Now entering the Minnesota century

aaron_croppedMinnesotans experience spring, summer, autumn and, of course, winter the way God intended: entirely, each season accompanied by a unique wardrobe and emotional self-defense strategy.

In the dead of another frigid winter or the mires of an ambiguous spring it can be hard to argue for the virtues of this cycle. Further, Minnesota’s place in the center of of North America puts it in the category of a “fly-over state” for scads of our nation’s power-brokers and cultural arbiters. But today I’d argue that our grab-bag weather and varied forms of water are our best argument for the future.

A while back I picked up a copy of National Geographic. The September 2013 edition was titled “Rising Seas” and the pull-out map (my favorite part of any National Geographic) depicted the world as it will appear if all the world’s ice melts, something possible in a thousand years if climate change models prove correct. The Tim Folger cover story states that key scientists think sea levels could rise three feet by the end of this century alone.

The world this phenomenon would create is startling. Just in the United States, major cities like New York, Houston, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and the entire state of Florida would be under water. Pine Bluff, Arkansas, would be a port city in the new South.

But another observation from this ominous map stuck out to me. Minnesota? The same. Sure, still affected by climate change, but not under water. Still wooded. Still temperate (though surely warmer). Still there.

Climate change as a topic tends to invoke political argument. But the science factored by the United Nations shows that, while all the ice melting might not be the universally accepted outcome, climate change is happening and it points toward less ice and more violent weather all over the world.

aaron+and+henry.jpgNorthern Minnesotans I know who follow the natural rhythms of animals and plants in our region tell me that they have seen change over the past 30 years. People like John Latimer, from the Northern Community Radio program “Phenology,” say they see dramatically different migration patterns by birds and northward movement of the boreal forest.

It’s hard to pin down what this means any given year, because we know it’s going to be cold and snowy this winter. Many like to look at the weather and say it is proof there is no change in climate. But that’s a short-sighted view. Measurable facts show measurable change.

The coming world is different, and though human-influenced climate change might be mitigated by policy, portions of it appear to be irreversible. (Indeed, the climate has always been changing. The last 10,000 years of the Age of Humans have been a temperate, historical oddity in the billion-year history of Earth).

Even if you dismiss the weather, as Minnesotans often do (or must, to function), Minnesota remains poised for an even bigger role in the future of the continent.

Last year, Gallup release a public opinion study showing the future “livability” of the 50 states. This balanced things like economic stability, health, culture and attitudes. Minnesota proved to be the second-ranked state on the list, behind Utah. But when you factor that Utah is a desert and has to pump in water, its future could be threatened far more by climate change than Minnesota’s. Our large fresh water supply (if we can keep it) will be a very valuable asset in coming decades. We’ll have “water wars” in my lifetime, which could escalate in my children’s time.

Minnesota’s growing cultural scene, economic stability, schools and our blend of indoor and outdoor fun are all things we, the people, can cultivate. No, we don’t control the weather, one of people’s biggest sources of complaint. Still, the future will bring storms aplenty, from sea to shining sea. Here, a little snow, a couple months in the freezer, and a wet, cold October are a small price to pay for community, economy and a sense of home that will last the ages yet to be.

This is all another reason to care about what happens in our community today.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org). This piece originally ran in the Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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