By ASHLEY STEWART
OWATONNA — About 50 area residents gathered in the Pillsbury Dining Hall Tuesday evening to learn about the effects climate change is having on Owatonna.
“I’m sure that everyone in this room would agree that climate change is one of the most daunting challenges of our time,” said Kristen Poppleton, director of education for Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. “It’s complicated. It’s politically charged and for a long time has seemed really far removed from our lives as Minnesotans. But…climate change is, in fact, here in Minnesota, and we are seeing the consequences.”
“We’re seeing consequences in our forests. We’re seeing them in our farm fields. We’re seeing them at our favorite ice-fishing hole or our ski and snowmobile trail, and we’re seeing them in our electric bills…Fortunately, however, there are things we can do.”
Those solutions, as well as the impacts of climate change, were shared through stories during a public forum, Climate Minnesota: Owatonna, hosted by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy in partnership with the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.
The event is one of 12 “convenings,” as they are called, taking place across the state this fall as part of Climate Generation’s two-year public education project that connects Greater Minnesota communities to the climate change impacts, solutions and adaptions that are happening now.
“It’s about bringing together communities, and it’s about bringing together communities to learn together, to feel together and to engage in solutions together,” Poppleton said.
The event began at 5:30 p.m. with a resource fair featuring refreshments and community organizations that support the cause, like Clean H2Owatonna, the Owatonna chapter of the Audubon Society, Northfield Area Community Solar and others.
Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz opened the convening with a welcome speech before University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley, the evening’s guest speaker, explained what he’s seen in his data pertaining to climate change’s impact on the Owatonna area community.
Seeley’s presentation included information about temperature, precipitation and intense event changes.
“This demands our attention,” he said. “These changes in our climate attributes absolutely demand our attention. We need to consider how are we going to preserve and sustain our natural resource systems in the context of all these changes, how are we going to preserve and sustain our society’s infrastructure in the context of all these climate behaviors.
“We can’t do this in isolation. We have to do this community by community and it’s got to be very, very widespread. We all have to get on the same page.”
Seeley’s presentation was followed by an area storytelling panel that featured Darryl Hill, an Audubon Society volunteer, with the Owatonna Christmas Bird Count, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin with the Main Street project in Northfield, and Mary Jo Cristofaro with Northfield Area Community Solar.
Haslett-Marroquin talked about his work to promote regenerative agricultural systems that foster social, economic and ecological resiliency, while Hill spoke about his 43-year history with the local bird count and his realization that what he’s witnessed in bird populations is connected to climate change. Cristofaro shared of Northfield Area Community Solar’s efforts to bring community solar gardens to the region.
After the storytelling panel, attendees were dismissed to one of five 30-minute solutions workshops of their choice.
The workshops were local water solutions, climate storytelling, Owatonna energy solutions, climate adaption and innovation development and agricultural solutions.
“Before we send you off, I have one last ask and that’s for you to look at your neighbors here in Owatonna who’ve come together to commit to doing something and to learning and bettering themselves, and then I want you to imagine 11 other convenings like this one in all corners of Minnesota,” Poppleton said. “Know that throughout our state we’re making a difference. Thank you for being a part of the solution.”
After the workshops, a dessert reception was held in the dining hall for attendees to socialize and network.
Climate Generation will host another convening on Monday, Sept. 21, at South Central College in Mankato and on Monday, Oct. 12, at Rochester Technical and Community College. Both events begin at 5:30 p.m.
For more information, visit www.climategen.org.