St. Paul organizers launch climate justice organization

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On April 20, St. Paul350, a grassroots organization committed to climate change mitigation and climate justice, was officially launched. The group met at Arlington Hills Community Center to discuss how members of the St. Paul community can work together to combat climate change, as well as to talk about the city’s new Climate Action & Resilience Draft Plan.

The event, spearheaded by St. Paul residents Grant Stevensen and Chelsea DeArmond, aimed to put St. Paul, and Minnesota more broadly, on the forefront of the national movement against climate change in order to create a better world for the next generations.

“We are not here not just to talk but to prepare ourselves to take action and to lead right here in our own community,” Stevensen said. “We will make our city plan for resistance…and make Minnesota a leader in addressing climate change and a leader in this nation.”

Attendees highlighted the urgency of combating climate change, how it is affecting lives now, and how it will affect the lives of future generations. One such attendee was Mike Hirabayashi.

“[The] bottom line [is] it’s the most important thing that we face today,” Hirabayashi, a resident of northeast St. Paul, said. “If we don’t solve this — we’re dead. It’s not a matter of some far-fetched thing in the future, it’s affecting us right now.”

Like many of the attendees at the event, Hirabayashi has friends and relatives who have had to move inland from the coastal states due to the effects of climate change. One of his friends, who used to live in Southern California, had to move because his child could have died from the dangerous air quality exacerbated by wildfire smoke.

“They’ve realized that this isn’t sustainable, [they] need to move inland because it’s that dire, it’s that much of an urgent threat,” he said. “How bad [will things be] for the younger generation? What’s the world gonna be like for them?”

Margaret Breen ’20, a Macalester student who spoke at the event, noted that she has experienced negative mental health effects due to climate change.

“As a young person, it is hard to overstate the anxiety and stress that the current state of climate change causes,” Breen said.

Breen feels anger towards politicians and government officials that she says have placed profit over people. However, she hopes that these emotions will continue to motivate her and others to fight harder for climate justice.

“It’s really easy to get bogged down in that stress and anxiety and anger, and that’s real and I’m not diminishing those emotions, but I’m personally trying to harness that,” she said.

The event also featured St. Paul’s chief resilience officer Russ Stark, who presented the city’s Climate Action & Resilience Draft Plan. In 2015, then-Mayor Chris Coleman signed onto the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, committing the city to reducing its carbon emissions, inventorying current emissions and creating a developing a climate action plan.

St. Paul350’s overall reaction towards the Draft Plan was positive, with members such as physics professor Jim Doyle expressing support for its emphasis on climate justice.

“I like… that the Climate Action Plan wants to develop both resiliency to what are going to be some inevitable effects of climate change already…and have that resiliency built into neighborhoods that are lower economic status,” Doyle said.

However, some members had some reservations towards the plan. DeArmond expressed concerns over St. Paul’s partnership with Xcel Energy.

Xcel is the first major utility company to commit to being carbon-free by 2050. Two years ago Xcel chose St. Paul’s East Side neighborhood of Railroad Island for a pilot program for energy efficiency in low-income areas and to launch St. Paul’s first community solar garden. However, the results have not met residents expectations.

“We haven’t seen outcomes related to Xcel Energy’s efficiency program there yet,” DeArmond said. “And the community solar garden hasn’t been built yet either. But these efforts are listed as ‘Existing Residential Programs and Resources’ in the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan.”

Meanwhile, Doyle expressed concern over the Plan’s 30-year timeframe.

“I would like… a little more aggressive time scale rather than 2050, I think it’s doable before then,” Doyle said. “I would say we should probably try to get it done before 2040. The sooner the better.”

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global community has until 2030 to transition away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Ultimately, the members of St. Paul350 are excited that the City is beginning to take action against climate change and hope to see other cities follow suit.

“St. Paul has an administration now that is very interested in this and supportive of this and we should take advantage of that,” Doyle said.

“I think the idea of cities taking initiative to combat climate change on the local level is really powerful,” Breen said. “I think the solutions will be the most effective and most powerful when they begin at more grassroots and local levels and then are built up. I think it’s really important that St. Paul is taking this action and is trying to become a leader in this movement for climate resiliency and environmental justice.”