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Organizing for Clean Energy on the Prairie
Guest Post by Timothy Sheehan
The growth of renewable energy is the foundation of the fight against global climate change. In Minnesota, through renewable energy standards and healthy living initiatives, we are leading the nation in a push for progressive policies in the environmental movement. While I am proud of my state in regards to our leadership in this area, the strides that we have made in growing demand for sustainable energy are mostly localized to the Twin Cities and their surrounding suburban areas. This is a problem. Rural Minnesota has enormous potential for solar, wind, and biofuel production; potential that has been underutilized. If Minnesota ever wants to be a leader in the production of sustainable energy, we must cultivate a movement around the environmental and economic benefits that come with local energy production. With the support of the National Wildlife Foundation, and the University of Minnesota Morris’ Office of Sustainability, I have been working to build a network of community members, organizations, universities, and elected officials; geared toward the growth of renewable energy production in West Central Minnesota.
To create this network, I have used my position as a member of the Minnesota Public Interest Research group, a student run non-profit that works on policy issues of social, economic, and environmental justice, and a student at the University of Minnesota Morris who works in the Office of Sustainability, to do outreach with a variety of groups in the region. Groups including Clean Up the River Environment (CURE), the Will Steger Foundation, and most recently Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) just to name a few. My ultimate goal for this network is for there to be communication between like-minded people on what are the best ways to expand our efforts as a unified force. If I am successful, this network should sustain long after I have graduated from the university and have potentially moved away from the region.
My most recent efforts have been through the CCL organization. CCL is a national non-profit advocating for a revenue neutral carbon tax on emissions at the source, which would be redistributed to households on an equal basis. In the last few months, I have worked to start a CCL chapter in Morris. Advocating for a carbon tax will create an incentive for residence of West Central Minnesota to demand that we use the region’s natural resources for sustainable energy. We meet twice a month, with our efforts focused on how we can rally our communities and circles to demand growth of clean energy on a local level, and from a policy angle. I have found that when one combines community members with university students under a single banner for a single cause, the impact is multiplied.
This is only the beginning. In the next few months, I want to see more people reaching out to their faith communities for support, meeting with their rural electric co-ops to demand more investment in renewables, more op-eds in local papers on how climate change is impacting our towns right now, and a litany of other grassroots actions that will push the land that we love into a prosperous and sustainable future. This is the impact I hope to have in the area before my time as a NWF Campus Ecology Fellow expires; a strong community of people taking charge of their futures, and redefining the rural identity as one of solidarity with each other, and their shared environment.
About the author
Tim Sheehan is a current NWF Campus Ecology Fellow working to raise the current Renewable Energy Standarf (RES) in Minnesota. Tim is working with University of Minnesota students and youth activist networks in Minnesota to be aware of these goals and to increase their role in changing the standard. Tim is also involved in the Morris chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), where he serves as the leader of the Environmental Justice Task Force. Tim’s goals after college include pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry and doing research in clean energy, such as solar power and smart biofuels.