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Climate: Minnesotans should lead the way

The year is 1991. I am fresh out of college, and have taken a job that will get kids into the woods. I drive from my hometown near Philadelphia to an outdoor camp north of Ely.

I have never been north of Chicago. The first night, the entire staff goes swimming in a lake that is connected to the Boundary Waters. The water is clear, cold and unbelievably refreshing.

Nobody worries about having the perfect bathing suit or the perfect body. Within hours, a day or two at most, I feel like I have come home.

What is it about Minnesota that drew me back in 1991, and still draws me today? I can tell you that it is both people and place. It started with the place, surely — the northern climate, the boreal forests, the clear, serene lakes and the seasonal extremes. A climate like ours attracts people who like to be outside, who find joy both from cozying up at the fire and tromping around in the rain.

It takes a willing soul to chop wood, ice fish, hunt in the woods, pick berries amid the mosquitos in the hot sun, or snowshoe over 2 feet of snow to reach the sugarbush buckets in the spring. It takes an even hardier one to enjoy it. Why can't we stop talking about the weather in Minnesota? Because it's important and relevant to our daily lives. We are tied more closely to the land and water around us than the folks I grew up with.

And, I'll admit, I do find Midwesterners to be refreshingly down-to-earth. I can wear clothing that is roughed up or acknowledge a budget limitation without being condescended to. We can bring a delicious homemade pie to a potluck, or a bag of chips — both are equally welcome. We are close to the earth, and we pay attention to its moods.

Yes, the earth has moods. But when its temperament begins to change — when we're not sure if we're dealing with the same earth here — that is different. After 25 years in Minnesota, I don't have to read the news to know that our climate is changing. In my amateur view, it has changed more quickly than I was led to believe that it would.

Scientists are given to caution, and their predictions are repeatedly emerging as too conservative. I have also learned that the higher the latitude, the swifter the change. That would explain why Minnesota is one of the fastest changing states in our country.

Nighttime lows are changing more quickly than the daytime highs. Winter is changing faster than summer; winter lows are changing the fastest of all. In some places in northern Minnesota, winter temperatures may average as much as 10 degrees above long-term averages within 50 years.

Add these two factors together: Minnesotans are closer to the earth than others, and Minnesotans are "ground zero" for climate change. We see it happening more than others, and we care about it more than others. I can reach only one conclusion: we are perfectly positioned as climate champions.

Thanks to all the active Minnesotans who are both professionally and personally working on solutions to climate change.

Katya Gordon of Two Harbors is a member of the Duluth/North Shore chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. She writes a regular column on climate change for the News-Chronicle.