnesota's economy even if you don't calculate the very real health and environmental savings.
Our children and their children, and the entire human race, are dependent upon the earth for our survival. There is no other planet that we could move to if this planet cannot sustain human life. We need to dramatically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels very quickly, or our children and their children will face catastrophic changes in the environment.
No matter how bold we are in responding this year to the problem, twenty years from now people will wonder how we could have been so timid. It's time to take thoughtful, yet bold action to develop a framework that will bring Minnesota to a sustainable energy system.