Featured Stories, Lutherans in Minnesota

Political climate change

Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota advocates for energy policy

The Rev. Tom Aitken, bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, addresses LCPPM energy advocates at a Grand Rapids, Minnesota, gathering last year. Photos provided by LCPPM

Five years ago, the Rev. Mark Peters and the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota (LCPPM) made a monumental decision. As people of faith who are charged with the care of creation, LCPPM maintained that Minnesota could have a cleaner energy future. “At the time,” recalls Peters, “Minnesota didn’t have much in the way of a state energy policy for renewable energy or mercury reduction or even climate change.”

Focus on their work was immediately sharpened when Minnesota explorer Will Steger and the nonprofit organization Fresh Energy joined forces with LCPPM to take on the challenge of creating public policies that protect the environment. A series of forums were held throughout the state in partnership with local ELCA synods, congregations, and colleges. The culmination was an unprecedented presentation by then-Bishop Craig Johnson and Roman Catholic Archbishop Harry Flynn at a joint session of the Minnesota House and Senate focused solely on the environment and how Minnesota could put in place policies to protect it.

That legislative session was historic in terms of the policies that were passed, including “The Renewable Energy Standard for Minnesota,” one of the strongest laws in the nation in moving a state to new renewable clean energy, and “The Next Generation Energy Act,” which focused on sustainable energy for the future. Of particular importance to Steger were science-based carbon reduction goals established for Minnesota.

He says, “climate disruption” is a moral issue. “I’m very concerned for the wildlife in the Arctic, especially the walrus, the bears, and the seals.”

Five years later, J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy reports that Minnesota is very strongly on a clean energy path. “Fifteen percent of the state’s energy is now renewable, and Minnesota is #4 in the nation in the successful use of wind power which, in turn, has created 2,700 new jobs for the state,” Hamilton says.

On the road again

In November and December, Steger, LCPPM, and Fresh Energy are coming together once again to host a series of forums around the state. The program will update people of faith on the successes of previous public policy changes, as well as presenting new challenges for the future. In particular, Peters wants to focus on the connection between efforts to move to clean energy and its benefits for human health.

The current political climate is a concern for Peters. “While the state is ahead of its renewable energy goals, our approach over the past two years has been to prevent an erosion of the policies that were passed. Thus far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly bipartisan with people in both parties championing the goals that were put in place five years ago.”

Steger believes Minnesotans have the capacity to figure out the energy and climate problem because of their sense of responsibility to the state’s children and the impact on its economy. “I find in the general public a lot of confusion on the climate issue, but when the facts are presented and eyewitness accounts are shared, people rally immediately. The science we see shows us that we can change this. One of the great solutions is community involvement through local congregations and church institutions.”

Noted arctic explorer Will Steger has joined with Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota to share his concerns about the detrimental impact of climate change on creation.

Steger believes Minnesotans have the capacity to figure out the energy and climate problem because of their sense of responsibility to the state’s children and the impact on its economy.

The Rev. Tom Aitkin, bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA, is looking forward to this fall’s forum series around the state. “I have for a long time admired the work of LCPPM because it goes back to the roots of what we are about in this world as Christians. I’m especially glad for the Lutheran Christians. The church has sometimes misplaced the issues of justice for all because we have been quieted. LCPPM is a reminder, even a sharp jab, that God has a plan. They put hands and feet to conversations about justice.”

Aitken is particularly pleased about the focus on the environment and renewal energy. “Our synod has been very active in adopting resolutions about the care of creation. We’ve taken a biblical approach to this work and realized it’s not wrong or political to focus on these issues. In doing so, we’ve taken the care of creation out of the church’s ‘lost-and-found department.’ We have to find cleaner ways to take care of the earth to sustain it for next generations.”

Southwestern Minnesota ELCA Bishop Jon Anderson was selected to serve on the Minnesota Climate Change advisory group by then Governor Tim Pawlenty because of his involvement with LCPPM. “What really stood out for me at that time was how much low-hanging fruit there was if we could function more effectively. It’s not only good for creation, it’s good for business,” says Anderson. “I grew up on a farm and have seen the value of conservation. Wasting energy doesn’t make sense.”

At each of this fall’s forums, Steger will share new environmental science and review the economic benefits of Minnesota’s energy policy for the state. He reflects, “Seeing is believing. What was predicted in the ’90s and even ten years ago by scientists is coming to pass: the fires, the floods, and now the droughts. Many people just in the last year have started to see the dysfunction climate is causing. When I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, it doesn’t go away. I’m not going to stop working on it.”

LCPPM plans climate events

Polar explorer Will Steger and Fresh Energy’s J. Drake Hamilton will team with the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota in a series of events to discuss a clean energy path, built on policies that support energy efficiency, renewable energy development, and science-based reductions in carbon pollution that causes climate change.

All events start at 7 p.m.

November 10      Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Baxter

November 11      Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm

November 13     Winona State University, Winona

November 26     Concordia College, Moorhead

November 29     John Marshall High School, Rochester

December 3       Bethlehem Lutheran Church, St. Cloud

December 4       Vinje Lutheran Church, Willmar

December 9       Northwestern College/Bethel University, Saint Paul

Mary Brown serves at the interfaith media organization, Odyssey Networks, where she is editor of ON Scripture, a weekly lectionary column that appears on The Huffington Post. An ELCA pastor, she resides in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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