National View: ‘Minnesota nice’ a missing piece from the climate-change puzzle
As originally published in the Duluth News Tribune
July 16, 2019
In June, government leaders from around the world gathered at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus to discuss options for a carbon-neutral future. I was proud to be among the speakers because this critical discussion happened blocks from where I was born. What I’ve learned in my years working on environmental issues across the U.S. and in various countries in Africa and Latin America is that when it comes to climate change, Washington, D.C., could use more “Minnesota nice.”
Minnesota is one of several states leading the way in advancing and promoting clean energy. The state met its goal of using 25 percent renewable energy seven years ahead of schedule and participated in National Clean Energy Week last year.
The climate problem won’t be solved by one political party alone, and it won’t be solved by one president alone. From President George H.W. Bush, who helped bring international attention and action to the problem, to President Barack Obama, who pursued a strong executive approach with the Clean Power Plan, we’ve learned the limits of what one president can do. Congressional action is also needed.
On Capitol Hill, a new guard of climate hawks is energized. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has captured the attention of many Americans with her Green New Deal, a greatest hits of liberal policy that all intersect at climate change.
The competing Green Real Deal also deserves a hard look. Its author, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., knows the people he represents in the western panhandle of Florida are on the frontlines of environmental change.
The Green Real Deal resolution starts with an idea that 13 U.S. federal agencies and the U.S. Department of Defense can agree upon: Greenhouse gas emissions reductions are needed on a short timeline — in years, not decades.
The Green Real Deal accepts as a first principle that markets and people will always act faster than big government. As such, there’s no economy-wide tax, no government takeovers of industry, and no federal inspectors sent to your home to swap out lightbulbs.
The proposal understands the unprecedented demand for American-made clean energy that will create jobs. Solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians have been the No. 1 and No. 2 fastest-growing jobs over the past decade. And because of increases in energy productivity, more natural gas, and more installed solar and wind, the U.S. leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Still, more can be done.
A commitment to innovation is critical. Thanks to decades of collaboration, carbon-capture storage is now a reality. A world with net-zero and net-negative carbon emissions will depend on technologies that can take carbon from the air and put it underground or into consumer products. It’s encouraging that more and more start-ups are entering this space already.
Empowering states and companies to act on climate and providing a way for individuals and shareholders to make better decisions matters too. The Green Real Deal includes a new idea for a voluntary federal framework to track carbon emissions and renewable-energy procurements. Companies like Minnesota’s Xcel Energy have committed to 100 percent carbon-free electricity. Just think, if utilities and other industries were able to report through this framework, it would be easy for investors to track progress and compare companies.
The Green Real Deal resolution isn’t the last step we’ll take to combat climate change. As the climate conversation moves into action, the courteous approach perfected by Minnesotans to listen, understand, and keep an open mind will be needed in Washington, D.C. With the Green Real Deal, people of all parties can find compromise and have something to cheer about.
Charles Hernick of Annapolis, Md., and a native of Minneapolis, is director of policy and advocacy for the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum (citizensfor.com). He wrote this for the News Tribune.