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Fossil fuel free by 2030? A group of Minnesota teens demands a Green New Deal

The crowd of demonstrators outside the House Chambers was difficult to ignore.

The crowd of demonstrators outside the House Chambers was difficult to ignore. MN Can't Wait

When their session ended on Monday afternoon, Minnesota legislators exiting the House chambers came face-to-face with a crowd of mostly teens, wearing backpacks, holding banners, and leading a thunderous round of chants.

“We need a Green New Deal, we need a Green New Deal, to save us from the climate crisis, we need a Green New Deal!” Their words echoed like a great roar in the hollow air of the rotunda.

Most of the faces there were young, from high schools, middle schools, and even some grade schools across the state. They’re a part of MN Can’t Wait, a youth-led climate change action group that came to lobby for new climate change legislation.

The Minnesota Green New Deal calls for the “equitable” transition into a new, environmentally friendly economy. The youth involved in MN Can’t Wait want the state to be fossil fuel free and totally run by renewable energy by the year 2030. That includes the creation of “hundreds of thousands of good, high-wage jobs” in sustainable fields, and ensuring Minnesotans always have access to things like “clean air,” “healthy food,” and “nature.”

Their plan is based on the national Green New Deal being nibbled at by Washington Democrats, and it’s the first of its kind to be proposed at the state level. If anyone can demand change so drastic so soon, it’s the state’s youth.

“It affects us the most,” South High School senior Sophia Faacks says. Minnesota is among the fastest-warming states in the nation. Our winters are trending milder. She worries what they’ll look like in 10 to 20 years, when she’s well into adulthood. “The people currently making legislation are not going to be around to see the worst effects of [climate change],” Faacks says.

Shoreview sophomore Anna Grace Hottinger went into the rally prepared to answer questions about the ins and outs of the Green New Deal. Her fellow youth activists had a hand in drafting it, so they know it well. But by far the most common question she has to answer is this: “Is it possible?”

“I usually tell them it is possible to do,” she says -- if “everyone gets on board.” What she knows, based on last year’s landmark report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that it has to be possible, because we have 12 years to avert catastrophic heat, drought, floods, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

That’s a reality, she says, that “can be hard to face, emotionally.” She knows it better than most people -- a teen destined to inherit a desolate future if she can’t get the adults in charge today to act fast.

But MN Can’t Wait runs on an ample supply of hope. Minneapolis 10th-grader Isra Hirsi says she “definitely” believes their advocacy will have a lasting impact. Even if Minnesota’s Green New Deal doesn’t pass this legislative session, she thinks it’s going to be a huge player in how the next election shakes out.

“People have been really interested and really into it,” she says of the bill.

Legislators do seem to be “into it” – at least, in theory. Democratic Rep. Dave Pinto, who heard the shouts and cheers from the House Chamber, says he supports the concept of a Green New Deal in general, but until he sees more specifics, he can’t come down on one side or the other. Rep. Diane Loeffler, who represents Hirsi’s city, had similar things to say.

“I don’t serve on the energy committee, so it’s hard for me to judge how realistic [getting rid of fossil fuels by 2030] is,” she says. “But I think we should always have ambitious goals.”

Change – especially necessary change – is possible, Pinto says: “When a country goes to war, it is able to make big changes in order to face a threat." He considers addressing climate change to be an “intergenerational obligation” toward Minnesota’s youth. 

Gabe Kaplan, Eva Beeman Trelstald, and Sophia Faacks want Minnesota's legislators to help them save their future.

Gabe Kaplan, Eva Beeman Trelstald, and Sophia Faacks want Minnesota's legislators to help them save their future. Hannah Jones

The teens of MN Can’t Wait know policy involves compromise. The way Eva Beeman Trelstald of St. Paul sees it, any step forward -- even a small one -- could change the world they inherit.

“Even if we do have a really high goal, what we do to accomplish it matters,” she says.