By Zach Kayser
Apr 14, 2015
BEMIDJI– A symposium on climate change on Tuesday at BSU emphasized that not only are weather patterns already changing, but they’re also affecting northern Minnesota—more so than other areas of the country.
The convening was put on by “Climate Minnesota,” a two-year public education project organized by Climate Generation, itself named for famous explorer and environmental advocate Will Steger.
The University of Minnesota’s Dr. Mark Seeley, one the state’s leading experts on climate, began his remarks by pointing out Minnesota is a state with a long legacy of weather extremes. April 14, the same day as the symposium, had seen horrendous weather on every side of the scale throughout Minnesota’s history. April 14, 2003 saw 94 degree weather in Benson. That same day in 1983 saw 16 inches of snowfall in Farmington. In 1950, it was five degrees below zero in Roseau.
And on April 14, 1886, the deadliest tornado in Minnesota’s history hit Sauk Rapids, killing more than 70 people, including most of a wedding party.
However, extremes like those have gotten more and more frequent in recent years, Seeley said, and the culprit is climate change.
“We are more and more often … making measurements of climate attributes in our state landscape, in our backyard, that are outside the historical range,” he said. “It’s like we’ve gone into a new state.”
The climate is changing so fast that Minnesota needs to make changes in its public infrastructure and management of natural resources in order to keep up with it, Seeley said. “If we don’t—and ignore this—we’re just going to get into deeper and deeper trouble.”
The pace of climate change is higher in parts of Minnesota than other states, and particularly fast in north-central Minnesota, Seeley said. “Even in the context of Minnesota … you’re seeing a steep upward trend in your temperatures,” Seeley told the crowd.
Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said the forestry industry – -the field that popularized Bemidji’s own Paul and Babe—was threatened by climate change. Conditions in northern Minnesota are swaying from being favorable for the kinds of trees used for lumber and paper to being favorable for different, less useful species, she said. It’s also becoming harder to regrow harvested trees, she added.
In addition, public safety and economic health is at risk from more severe weather events, she said. Albrecht pointed to a storm in the summer of 2012—which didn’t cause any injuries—that cost the city about $100,000 to clean up.
“That means that all of us paid, because those businesses and individuals that had damage, their insurance rates went up,” she said.
Albrecht also spoke about how the Bemidji is responding to climate change: the city government is investing in newer and more numerous outdoor severe weather sirens to be installed this year, to make sure more people are alerted when tornados and other storms hit. The city also plans about $2 million worth of renovations to overhaul its city-owned buildings and other infrastructure, making them more energy efficient. For example, all of the city’s street lights will be switched to LED bulbs, she said.
“That’s going to save us close to $70,000 annually in utilities,” she said of the LED switch. “We’re excited about that.” Other planned speakers included Brandy Toft, an air quality specialist with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and Mayana Rice, head of the Bemidji area planning and zoning staff.
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