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How youth organizers are pushing Minnesota toward its own Green New Deal

As the Green New Deal made national headlines, young climate activists in Minnesota wrote their own bill to create a sweeping new climate and economic framework for their state.

How youth organizers are pushing Minnesota toward its own Green New Deal
Minnesota Governer Tim Walz speaks to young activists from Minnesota Can’t Wait. [Photo: courtesy MN Can’t Wait]

Kids in Minnesota have a plan. By 2030, they want to see every megawatt of power generated in their state come from renewable sources. They want better public transportation, both in metro areas like the Twin Cities and across the state. They want to develop a Green Bank to finance these projects. They want agricultural players to shift to regenerative practices and drive down emissions. They want to block the development of all new fossil fuel infrastructure–particularly the Line 3 pipeline that would slice across the northern part of the state–and build out sustainable resources instead. And they want indigenous communities and people of color to benefit from–and participate–in these shifts.

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If this sounds a lot like the national Green New Deal, that’s the point: On April 10, a coalition of youth activists in Minnesota, with the backing of Representative Frank Hornstein and State Senator Scott Dibble, introduced the Minnesota Green New Deal, the first statewide bill of its kind to emerge after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez presented the national resolution to Congress.

Just as the youth-led climate strikes on March 15 of this year organized quickly and in response to a pressing need for climate action–articulated particularly well by young people, who will be disproportionately affected by climate shifts in their lifetime–the MN Green New Deal materialized out of a sense of urgency. The main group behind the bill, after all, is called Minnesota Can’t Wait, which nods to the fact that even if national progress on climate action is stalling, youth in the state recognize and are pushing for immediate change, says Gabe Kaplan, one of the organizers with MN Can’t Wait.

Minnesota Can’t Wait activists in Washington, D.C. [Photo: Devon Cupery]

Kaplan, now a sophomore at St. Louis Park High School right outside Minneapolis, was in fifth grade when he first began to consider the reality of climate change, and how it might affect his state, his family, and his own future. As a freshman last year, “in order to alleviate those emotions and to feel like I was actually making an impact and helping my family, I decided to get involved and take as much action as I could, even if it was just in my city or my state,” he says. He did some organizing work with iMatter Minneapolis, a youth advocacy group that worked to introduce a resolution around climate change to the local city council, and got involved with his school’s green organization. At the start of his sophomore year, he got more involved in MN Can’t Wait, joining other local youth leaders like Isra Hirsi, a Climate Strikes organizer (and Representative Ilhan Omar’s daughter) and eventually taking on more of a leadership role.

Last November, Kaplan and his co-organizers at MN Can’t Wait learned of activists from the Sunrise Movement–a national youth-led climate action group–getting arrested in Nancy Pelosi’s office last November as they called for a Green New Deal. “We decided to create a local proposal that was based off the ideas of the national movement,” Kaplan says. They approached Rep. Hornstein, whose district encompasses part of Minneapolis and Kaplan’s school district, for input and support in crafting Minnesota’s Green New Deal.

Initially, Hornstein says, the youth activists were interested in drafting a resolution: a nonbinding framework for the state, similar to what Ocasio-Cortez unveiled on the national scale in February. But he encouraged them to develop a bill, which could eventually progress through the state legislature into law. “They were interested in that, so I stepped back and connected them with a member of our nonpartisan research staff that crafts bills,” says Hornstein says. Over the course of a few months, the youth activists enumerated the policies they wanted captured in the bill, and the legislative staffer helped translate them into text. “In every way, this legislation is youth-led,” Hornstein says. “They literally wrote the bill.”

While the Minnesota Green New Deal is sweeping in nature and calls for significant changes in the state’s energy supply, transportation options, and overall economy, Hornstein does not think that meeting its demands is out of the question. The state has already proposed shifting to 100% clean energy by 2050; the Green New Deal shifts that timeline up to 2030. The bill also calls for public agencies to come up with reports of their emissions and energy usage and a plan to improve them; Hornstein is confident that could become common practice soon. And in terms of linking the development of sustainable transportation in the state with green jobs, Hornstein points to companies like New Flyer, which is based in St. Cloud and manufactures electric buses that are being tested both there and in the Twin Cities area. Supporting and developing more opportunities for jobs that also accelerate climate goals, per the new bill, will be both crucial and beneficial for the state, Hornstein says.

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Like the national Green New Deal resolution, Minnesota’s bill is very focused on ensuring opportunities and equitable outcomes for indigenous people and communities of color. “Climate change isn’t affecting everyone equally: Communities of color, indigenous groups, and rural areas, and lower-income people will be disproportionately affected by climate change, and when we fight climate change we have to keep those communities prioritized,” Kaplan says. The bill deliberately calls for focused investments and green job-training efforts for these groups.

While a number of states are advancing policies that track with components of the national Green New Deal–states like California and New York have set aggressive 100% clean-energy targets, for instance, and a handful are advancing clean transportation options like electric vehicle charging infrastructure–Minnesota is the first to propose a comprehensive green policy package in the legislature. The youth organizers and the politicians championing the effort hope that Minnesota can serve as model for how other states can look to their own needs and resources and build out similarly comprehensive strategies. After all, even though the national Green New Deal calls for transformation across the country, it will likely fall to the states to meet the particular demands, and the time for them to figure out how to do so is now.

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About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.

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