Local View: Duluth's elected officials, business leaders staying on the sidelines in climate emergency
From the column: "I'm wondering if Duluth is paying attention to what's happening."
On Aug. 28, there was an article in the New York Times headlined, "Tracking Two Americas: One Parched, One Soaked." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's data showed that the eastern half of the country was getting more rain over the last 30 years than it did during the 20th century, while precipitation in the West has decreased. Predictions from various climate models verified that wet places are getting wetter and dry places are getting dryer.
In less than a week after the article came out, a Category 4 hurricane passed through New Orleans, and major flooding took place in Philadelphia and New York City. Also, we watched one of the largest wildfires in California history spread into Nevada while the water levels in numerous rivers and lakes in the Southwest hit historic lows. And, on Sept. 1, the BBC reported that, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the number of weather-related disasters around the world has increased five-fold over the past 50 years.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest report on Aug. 9, called "code red for humanity," stated that even if every country immediately reduced its carbon-dioxide and greenhouse-gas emissions, it would still take about 20 to 30 years to see global temperatures stabilize. The panel reports that in the coming decades climate changes will increase in all regions. There will be an increasing number of heat waves, longer warm seasons, and shorter cold seasons. And climate change is "intensifying," with more intense rainfall and flooding as well as intense droughts in many regions.
With all of these climate events taking place around the world, and hearing about the most recent climate news for Duluth and northern Minnesota — including poor soil conditions, droughts, and even warnings about the unhealthy air quality in our city as a result of northern wildfires — I was expecting to hear some of our city's leaders in government and business talk about the latest climate events that are impacting Duluth and how they hoped to respond to the growing number of climate impacts appearing in our region of Minnesota.
And then, on Sept. 3, I saw an article on the front page of the New York Times headlined, "Fire and Floods, And Not Ready To Tackle Them." The reporters wrote, "The United States is not ready for the extreme weather that is now becoming frequent as a result of a warming planet." They also reported that climate change is moving faster than cities and communities in the U.S. can effectively respond to "fortify themselves." Alice Hill, who planned for climate risks on the National Security Council under the administration of President Barack Obama, stated, "We have built our cities, our communities, to a climate that no longer exists."
So, what's going on in Duluth? The City Council voted "yes" on an ordinance addressing single-use plastic bags and then decided not to enforce it. The city passed a climate-emergency resolution and yet doesn't reach out to the greater community to explore possible opportunities to coordinate and collaborate on new climate initiatives. And the city established an energy commission that meets every other month while most other city commissions meet monthly.
Is Duluth playing with a full deck? Are we truly acknowledging and responding to a climate crisis that is accelerating and rapidly impacting all of our lives? When people from around the city send emails to the mayor and City Council wanting to talk about climate change, and even offer to get involved and help, and yet we don't hear back from the mayor and a majority of the City Council, what do we do? What keeps so many elected officials and business leaders on the sidelines when it comes to the climate emergency?
Before moving to Duluth, I lived and spent time in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and New Orleans. And while feeling a deep sense of sadness for those who are living and struggling in those parts of the country, I'm wondering if Duluth is paying attention to what's happening around the country and here at home. If climate change continues to become an ever-more-present reality in our city's daily life, then when will we all take this challenge more seriously?
Tone Lanzillo is a member of the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth, is a live-in volunteer at the Dorothy Day House, is an active part of the Duluth/365 initiative, and is a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.