As climate changes, Minnesotans are more at risk from Lyme disease, flooding

Minnesota is not making enough progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a report says.

Urgent action is required to address the impact of climate change in Minnesota, which is already experiencing more "mega-rain" events and cases of Lyme disease due to warmer temperatures.

That's according to a report card from Minnesota's Environmental Quality Board, which ranks the state based on five environmental criteria to show which areas need serious attention.

Minnesota is performing worst in changing climate, with the report card saying the state is not doing enough to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to a 3-degree rise in nighttime low temperatures over the past 120 years.

The impact of this, which is likely to worsen unless circumstances improve, is that Minnesota is experiencing more "mega-rain" events that cause devastating floods in parts of the state, as well as attracting more Lyme disease-carrying ticks to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The study says that Minnesota has had seven "mega-rain" events in the past 16 years, compared to just four between 1973-2000.

"With more warming expected, Minnesota should be prepared for a continued increase in these devastating storms," the report says.

Instances of tick-borne Lyme disease have also shot up, with infection rates of 50-plus cases per 100,000 people reported in 12 Minnesota counties between 2008-2013, compared to just four counties between 1996-2001.

State needs to do more to reduce emissions

Minnesota is currently not making enough progress to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 30 percent by 2030, which is set out in the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007.

Steps are being taken to reduce emissions caused by fossil fuel use. Minnesota's biggest utility, Xcel Energy, is shutting down two units of its Sherco coal plant over the next 10 years, while boosting investment in solar and wind power.

But that alone won't be enough, with the state striving to achieve emission reductions of 80 percent by 2050, this will "require policies well beyond those already in place at the federal or state level," the report says.

One area in which fossil fuel use is getting worse is transportation. The growth of cars on state roads has caused vehicle emissions to slightly increase over the last six years, despite the improved fuel efficiency of newer vehicles. Transit ridership is up, the report says, but not at a fast enough rate.

Minnesotans are also being called on to reduce their carbon footprints by reducing fuel use, vehicle emissions and how much electricity they're using on appliances, lighting or electronics to help the fight to reduce greenhouse gases. It urges consumers to buy energy efficient products going forward.

The Pioneer Press reportsthe final version of the report will provide a foundation for the Minnesota Environmental Congress in February.

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