Minnesota might boast some of the nation's only climate-change oases

Five counties in the northeast corner of the state look to be sitting pretty as climate change continues to transform the state.

Five counties in the northeast corner of the state look to be sitting pretty as climate change continues to transform the state. Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

There isn’t really good news when it comes to climate change, just consolation prizes.

But one of those consolation prizes is Minnesota’s particular resistance to the catastrophes of a changing climate. Earlier this month, the New York Times published a map of the greatest risks posed to specific parts of the country by climate change, including floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and more. It's based on data from Four Twenty Seven, a company that assesses climate risk for financial markets. 

Most of Minnesota is going to be facing medium to high risk of water stress. Not great news when so much of our state depends on agriculture and livestock, to say nothing of what that could do to our ecosystem (and natural beauty).

However, a large swath of the state’s northeast point—five sizable counties including Koochiching, Itasca, St. Louis, Lake, and Cook—are sitting relatively pretty. There are low risks of extreme rainfall, heat stress, wildfire, and water stress, and no risk, naturally, of hurricanes or rising sea levels.

That's a fairly large oasis when compared to the rest of the map. The other places projected to fare as well include three or so large counties in Alaska, five counties in the northwest corner of the country, and about 14 itty bitty counties in Michigan. Minnesota is home to one of the nation’s few climate oases—at least temporarily.

It’s been speculated before that Duluth and the surrounding areas could become a premier destination due to the pressures of climate change, thanks to their proximity to a large supply of fresh water and relatively cooler temperatures.

But this is far from an easy out; what it implies is that the area is going to have to prepare to grow in a just, thoughtful, and intelligent way as more people flow northward, seeking refuge. (The phrase “climate gentrification” looms as a potential threat on the horizon.)

It would also be a mistake to believe this puts Minnesota in the clear. Despite our relatively insulated spot, this is one of the fastest-warming places in the nation. Our winters especially have been heating up, at a rate that's around 13 times faster than our summers.

But like the rate of climate change, public opinion isn’t distributed evenly across the nation. The Yale Climate Change Communication program has been keeping track of how the latter has been developing around the country, and in 2020, 71 percent of Minnesotans surveyed said they believed climate change was indeed happening, as opposed to 69 percent of Wisconsinites and 61 percent of North Dakotans.

But only 52 percent of Minnesotans believed global warming was already harming people in the United States, and only 38 percent said they believed it would eventually harm them personally.

Despite being somewhat insulated from the threat, the five aforementioned counties in our state are fairly progressive when it comes to actionable steps to address climate change. Between 60 and 70 percent of people in the area would support, for example, taxing fossil fuel companies while equally reducing other taxes.

Between 71 and 77 percent would support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. And between 74 and 82 percent believe schools should be teaching kids about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to climate change.