BEMIDJI – The evening of April 14, 100 Bemidji community members attended a public convening about local climate change impacts and solutions, hosted by the Will Steger Foundation and the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP).
“Climate Minnesota: Bemidji” highlighted the current and future effects of climate change in northwest Minnesota and provided tangible opportunities to build community resilience in the face of those effects.
Throughout the evening, participants found wide agreement that Minnesotans are experiencing climate change impacts in their own backyards, that people’s stories about those changes are powerful motivators for community change, and that community-based actions to address climate change can be effective and lead to broader transformation.
The convening was part of the Will Steger Foundation’s two-year public education project, “Climate Minnesota: Local Stories, Community Solutions,” which is supported by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the McKnight Foundation, and was coordinated in partnership with RSDP with support from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
Speakers such as Mayor Rita Albrecht and University of Minnesota Extension Climatologist Mark Seeley drew on the power of stories to connect with the audience on this often complex issue.
“Stories touch on people’s emotional intelligence, value systems, and community relationships,” said Seeley. “In doing so they provoke more interaction by bringing scientific knowledge into conversations about what is important, what we value most, and what we should preserve and protect for future generations.”
In his presentation, Seeley gave a science-based overview of how the climate has changed in the Bemidji area in recent decades, laying the foundation for discussions about how climate change affects what local people value about living in the region.
During a storytelling panel, three community leaders presented the work they were doing to engage in local climate change solutions. Brandy Toft discussed the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s work to become the first Green Step Tribal Nation, a designation that commits the band to voluntary environmental, livability and energy efficiency improvements; planner Mayana Rice spoke about the City of Bemidji’s community resilience planning; and BSU student Jordan Morgan shared his research on wildlife corridors and their role in facilitating native species’ adaptation to climate change.
“The storytelling panelists were selected to demonstrate the broad range of place-specific climate impacts and community-oriented solutions work taking place in the Bemidji community,” said Jothsna Harris, the Will Steger Foundation’s Education Coordinator.
Attendees chose from a selection of five solutions workshops, including a climate storytelling workshop presented by the Will Steger Foundation, an RSDP-led workshop on planning and implementing community-based climate adaptation projects, and a workshop on bike infrastructure sponsored by bike provider Nice Ride Bemidji.
“We have many talented and committed people doing climate change work in our area, and it was great to have them highlight their work and to help them reinvigorate their connections,” said Linda Kingery, RSDP’s Northwest director. “I think we all left with new energy, overcoming the sense of helplessness that climate change news can sometimes cause and moving to community-based action.”
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