‘Unsung heroes:’ 21 Minnesotans share their climate solutions on a national stage

A group of people pose in a courtyard.
The Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership took 21 climate leaders from around the state to the Aspen Ideas: Climate conference in Miami Beach.
Courtesy of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership

A group of 21 Minnesotans who are working on climate solutions across the state recently got back from Miami Beach, where they were part of the international “Aspen Ideas: Climate” gathering.

The Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership selected the group of diverse people who are making efforts to combat climate change.

Director Heidi Roop joined MPR News guest host Emily Bright to talk about them and their experience.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

EMILY BRIGHT: A group of 21 Minnesotans who are working on climate solutions across the state recently got back from Miami Beach where they were part of the International Aspen Ideas Climate Gathering. The Minnesota Climate Adaption Partnership-- Adaptation Partnership selected the group. And director Heidi Roop joins me now to talk about them and their experience. Hello, Heidi.

HEIDI ROOP: Good afternoon.

EMILY BRIGHT: Good afternoon. So tell me what was this gathering in Miami all about?

HEIDI ROOP: Well, we soaked up some vitamin D, but also talked a lot about climate solutions and most importantly, community-centered and focused climate solutions. So Aspen Ideas, it builds along the Aspen Institute's Ideas festivals. This one focused on climate solutions, and it brings together thought leaders from around the world. And we have a lot of thought leaders right here in Minnesota, so we traveled to Miami to share ideas and learn and come back to accelerate work here in Minnesota.

EMILY BRIGHT: And, good conference? Good vibe? What was the feel?

HEIDI ROOP: Great conference. I think many of us felt a little bit like fish out of water. It's hot, although this winter is nothing to go by for Minnesotans. But there were a lot of great conversations. There were real big focus on climate technology, on financing climate solutions, and importantly, exploration around climate narratives and storytelling.

So it was a full grab bag of opportunities spanning the spectrum of the climate work that we know is really needed to confront the climate crisis at a local scale as well as an international scale.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, I want to dive into some of that local work represented by some of the people who came with you and hear from some of them. Alika Galloway is a pastor at Liberty Community Church in North Minneapolis, and we have a clip where she explains how she got started with climate work.

ALIKA GALLOWAY: One day-- true story-- I woke, I gave my series of gratitudes, and when I put my feet on the ground I heard this. "It makes no sense to say you're going to heal a human and not also heal the Earth." And I was still sleepy. True. This is very true. I can't polish this up. I was still sleepy.

And I had made an agreement with my husband-- who was co-pastor-- that we would not do anything else. So I said, well, let me wash my face. Let me take my shower, because maybe I didn't hear that. And so I did all of that. I brushed my teeth, I got my clothes on, I drank some water, and I heard deep within-- "I said it, and I mean it."

And within six months, we had had our first conference called "Healing the Planet, Healing Ourselves" in North Minneapolis.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, healing the planet, healing ourselves, I love that. Heidi, so what have she and her husband been doing?

HEIDI ROOP: Well, amongst many things, being real climate leaders in their communities. They run Northside Healing Space, and it's this healing sanctuary, really. And you can hear in that narrative that healing means really humans and the planet, and that close interconnection between the two. We can't decouple thinking about climate and thinking about community. And so the work that Alika and her community do is really inspiring, and I think moves us to really think deeply about what constitutes climate work.

I think we like to talk about it as science and environmental work. And really, this is about faith and community and connection and healing.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah. So why is it important to include artists and faith leaders in these kinds of opportunities, these conferences?

HEIDI ROOP: I think there are a range of reasons, and part of it, I think, is-- as we think about climate solutions, we can think about fancy technology. We can think about big-dollar investments. These are things that are certainly needed, but there are no one size fits all solutions to climate change.

And if we want to get it right and we want to make the opportunity of climate change real for communities, we have to bring in those voices and people who can help us create and shape a vision about what's possible. And I feel like Alika and all of the folks that came with us in this cohort have a real vision of what's possible and want to work hard to get there, even as we confront many of the challenges we have in society-- including climate change.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, another member of your contingent was Fergus Falls mayor Ben Shierer, and he had the chance to meet with other mayors from around the country. Let's hear what he had to say about that.

BEN SHIERER: The challenges that a community of 500 people or 2,000 people in rural Minnesota are vastly different than the challenges that communities face in the metropolitan area of our state. I think if the communities that are realizing the benefits of the incredible investments at the federal and state level are only in those metropolitan areas, it's just going to further that divide.

EMILY BRIGHT: So what has Mayor Shierer been working on in Fergus Falls?

HEIDI ROOP: Oh, yes, Mayor Ben-- as he became affectionately known on the trip-- it was so wonderful to see him buzz around the space. And, of course, as he indicates there in the clip, had a real opportunity to sit down with other elected leaders from around the country and really noted that while the challenges are different in this space, he was treated equal to say a mayor of Cleveland-- which, of course, guides a much larger community-- but there are shared challenges and also big differences.

And I think what's really incredible about Mayor Ben's work is that he's really chosen to prioritize environmental issue and the financial benefits that are available to communities right now, even despite the fact that there are many in his community that don't necessarily prioritize this work or see the clear connections. And so he was really there to think about how to bring everyone along as we seek to secure the resources and transition our communities to clean and renewable energy and vibrant economies.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, I am just loving hearing about all these different unsung heroes who are doing climate work in their different spheres within Minnesota. So another two, actually, Amanda Nigon-Crowley and Kim Sin were two of the attendees. And we have a clip where they explain what they're doing with local food in Rochester.

AMANDA NIGON-CROWLEY: I have a background as a farmer in the Rochester area, and then also am a mental health practitioner. And Kim explained to me the need for land access for a group of people who are typically labeled as food insecure. And it just sparked something in me that we shouldn't have people who know how to farm be labeled as food insecure.

KIM SIN: Yeah. We were at the Dunn Brother having coffee, and I kind of shared about my mom wanting to grow food in the back yard of the house that we were renting. And the landlord didn't allow her to do that. And she was puzzled because that's what we did back home. If we have a house, we could grow our own food.

And so sometime, me and my sister would eat salt with rice or soy sauce with rice and because my mom could not afford to buy food for us. And so I didn't want kid that are coming to the US and not having that kind of nutritious food, and I wanted to make sure that they have land access so that way it's not like in my situation where my mom couldn't grow food in the backyard.

EMILY BRIGHT: Heidi, sounds like another case of healing people, healing the planet going hand in hand, right?

HEIDI ROOP: Absolutely.

EMILY BRIGHT: Just spell out the connection between climate connection and this work with growing local food.

HEIDI ROOP: We know that climate change stresses our communities in a multitude of ways that spans from the food on our table, the water in our taps. And when we zoom out and think about the implications of climate change on the planet, we see that it's driving people to move. We're increasing our exposure to climate-driven threats. Think about natural disasters that are being made worse by climate change. And as we see, patterns of movement-- immigration, for example-- driven by a variety of things, among them increasingly climate change.

We need to think critically about how we create the communities and food systems that welcome people and enable them to live a food-secure, housing-secure future despite some of the stressors that we are already experiencing from a warming world, but those that we know are likely to worsen in the future.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah. Kim Sin also shared about some of the climate impacts he's thinking about after this conference.


INTERPRETER: I've been doing a blog, a video blog in Cambodia and talking about the impact of climate change.

KIM SIN: Aspen Idea Climate Summit. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: I kind of let people think about it. Climate change is going to impact so many things like the drought issue. How are farmers going to able to grow these produce? Because some of them require a lot of water. Morning glory or Ong Choy, they're like water plant. And those are the most popular vegetable in the Asian community.

EMILY BRIGHT: All right, so he's doing this blog. What other things are coming out of this conference that you're hearing from the people you were with? What next steps are they enacting?

HEIDI ROOP: It's so amazing to hear the energy. I think across the board, folks-- I think the most valuable part was being with one another, learning from one another, and knowing that we were coming back into this shared geography. And so already hearing about connections and collaborations, we have a nurse practitioner with us who's working on heat health and outdoor workers and worker safety.

And so these are connections and collaborations forming across the group and a strong desire to convene back together, but this time in our home grounds of Minnesota where we can thrive and continue to work together in new and creative ways and, I think, really tell stories-- not only in spaces like Aspen, but with the communities we're part of. And, of course, you heard Kim Sin do that in a really creative way with his community.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, I'm looking forward to hearing some more of these stories and connections that come out over time now that everyone is back. So just final question for you. I mean, I know people who care a great deal about climate change, sometimes it can feel very daunting or they can feel alone. And so it's nice to hear about all these different things that people are doing. What do you want listeners to know as they're hearing about the work that this group is doing?

HEIDI ROOP: I think it's more of an invitation that there is work and opportunity for all of us no matter what we do or who we are or where we call community or the faith that we identify with. There is climate work to be done, and it exists in a multitude of forms. And we are really fortunate to live in Minnesota where that work is thriving in many known but many unexpected spaces.

So I invite your listeners to bring their strengths and passions and find a community leader around them or communicate about the leadership that they already are doing to advance climate solutions, whether you're a farmer, a forester, or a storyteller, or an artist. We need each and every one of you doing what you can, how you can, to make a difference.

EMILY BRIGHT: Love it. Thank you so much for your time and your work, Heidi.

HEIDI ROOP: Thank you.

EMILY BRIGHT: Heidi Roop is director of the Minnesota Climate Adapt-- Adaptation Partnership-- I'm sorry I keep saying that wrong. The audio clips you heard were recorded by MCAP Climate Communications specialist Britta Greene.

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