COMMUNITY VOICES | Twin Cities Climate Resiliency: A Lesson from Bamako, Mali

When I walked off Air France’s stairwell onto the tarmac in Bamako, I took a deep breath in. I immediately noticed the intensity of the hot, dry air in an environment so unlike Minneapolis where I live. I recall the air having some familiarity,10 hours west of Minneapolis in the Bad Lands.   Bamako’s air tightened my skin pores to preserve the moisture retained from sucking down water and ginger ale during my night flight in.  It was hot and dry on a Tuesday Night – near 90 degrees at 10:00 p.m.  This was a “more comfortable night” for the Malians, and foreigners who made Bamako their home.  Lucky me, my feet touched the ground in late February… it was summertime. But as one woman put it, “there is summer, and then there is hell…” Come March, hell enters Bamako and remains until October.Located in the sub-Saharan region of Northern Africa, Bamako sits in the southwest part of the country and serves as Mali’s capital.  Because of its location, the notion of climate resiliency was at the forefront of my mind.  The idea of “resiliency” or “acclimation” in a changing world known to my indigenous Taino ancestors in the Americas began in 1492, introduced by the double heads of colonialism and capitalism. For indigenous peoples, this forced acclimation extends to present day.We’ve witnessed how a consolidated economy, concentrated in the hands of a very few, yields an unrelenting global military economic power achieved through colonialism. Continue Reading

From East Africa to Minnesota: Connecting hunger, poverty, and climate change

Solar-powered lanterns and cookstoves are among the practical approaches to expanding access to energy and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels in East Africa. They were among the topics in a discussion hosted by Stephanie Hemphill at the Safari Restaurant in Minneapolis on October 2. The meeting was sponsored by several social and environmental justice groups including the Sierra Club, the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA), Somali Family Services, and Oxfam.  One of the panelists was Mohamed Idris, the executive director of ARAHA.  Idris began by explaining how climate change will affect food insecurity in the future.  Climate change will cause more severe weather patterns, including increasingly common draughts and floods, which will lead to more crop failure and increased famine.Idris’s solution focused on expanding access to energy in Eastern Africa and switching that type of energy from traditional fossil fuels to sustainable alternatives, especially solar.  Many families in Eastern Africa do not have access to affordable energy at all, and Idris’s organization, ARAHA, is working to change that. ARAHA is working on a pilot project that will provide solar powered lanterns to 100 families in the Shagarab Refugee Camp in Sudan so that they can have light after sundown.  ARAHA is also providing solar stoves to a pilot group of 200 families.  Idris was able to cook rice in the solar stove himself, and says, “To see the steam coming out of the pot, without gas or anything attached to the stove, that was amazing.”  Idris says that adaption to the new technology has been low, but as it becomes more affordable he hopes that people will see the difference solar technology can make in their lives.The other panelist was Paul Porter, a professor of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  Porter reinforced the idea that while climate change will amplify the effects of poverty and hunger in the future, it is not the cause of them.  He noted that challenges like political instability, land ownership laws, and market access had been feeding poverty in Eastern Africa before climate change was studied.Porter explained that much of Somalia and Eastern Africa is communal land that is not owned by anyone.  This is rapidly changing, and the increase in private land is making it difficult for many farmers (especially those who raise livestock) to continue their traditional practices.  International efforts can also harm farmers, even when they are well intended.  Food aid from other countries, for instance, decreases the demand for domestically produced food.  Porter noted that one way to reverse this is to purchase food from local farmers with the money that would be spent shipping food aid, thus helping the economy at the same time.Porter reminded the crowd that while farmers feel the effects of climate change, they cannot really influence it.  “As you think about these issues, be [the farmers’] voice…because they can’t really speak,” Porter urged.  This sentiment was echoed in a statement from Congressman Ellison, read by his representative Jamie Long.  Ellison noted that while the United States is the world’s largest emitter of carbon emissions, the effects of climate change are felt disproportionately by people in other countries.The night ended with discussion at each of the tables about what individuals could do to decrease the effects of climate change, from reducing energy consumption to changing their eating habits.  Jessica Tritsch, from the Sierra Club, led the discussions and reminded everybody of how our individual actions affect communities across the world.Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Finding hope in a time of apocalypse

Attending a movie recently, my husband and I noted that most of the previews for upcoming films featured dystopian movies – stories where the planet or the human race is threatened with annihilation and a few brave heroes are charged with saving the day. On TV, it isn’t much better, what with zombies on “The Walking Dead,” or the militia taking over a darkened planet on “Revolution.”  What’s with the apocalypse showing up everywhere these days?Maybe it’s just a hangover from the 2012 Mayan calendar predictions. Then again, maybe you saw the movie Chasing Ice about the disappearing polar ice cap?  Or, perhaps you’ve listened to MPR’s Climate Cast where they provide, “…the latest research on our changing climate and the consequences we’re seeing here in Minnesota and worldwide.”  Maybe you read Bill McKibbon’s Rolling Stone article last summer, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe.”Truth be told, I was feeling pretty apocalyptic myself this past winter when I ran across an article by Chris Hedges entitled, “Stand Still for the Apocalypse.” According to a report commissioned by the World Bank, if we don’t respond aggressively to climate change, we can look forward to widespread hunger and starvation; an explosion of diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever; devastating heat waves, droughts, and floods; disappearing forests and coral reefs, mass plant and animal extinctions; and the overall widespread collapse of human institutions and systems of law and order.What scares me most is the growing consensus of how little time we have to turn things around. Paul Guilding in his article, “Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement” writes, “This is no longer about the future, it’s about now. We don’t have 20 years to decide to act; we have 20 years to complete the task. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | MN350: Minnesotans fight global warming

In this segment of Democratic Visions, MN350’s Kate Faye describes the urgent nature of Minnesota 350’s campaign to mobilize citizens to get governments and businesses to respond effectively to climate change. Minnesota 350 is part of a world wide, multi media and tactic initiative to raise awareness about global warming. This link will take you to the MN350 website – Visions is produced by volunteers through DFL Senate District 48, Eden Prairie and south Minnetonka.   Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases. The opinions expressed in the Free Speech Zone and Neighborhood Notes, as well as the opinions of bloggers, are their own and not necessarily the opinion of the TC Daily Planet. Continue Reading

Food writers share secrets as apocalypse looms

In the near future, when climate change has reduced Minnesota to a drought-ridden wasteland of starvation, survivors will look back at the present period of culinary excess with woeful nostalgia. (I was just reading the latest dire predictions in InsideClimate News. Yes, we’re doomed.) In the meantime, we sure do love food, and reading about food, and listening to people who write about food talk about food. Continue Reading

Jobs vs. Environment: Do we have to choose?

A few weeks ago the New York Times published an article with a painting of an ethereal iceberg and the headline, “Where Did Global Warming Go?” It’s a fair question, and one that many people brought up at four in-person community conversations about the environment. The conversations were part of the Twin Cities Daily Planet’s ongoing coverage on the New Normal.A few years ago when people talked about the environment they talked about global warming. According to an annual Gallup Poll Americans’ concerns about global warming peaked in 2008 and have steadily declined since. Now, it seems as though it’s practically off the table, according to environmentalists who attended our New Normal conversations at the Wilder Foundation, the St. Paul chapter of the Audubon Society, the Capitol River District Council, and Land Stewardship Project. Continue Reading

Climate Change 2011: Global perspective + local roots = a “solutions revolution”

Alec Neal, a 26-year-old artist and activist living in West Calhoun, has what it takes to tackle climate change: vision, focus, endurance, youth and hope. An art major and soccer player while a student at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Alec says his life changed course dramatically when he and his partner, Katherine Ball, attended the 2009 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where they participated in Klimaforum09. Unlike the exclusive UN Conference, Klimaforum09 was open to everyone who wanted to attend. Alec and Katherine returned to the United States with a valuable “international vision” of climate change issues and a passionate resolve to address them. They began making plans immediately to attend the 2010 UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico. Continue Reading

CLIMATE CHANGE | The end of a week: COP16, day 5

“The approximate value of this car,” said Paco, our driver, “is $500,000.  That’s because it’s a prototype.”  I was riding with two other undergrads from Cancunmesse to the Moon Palace in a Nissan Leaf, one of 20 all-electric cars which Nissan provided to the COP16 organizers to supplement the buses that usually operated on this venue-to-venue shuttle run.  Continue Reading