Environment Minnesota
Duluth News Tribune
Michelle Hesterberg and Frank Jewell

On May 9, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed a long-feared milestone. Scientists at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported it reached a concentration of 400 parts per million, something not seen on the Earth for millions of years.

It was one more sign our efforts to control human-produced gases and affect climate change are faltering.

The record storm that poured 10 inches of rain on Duluth and surrounding communities last June was what meteorologists call a 500-year event. The resulting flood turned creeks into rivers, washed away hillsides and damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Many in Northeastern Minnesota still are recovering.

Although meteorologists predict these types of rainstorms happen every 500 years, what people may not realize is just how many Minnesotans have been affected by extreme weather in recent years.

On April 9 in Duluth, Environment Minnesota released a new Research & Policy Center report titled, “In the Path of the Storm.” It found that nearly 100 percent of Minnesotans live in counties hit by at least one weather-related disaster since 2007.

(To read the report and see when and where weather-related disasters happened, look at an interactive online map at environmentminnesotacenter.org.)

Millions of Minnesotans have endured extreme-weather events that have threatened their communities’ health, safety, economy and environment. This is even more alarming given that global warming increases the likelihood we’ll see even more extreme weather in the future. Scientists predict global warming could increase the frequency and/or severity of heavy rain, snowstorms, heat, drought, wildfires, hurricanes and coastal storms. In addition, other impacts of global warming, like

sea-level rise, could increase damage from other non-extreme weather events.

It is clear extreme weather is happening. It is causing very serious problems, and scientists predict global warming will bring more extreme weather.

Addressing global warming demands we reduce the largest source of human-generated global warming: carbon pollution. We need to cut emissions of carbon pollution from key sources like power plants, cars and trucks.

Fortunately, President Obama spoke about the link between extreme weather and global warming in his Inaugural Address and in his State of the Union speech, and he made a commitment to tackle global warming. Now, we need him to follow up these strong words with equally strong action. With the president’s leadership, the Obama administration has proposed first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. We urge President Obama to finalize those strong limits.

Additionally, the administration is considering whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If approved, the Keystone pipeline would help open up one of the most carbon-intensive energy sources on the planet.

The flooding in Duluth and other extreme weather we suffered in 2012 were frightening reminders why we must do everything we can to cut the dangerous carbon pollution that is fueling global warming.

Millions of Americans already have spoken up about the need for strong action, and we desperately need the president’s leadership in addressing global warming now. It will be critical to protect future generations of Minnesotans from even more alarming weather headlines down the road.

Michelle Hesterberg is a federal field associate with the Minneapolis-based Environment Minnesota Research and Policy Center. Frank Jewell of Duluth is an elected St. Louis County commissioner, representing the 1st District.