Two Americas

Today we heard the views of a majority of Americans, compared to the position of our federal administration, on climate change and clean energy. We know that a majority of Americans think global warming is real, that government should take action on it, and that as a nation we should support development of clean renewable energy. (See for reference Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and recent Gallup polls, among other studies). We also know that the Trump administration plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and to send representatives to COP23 to promote fossil fuels.

In contrast, the U.S. People’s Delegation was created to give voice at COP23 to community and grassroots leaders around the United States who support not only the Paris Agreement, but also an aggressive agenda for moving to 100% clean energy. As a member of the Climate Generation delegation, I was honored to participate in the U.S. People’s Delegation press conference, along with other community leaders from the U.S.

Katia Aviles-Vazquez from Puerto Rico talked about living without power or safe drinking water, a “cloud of mold” over the island. She described the public health crisis facing many residents and said that hundreds of people have died or are missing, contrary to U.S. government estimates. She told me it opened her eyes to how dependent our lives are on energy for food, water, power, mail, phones, and the internet.

Dallas Goldtooth, with the Indigenous Environmental Network, is from a tribal community in southwest Minnesota and emphasized leadership from the bottom up. Other young speakers spoke about millennials and their sense of urgency. Different speakers supported different strategies, from bottom-up leadership to legal action, organizing youth to local and state policy. But, all of us agreed that elected officials must be held accountable to the goals of the Paris Agreement or even stronger targets. Dyanna Jaye spoke about “the true story of American leadership” including city mayors, states, companies, universities, and individuals numbering in the hundreds.

My comments focused on the hopeful fact that the U.S. is moving forward on clean energy and carbon reduction – regardless of the position of the federal government. Recent analysis shows that the U.S. will likely meet President Obama’s targets of 26-28% carbon reduction under the Clean Power Plan, even if it is repealed. The clean energy economy is roaring ahead, wind and solar are now the cheapest energy source, and Americans from all sectors are stepping up to fill the vacuum on national action.

In Minnesota, our policies in the last decade have led us to 23% renewable electricity and cutting coal-powered electricity in half, and we are only getting started. Our largest utility, Xcel, plans to be 85% carbon-free by 2030 and generate 60% of its electricity from renewable sources well before that. We will meet Clean Power Plan targets. Minnesota has demonstrated that we can cut carbon and build out renewable energy at a low cost while creating thousands of good-paying clean energy jobs.

Despite these success stories, Minnesota, like elsewhere, has a great deal of work to do to reach our state science-based goals of 80% economy-wide greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. Leadership at all levels is necessary to make progress and each of us needs to do our part, because it all adds up to make a positive impact.


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