Day two of the Morris Climate Dialogue brought the conversation down to the community level. Participants heard from a range of local experts on topics including energy, insurance, and agriculture, and how climate change and extreme weather would impact them.
The day kicked off with a presentation from Shalini Gupta from the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy. She introduced the concept of energy poverty – that people living at the poverty line are spending more of their income on energy bills. This is exacerbated in the Midwest, with increased heating costs during the cold winters and increased transportation costs in rural communities. This was reflected in the community energy surveys that Morris area high school students disseminated to their families and neighbors over the past month. In Morris, although 80% of survey respondents said they were interested in ways to reduce their energy bills, only 50% reported having done work to increase energy efficiency in their homes. Other information compiled for the Morris area included average winter and summer energy costs, an analysis of energy sources used, and energy use of public buildings.
Mark Kulda from the Insurance Federation of Minnesota spoke next, saying “we’ve become a major catastrophe state” and that the large number of storms over the last 15 years has caused insurance premiums to increase by 287%.
Next, Abdullah Jaradat from the USDA Agricultural Research Service outlined climate impacts on agriculture, which was of particular interest to the Morris citizens. “Monocultures are an easy target for climate change,” he said, and recommended integrating perennials and livestock into farming operations to build resilience.
Blaine Hill from the City of Morris spoke next. He outlined key challenges for the city as well as adaptation strategies. Recommendations included updating infrastructure, roads, and water lines; improving emergency management for windstorms, hail, and snow; and finding a way to buffer against rising utility costs.
In the afternoon, Bill Klyve from Otter Tail Power Company discussed Morris’ energy situation. “Everyone wants affordable and reliable energy. The affordable part is why we still have coal,” he stated, and then went on to discuss how transition to renewable energy sources will occur as prices drop. He emphasized that wind energy has the highest potential for affordability.
The last speaker of the day was Troy Goodnough, the Sustainability Director for the University of Minnesota, Morris. “We live in a state with a lot of natural resources. And we live in an interesting part of the state, with access to wind, solar and biomass,” he said before outlining opportunities to capitalize on the local natural resources for renewable energy production. A jury member echoed this sentiment, saying “this is not environmentalism, it is about bringing resources in your community.”
A long day of presenters didn’t deter the jury from full engagement at the end of the day. One participant commented, “I’ve been realizing how difficult it is to really make any changes. There are so many variables.” The third and final day of the Rural Climate Dialogue will be devoted to exploring these variables and developing potential opportunities for the Morris area.