The problem: increased greenhouse gas emissions
Like windows in a greenhouse, carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere traps the sun’s heat and insulates the planet. Minnesota’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased 37 percent over the past 20 years, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are warming the planet. Carbon dioxide comes primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, such as exhaust from vehicles and coal burned to generate electricity. Changes in the climate pose significant environmental and economic threats to communities in Minnesota and throughout the world.
Minnesota has warmed an average of one degree Fahrenheit during the past century. Parts of northern Minnesota have warmed five degrees Fahrenheit or more during the winter months. As the warming continues, northern cities like Hibbing may develop climates more similar to the current climate of Albert Lea, Minnesota or Des Moines, Iowa.
What does climate change mean for Minnesota?
Climate change is already observable. Animal and plant habitats are shifting, weather patterns are changing, and severe storms and droughts are becoming more common.
Minnesota has warmed an average of one degree Fahrenheit during the past century, according to the MPCA. Precipitation has increased by 20 percent since 1990 in parts of Minnesota, especially southern Minnesota.
If temperature readings and precipitation continue to increase over the next century, Minnesota might soon feel and look more like Missouri. Other impacts of climate change in Minnesota include the following:
Changes in ecosystems
Changes in the climate alter the plant and animal species that can survive in a certain area. This has an impact on some of the unique ecosystems and wildlife species that are currently found in Minnesota.
- Areas of the state that are forested will decline by as much as 50 to 70 percent and be replaced by grasslands and savannas. Forests of oak and other trees will replace the north woods of pine and aspen.
- Reduction in the size and number of prairies due to possible drying. Minnesota prairies are the most important breeding ground for North American waterfowl as well as countless species of birds and insects. Prairies are also home to some endangered plant species.
- Temperature and moisture patterns will change faster than plant and animal communities can adapt. This will result in the extinction of numerous plant and animal species in the next 100 years. Loss of habitat for cold-loving creatures such as trout and moose would cause the decline of these species in Minnesota.
- Additional pests, diseases and invasive species may be able to extend their range into Minnesota.
Water resources stressed
- Increased lake evaporation in the summer and decreased length of ice cover in the winter will reduce lake levels and degrade water quality.
- Groundwater resources, a major source of drinking water, may be reduced due to a drop in stream flow and lake levels.
- Lake temperatures are rising, which severely stresses the plants and animals in these aquatic habitats.
- Reduced water levels in the Great Lakes will reduce the carrying capacity of large lake freighters, impacting commerce.
More extreme weather
- Weather patterns will become more extreme. The overall frequency of both flooding and droughts will increase.
- Infrastructure for runoff and water management, such as storm sewers, is likely undersized and will need updates to deal with increases in heavy rainfall and flash flooding.
- More heat waves and extremely hot summer days will result in more heat-related illness and death. Hotter summers will increase demand for indoor cooling.
- Increased frequency of poor air quality (smoggy) days in summer.
- Winters with less snow will decrease opportunities for winter recreation. Milder winters will also affect animal hibernation patterns, stressing food supplies and habitats.
— Information provided by Hennepin County Environmental Services