WHITE BEAR LAKE — A group of area climate activists is breaking free from its virtual confines later this month to hold its first in-person event in three years.
Northeast Metro Climate Action is co-hosting a free public discussion featuring Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the White Bear Lake Library. Resilient Roseville and the League of Women Voters White Bear Lake Area are other co-hosts.
Reinhardt will discuss the county’s Climate Action Plan during the event, which will be hybrid in person with an option for people to still tune in virtually through Zoom.
Steve Jorissen of Vadnais Heights, one of the core volunteer members who lead the climate action group, said Reinhardt has been a longtime champion for climate-related issues and that the county is working on “pretty ambitious climate goals.”
Public transit is one policy area he noted the county is working on when it comes to climate and reducing emissions from vehicles. Another transportation-related development in the county is traffic-calming measures such as creating 4-to-3 lane conversions.
Those lane conversions transform a four-lane road into a three-lane road with one lane of traffic in either direction. Between those lanes is a third lane used to make turns, while bike lanes could be created on either side of the one-way lanes.
“The flow of traffic is actually better because rather than having cars turn out of the driving lanes, they turn into a turn lane and it doesn’t block the traffic,” Jorissen said.
He also anticipates the future of the proposed Purple Line bus rapid transit project will be discussed during the Feb. 21 event. The 15.2-mile bus route would connect Gem Lake, Maplewood, St. Paul, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township. Last year, Maplewood and White Bear Lake blocked the route from entering their city limits.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Northeast Metro Climate Action has congregated monthly through educational Zoom events about climate topics, typically with guest speakers. Its core members live in North Oaks, Mahtomedi, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Lake.
“It took us a couple of months to re-energize after the pandemic hit. Then we started back up with our Zoom events, and it’s been really great,” Jorissen said.
Although the group acknowledges the importance of individuals doing their own small part in combating climate change, Jorissen said it also emphasizes the need for systemic changes. Jorissen noted that in 2020 due to the pandemic, carbon emissions in the United States dropped by roughly 6% because fewer people were driving and flying.
“We don’t want a pandemic every year; that’s not the way to get there. It’s showing that those individual actions that everybody was — whether they wanted to or not — everybody was doing those individual actions and it only dropped our carbon emissions by 6%,” he said.
“That’s not enough. Our energy sector, our agriculture, our transportation and industry all need to move to carbon-free power as quickly as possible. And there’s not really anything an individual can do about that.”
One bill in the Minnesota Legislature Jorissen said Northeast Metro Climate Action members have been following is House File 7, a major piece of legislation that requires utility companies in Minnesota to generate 100% carbon-free energy by 2040 in an effort to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill into law on Feb. 7 after Democrats in the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate approved the legislation with party-line votes of 70-60 and 34-33 respectively.
Another bill Jorissen mentioned that’s in the works, House File 597, would establish a grant program to provide financial assistance to cities to address climate change.
He and other members of the climate group have distinct interest areas when it comes to learning about climate change solutions. Jorissen, who’s a chemistry instructor at the University of St. Thomas, said his interest in climate activism focuses on clean energy. Other group members’ interests include biodiversity, ecology, plastic reduction and environmental justice.
“We have different viewpoints because there’s just a lot of different aspects to this whole climate crisis,” Jorissen said.
More topics the climate group plans on discussing at meetings later this year include electric vehicles and reducing plastic use.
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