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Local View: Expedition toward clean-energy future making progress

In 1995, I set out to cross the Arctic Ocean to Canada's Ellesmere Island from Russia. Everything that could've gone wrong on that expedition did. In the first 24 hours, the dogs and sled broke through the ice. Luckily, the dogs saved the day. We ended up battling days of whiteouts, open water, and constantly shifting sea ice.

We came across more open water in one day on that expedition than in the entire 1986 North Pole expedition just nine years earlier, a harbinger of future changes to come.

As a seasoned polar explorer who embraces daunting challenges, I knew these events were part of the expedition experience. It's normal to face ups and downs and to feel like the odds are insurmountable. Often it's the power of the human spirit that pulls us through.

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is, at first glance, a depressing overview of where we are and what's ahead as a result of human-induced climate change. If we don't take urgent and immediate action to decarbonize our economy and end fossil-fuel use in less than 30 years, the impacts on our world are severe. This landmark report is a reality check.

But, let's remember to celebrate where we are and what we've accomplished.

We're on the cusp of leaving the dark age of fossil fuels and thriving in a new clean-energy economy. In Minnesota, we already have tens of thousands of clean-energy jobs and are producing 25 percent of our electricity from renewable energy. We are decarbonizing our grid, and it is becoming clean.

Just look at electric transportation. We're switching our fossil fuel-dependent transportation sector to one powered by electricity from clean, renewable sources. Just like on an expedition, we need to be focused through the chaotic storm that is the overwhelming news and center ourselves on our ultimate goal to eliminate all fossil fuels.

Businesses and cities, alongside our state's largest utility, Xcel Energy, are providing the vision and commitment to a decarbonized future. Xcel Energy has a goal to reduce carbon pollution by 60 percent by 2030, with a mix of 60 percent renewable energy. Minnesota businesses, including Best Buy, Target, General Mills, Aveda, and Andersen Corporation, are making science-based, time-constrained carbon-reduction commitments. Many cities, including Minneapolis, Rochester, and St. Louis Park have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

We're seeing the decarbonization of our economy, resulting in incredible job-creation opportunity, in addition to a clean and healthy environment and our own energy security.

And yet, while we have much to celebrate, we are not on track to meet our Next Generation Energy Act goals of 80 percent reductions in carbon pollution economy-wide, set by bipartisan leadership in 2007. Faced with a seemingly impossible challenge, when we come together, we can do the impossible.

We've already started and are seeing the progress of our efforts, and we must keep moving forward — dramatically increasing our ambition to match the scale of the challenge. Businesses, cities, states, and communities are committed to a clean-energy future and slowing global warming; and individuals have a role to play, too.

This November, climate change is on the ballot in every state. We have an opportunity to not only influence the conversation in our communities but to demand urgent climate action from our new leadership of policymakers to put regulations in place, creating a firm, declining limit on carbon pollution that is consistent with what science tells us we need to avoid the worst effects of a changing climate.

Our expedition toward a clean-energy future is underway and our goal is in sight. Let's keep moving forward for the sake of future generations.

Will Steger is an accomplished polar explorer, educator, and author, and he is the founder of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, which engages people in climate-change solutions. He splits his time between Ely and St. Paul.