MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota could look and be very different in as little as 40 years, according to a draft report on climate change.
The National Climate Assessment could hit President Barack Obama's desk later this year.
"It is not a policy document," insisted Rolf Nordstrom, Executive Director of the Minneapolis-based Great Plains Institute. "It is information, scientific information, gathering process."
Nordstrom is one of the 240 authors of the draft report. He is one of eight tasked with the Midwest region, which extends from Ohio to Minnesota and further south. His expertise is energy.
"We have a very energy intensive economy in the Midwest," said Nordstrom. "So, we have a per dollar of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) energy use that is 20 percent higher than the national average. We also produce 22 percent more greenhouse gas emissions, on a per capita basis, than other parts of the country."
Nordstrom said there is a flip side to the energy equation.
"We also have a disproportionately large economic opportunity to produce renewable, and what I would call carbon-neutral energy production."
Nordstrom pointed out that the Midwest already has "over a quarter of installed wind capacity for the country, two-thirds of the nation's bio fuel and one-third of the nation's biodiesel."
The draft report indicates the possibility of a shift in Minnesota's climate by almost 100 miles to the north. Such a change would alter the character of Minnesota's forests at the expense of species like birch and spruce in favor of oak. The growing season would be extended, but so would the likelihood of environmental problems like drought and floods. Lake temperatures would rise, including Lake Superior, making invasive species more possible.
"As we get a warmer and warmer climate, it is shifting our energy use from winter to summer," Nordstrom said. "That is the expectation. So, especially in a place like Minnesota, we use most of our energy in the winter to keep ourselves warm and most of that comes from natural gas. But, as the climate warms, we are going to be shifting more energy use to the summertime for cooling. That cooling is going to be driven by electricity and today much of that electricity is from burning coal."
What does Nordstrom believe Minnesota should do?
"I think it would be great if we could have a serious study that looked at what would a transition to a very low carbon or carbon-neutral system look like by mid-century. How much would it cost? What would be the step-wise milestones for getting there," said Nordstrom.
At the Federal level, Nordstrom thinks there could be a price on greenhouse gases, charging for any entity that emits the gases in the same way that there would be a price on "polluting a lake or stream."
Nordstrom points out that the National Climate Assessment was required by a 1990 law to be developed every four years. Its research and observations are to be sent to the White House in late 2013 or 2014. Public comment on the draft report is invited and welcomed.
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