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Will Steger Urges Churches to Lead on Climate

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

The good news is that the youth today are a remarkable generation with the tools to organize, and we have a governor, Tim Walz, who is a "role model" in fighting climate change, said polar explorer Will Steger. The bad news is that "three billion people at the bottom of the economic rung, who live in areas that will flood, will suffer the most."

(l to r) SSMN Board members: Roger Tomten, Wendy Gorski, & Kelsey Depew with Will Steger
(l to r) SSMN Board members: Roger Tomten, Wendy Gorski, & Kelsey Depew with Will Steger

The world has less than a decade to stop the rapid pace of climate change and Steger knows first-hand what the burning of fossil fuels has wrought. In the 80s and 90s, his dogsleds traveled across ice 12 feet thick and even back then, melting was apparent as his sleds often faced standing water and sudden deep crevices deep inside Antarctic winters.

He was shocked, he said, to find thousands of miles of open water now in those same places. The term "glacial pace," he said, no longer applies. Since the 1990s, the earth's climate went from 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere, which is a layer on the earth "as thin as a sheet of paper on a basketball," to 415 ppm today. Will Steger spoke November 21, 2019, at St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi. He heads up the Steger Center for Innovation and Leadership in Ely, Minnesota, and its mission is to create the changes needed to put fossil fuels back underground where they belong.

Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy, J. Drake Hamilton, gave reasons for hope. The US has reduced carbon emissions in the energy sector by 29% in the last ten years while the economy grew by the same percentage, 29%, she said. "This shows that wind and solar are up to the job." By 2030, carbon emissions must be reduced by 40% according to the Paris Climate Accords, so we are on track for that milestone. By 2050, we need to get to net-zero carbon, which is not just the end of pumping carbon into the atmosphere -- it means the start of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it underground. "Don't lose hope," said said.

While Washington DC is doing nothing, "we have 50 state and local government, not just the federal government." She added that Minnesota is a clean energy leader. The state's 200 utilities, led by its largest utility Xcel Energy, will be getting 60% of their power from renewables by 2030, she said. Wind energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels and solar is on track to do the same by 2021. She added that electric vehicles are emerging in Minnesota with 10,000 EVs on the road here and 1.5 million expected by 2030.

Diane Jacobson, a professor of the Old Testament at Luther College, said the churches must not stand by silently but must be active participants in the solution. "Creation is standing as a witness against us, showing our sin. This world is not ours, but we are given the privilege of living here. We have a job to do."

Those sentiments were echoed by Buff Grace, formerly the priest at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Stillwater and now the director of the Climate Justice Congregations of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light. "Faith communities have a vital role to fight climate change. That is my calling. We are not just people of faith, but people of hope, if we work together." He added, "You think this mass migration from Syria is something -- wait till you see what's coming. (Climate change is) a moral challenge, not a belief."

Sustainable Stillwater MN was one of a number of state and local sustainability and environmental organizations invited to exhibit at the event.

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