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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul. Keep close to Nature’s heart … and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ~ John Muir
Feeling connected to nature is good for the soul. It’s the rosy flush of fresh air after a walk around the lake. It’s the calming snow-covered sounds of wildlife on a quiet winter morning. It’s kicking off your shoes on a sunny summer day and feeling the sand or grass between your toes.
We’re fortunate to live in a state where so many residents value that connection and work hard to protect the environment. Since 2001, when the first Living Green Expo drew 5,000 attendees to learn about sustainable lifestyle choices through exhibits, workshops, and vendors, the state of Minnesota:
• Saw a rise in our collective environmental conscience—deeply entrenched in many of our lives, not only in our day-to-day actions but in how we view the world.
• Passed a Complete Streets policy ensuring that transportation planners and engineers take into consideration the design of the entire roadway while keeping all users in mind—including pedestrians of all ages and abilities, bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and motorists.
• Passed an aggressive energy bill to commit to reduce global warming through a renewable energy standard that requires utilities to get at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. That law was designed to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and increase the use of cleaner energy sources. The new bill also asks utilities to whittle down customers’ energy dependence by 1.5 percent per year. According to a report by MPR, the two measures are expected to have a dramatic effect on carbon dioxide pollution.
• Passed legislation mandating statewide e-waste recycling of certain electronics which otherwise leak toxins, including arsenic and lead, into the soil and water supply. According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, 65 percent of Americans are now affected by e-waste laws, which usually mandate that either the manufacturer provides recycling programs or prohibits what the consumer is allowed to throw out with the trash.
• Passed the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, adding three-eighths of a percent to the state sales tax to pay for a healthier environment. About a third of the money will go to cleaning up and protecting Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, another third will support projects to protect forests, prairies and wetlands for wildlife habitat, hunting, and fishing, and 14 percent will go to parks and trails.
• Saw a rise in the popularity of alternative energy and energy-efficient vehicles. It is anticipated these energy sources will eventually provide at least part of the answer to our problems with oil and coal.
• Helped rally major supermarkets and co-ops to make organic food available to consumers.
• Supported the growth of buying local and in-season by shopping at farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs).
• Saw a rise in the popularity of eco-friendly events and celebrations, such as weddings.
• Built the first light rail transit line in the state, along the Hiawatha Avenue corridor, eventually connecting downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America.
• Developed sustainable building guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Program (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) to rate green building and construction practices in six areas: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design. According to best-selling author Thomas L. Friedman, “Green technology is going to be the industry of the 21st century.” This includes green design, green building,
and green manufacturing.
• Saw the rise of commingled collection and recycling rates, including steel recycling, which reached a record high
of 83.3 percent in 2008.
• Watched the Living Green Expo grow from 5,000 attendees in 2001 to 25,000 towards the end of the decade, and the smooth transition of the event first being coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, then rescued from near budget cut-cancellation in 2010 by the statewide nonprofit coalition of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, who continue to produce the event today.
In a world with a population of nearly 7 billion people, each individual action in the right direction can add up to an enormous effect. Just think about what we can accomplish together in the next decade.