Prodded by young people, cities take aggressive climate action

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, March 21, 2017

By Elizabeth Dunbar

MPR News/90.1 FM

Spurred by residents not yet old enough to vote, two Minnesota cities have approved resolutions to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2040.

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There’s hope the idea will spread nationally in the absence of broader, federal-level action on climate change.

A year ago, students in St. Louis Park first urged the City Council to pass the “climate inheritance” resolution.

Their plea went like this: “Because we are going to have to live with the effects of climate change much longer than most of you here, we believe that what we have to say matters. And we know St. Louis Park has what it takes to be a leader in that worldwide movement.”

It took the group 11 months of prodding city officials to vote on the resolution. The City Council passed it last month, becoming the first in Minnesota to do so.

During a presentation earlier this month, the students learned where St. Louis Park’s greenhouse gas emissions come from. The resolution passed by the council calls on city leaders to include young people as they come up with the plan to tackle emissions.

“It was really nice to have adults actually listen to you as a student and empower you,” said Jayne Stevenson, a senior at the high school who has been on the city’s environment and sustainability commission.

She said the city is only beginning to think about the big changes required to meet the emissions reduction target.

“I think it’s going to be really hard, because it’s hard to change business practices, but that’s where we’re hoping to come in and I think we’d be willing to go and talk to business people and stuff, because people tend to listen to youth sometimes,” she said.

Young people “are the moral authority” on climate change, says Larry Kraft, executive director of iMatter, the national organization that came up with the climate inheritance resolution.

“If they’re involved on an ongoing basis, they can keep it moving,” Kraft said. While Kraft served as a mentor to the students, it’s largely been driven by them. “This city council was certainly one that was receptive to the message, but it wasn’t on their priority list to do a climate action plan. And it went from not on their priority list to the top of their priority list.”