What makes the Morris area a great place to live? 15 citizens provided their answers to that question at the beginning of the first day of the Morris Rural Climate Dialogue. Answers came quickly, including clean air and water, a great school system and place to raise kids, a diverse mix of conservative and liberal residents, and plenty of access to natural areas. Aside from one necessary head-nod to Minnesota’s brutal winters, it was clear that this group of people were steadfastly grounded in their community.
This dedication to the Morris area steered the conversation for the rest of the day; regardless of whether participants agreed or disagreed on particular issues or solutions, at the end of every conversation, they were able to come together for the good of the community. After the introductory activity, which introduced the discussion process, participants discussed what defines a resilient community. Again, people were quick to provide answers, including that a resilient community is flexible, open and supportive of new ideas, understanding, determined, courageous, and welcoming of everyone’s thoughts.
Larry Pennings, the Dialogue’s moderator, kept space for such resiliency in the day’s deliberations. He said, “We know that [climate] is a hot topic in lots of places. We want to help people who may have very different opinions work together. There is room for the whole range of diversity on whatever conclusions you have.” A participant underscored the importance of such open discussions, saying, “Being able to have these open conversations is crucial to prevent conversations about climate change from devolving into a cage match.”
The discussion of a changing climate in Morris was ushered in with stories of the previous night’s heavy rain. One participant’s basement had flooded, and others commented on the amount of rain on the farm fields. Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota climatologist, presented to the group on how weather patterns have changed in Minnesota throughout the past. Aside from erratic flood and drought patterns, he mentioned the climbing average heat index, how mold and allergy seasons are lingering into the fall and adversely affecting public health, and the fact that Minnesota is one of the places where weather is changing the most.
Participants then discussed what they have seen already happening in Morris. A farmer mentioned that these days, 5 inch rains are more common than ever, and current infrastructure can’t handle it. Someone voiced a worry that a thunderstorm would occur while the ground was still covered in snow or frost, leading to terrible runoff. A volunteer firefighter pointed out that all extreme weather events increase the number of calls to emergency services and that capacity would need to increase. Most people agreed that they were concerned about rising heating and cooling costs. The last two days of the Dialogue will provide space for participants to discuss potential ways for the Morris area to adapt to extreme weather, and participants seem eager to maintain the resiliency of the community.
“When I got here this morning, I knew nothing about this topic. I just came to get some community insight. Now I feel like I have a good handle on the basics,” said one participant before leaving for the night. Another remarked, “I didn’t realize how quickly our temperature had been increasing. You feel it, you talk about it at work, but you don’t realize how quickly it’s happening. That was alarming for me.” This first day was full of learning and listening, and Friday and Saturday will have even more. Regardless of outcome, these participants are dedicated to keeping Morris a wonderful place to live.