Heating up the environmental debate: Caring about the climate comes to Minnesota’s doorstep in a big way next year

Image of climate change activist gathering
Climate change activists gather to hear music and voice their opinions about the need for legislative action at the People's Climate March in New York City.
Jim Dorsey, a Minneapolis Attorney
Jim Dorsey

When it comes to the younger generation, it’s difficult to avoid the thought of how much responsibility for the planet they will inherit.

Jim Dorsey, a Minneapolis attorney, doesn’t mince words: (Climate change) “will be the defining issue of their lives.”

It’s why next October there will be more going on than the typical changing of the seasons in Minneapolis. Minnesota is slotted to host a major conference—from October 25 to 28 at the Minneapolis Convention Center and University of Minnesota campus—with a focus on sustainability and climate change.

Dorsey is behind “Minnesota 2015: Democracy in a Sustainable Future,” which is being coordinated with Club de Madrid and Partnership for Change. Club de Madrid is an organization composed of former heads of state from democratic countries or countries that have gone through democratic change since 1975.

Each time Club de Madrid gathers, the group takes on a general theme for the summit. This year, they met in Florence, Italy to discuss democracy and human rights. In Minneapolis, the theme will be democracy and sustainability.

Because Minnesota is a leader in the areas of water quality, food crops and healthcare, by hosting the “MN2015” conference, Dorsey believes that “Minnesota will show itself to be a leader in sustainability.”

“Club de Madrid gives me the opportunity to show off Minnesota and the Twin Cities to the international community,” he said.

MARCHING FOR CHANGE

Why the focus on climate change? As Dorsey noted, and the recent People’s Climate March in New York City demonstrated, it’s become a priority cause for mobilization and potential legislative action.

The September climate march—organized by 350.org, an environmental organization founded by writer and activist Bill McKibben, along with the partnership of various other organizations—drew approximately 400,000 people to the streets of New York City. The purpose for the large-scale event was to draw attention to climate action, making it the largest mobilization march for the environment in history, according to the New York Times.

Espoir Delmain, a junior at Great River School in St. Paul, attended the New York City march because “being part of something so huge and important was just something I couldn’t say no to.”

However, she realizes that some of her peers don’t view climate change and environmental issues as pressing problems.

“It is easy for people not to care about climate change. It doesn’t feel as urgent as a job, schoolwork, or even (other) social issues,” she said. “Basically, with everything that we have to juggle nowadays, putting serious thought into the environment may take a back seat.”

For Olivia Nofzinger, a high school senior and PSEO student at the University of Minnesota, the issue hits home because of “flooding and the dying out of wildlife.”

“There are a lot of young people working on the (climate change) issue. If things continue the way that they are, the main crisis of our lives, like wars occurring over water, will be because of climate change and what we’re doing to the planet,” Nofzinger said.

SHOULD WE CARE?

Although the dialogue is changing with recent events, there are still plenty of adults and teens who don’t view environmental issues as dire. This is primarily due to the thought that it’s either too late to change anything, global warming isn’t man-made, or that by the time the environment is in shambles, they won’t be around.

Advocates like Delmain, however, believe that they personally can lower their individual impact on the environment. Whether it’s by setting up a composting system, driving less, or even carrying a personal water bottle in order to avoid plastic, every step taken is a step forward.

“The biggest problem is the lack of education,” Delmain said. “Lack of education shows itself when kids don’t know which foods are healthy, or even what climate change really is or what it entails. However, educating the younger generation on these environmental problems will make huge steps into fixing our planet.”

Dorsey said the emphasis on recent events is important because “when you talk to climate scientists, they’ll tell you that they know about carbon, they know about problems with the ocean, they know about deforestation, and that they know about the depletion of resources. What they don’t know, and what they want to better understand, is how they can get democratic governments to respond to the challenge.”

Minneapolis will be at the forefront of attempting to spark initiatives, Dorsey said, while formulating the “Minnesota Compact” at its 2015 conference. Groups affiliated with Club de Madrid are meeting all over the world to bring ideas to the table next year. Those reports and solutions will then be compiled into a template—a building block they can take back to their communities, Dorsey said.

“I view the Minnesota Compact as a chance to re-engage,” he said, “It’ll be important to be paying attention. These environmental issues, honestly, won’t affect my life at all. But who it will affect is this younger generation. Your generation.”

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