Professors ponder possibilities of Pawlenty’s climate-change panel

The govenor’s appointed panel is working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use.

Alex Robinson

Last spring, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave more than 50 environmental, business and community leaders a Rubix Cube scattered with environmental and economic squares, and asked them to have it solved by February.

The Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group is working to put together proposals that would decrease the amount of fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the state.

Greenhouse gases occur naturally and trap solar rays in the atmosphere after they bounce off the earth. An overabundance of greenhouse gases can cause climate change.

Long-term goals set by the state Legislature are an 80 percent emissions decrease by 2050, and a 15 percent decrease in fossil-fuel burning by 2015.

Pawlenty will present the proposals to legislators in February.

The consequences for lower emissions and less fossil fuel burning means less driving for Minnesotans and higher energy prices.

However, energy price increases are unknown at this point because, with less than five months left to finish their project, the group doesn’t yet have an exact policy proposal.

Steve Polasky, an applied economics and ecology professor who is working with the group, said the timescale for the project is similar to that of a term paper.

“If you have to turn in a term paper tomorrow you’ll do it,” he said. “But if you had more time, it would be better.”

Polasky said actions need to be taken sooner rather than later to slow climate change.

“The longer we don’t do anything, the higher the damages will be and the higher the likelihood of something really bad happening is,” Polasky said.

Soil, water and climate professor John Baker said the goals set by the Legislature were high, but not impossible to attain.

“Even the rosiest scenarios suggest that CO2 concentrations are going to rise in the near term,” Baker said. “But there are things we can do in the long term to help that level off.”

Another soil, water and climate professor, Jennifer King, said even if the state was able to meet its carbon emission goals; it would not have a huge impact on the environment.

Compared to emissions given off by the rest of the country and world, Minnesota’s reduction wouldn’t really affect global climate change, she said.

“The issue is that everyone has to do their part,” King said. “But it is a step to mitigate climate change.”

Edward Garvey, deputy commissioner of the energy division of the Minnesota State Commerce Department, works with the advisory group.

Garvey said the group knows it’s not going to single-handedly save the world.

“Minnesota could eliminate its carbon emissions and we wouldn’t affect climate change because we’re not that big,” Garvey said.

Garvey said he has been working with other states to develop regional approaches to carbon emission reduction.

“We can’t do things by ourselves necessarily, and we shouldn’t do things that are contrary to our own economic interests,” Garvey said.