Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #153. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Apr. 2, 2020; in print Apr. 5

Things besides coronavirus are happening. I have something else in mind, but it links to The Big Subject. Or rather, to what is – in the long run – an Even Bigger Subject.

The scene: Feb. 27; a room in Quarryview Education Center; a videoconference.

We’re getting used to virtual meetings. This one, though, brought about 25 people together, with less than 6 feet between us. We were linked in cyberspace to similar gatherings in other cities along the Mississippi – Bemidji, Brainerd, Grand Rapids, North Minneapolis, Winona.

Preceding emails make no mention of the looming pandemic. (On Feb. 26, President Trump said that the number “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”)

The occasion was the public launch of the Minnesota Equity Blueprint – Thriving By Design – Rural & Urban Together, a joint effort of Growth & Justice and My February 2019 column concerned a session at St. Cloud Public Library, part of a process that collected ideas, challenges, solutions and action examples from over 300 Minnesotans.

Results, distilled into 141 recommendations, range from general strategies to specific policies. Especially significant: “The Blueprint has been designed not just for the Legislature or governmental decision-makers, but as a resource for individual and local community action.”

“Individual" – you and me. “Local community” – all of us in the greater St. Cloud area, together. Take a look at it:

The Blueprint is “a comprehensive policy guidebook for the next decade.” It seeks “to address demographic and geographic disparities (Human Capital), to build a more inclusive economy (Economic Development), to find more common cause between rural and urban Minnesotans (Infrastructure).” We’ll get to a fourth theme shortly – the one that links to coronavirus.

I’ll highlight one of the seven proposed solutions under each heading.

Human Capital: “Increase investments in Cradle to Career educational programs, promoting Career Pathways into technology, trades and entrepreneurship.”

This is already happening here, through organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota and St. Cloud Technical & Community College, as well as the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation Talent Directors working with United Way of Central Minnesota/Partner for Student Success, itself working with local businesses, nonprofits, service providers and the St. Cloud Area, Sauk Rapids-Rice and Sartell-St. Stephen school districts.

Economic Development: “Invest in creating greater access to affordable quality childcare and improve measurement of children’s program participation and their outcomes.”

The gap between childcare that’s needed and what’s available and to whom could better be called a chasm, its breadth amplified by the sudden closing of schools. The shortage of licensed and carefully assessed childcare counts as a true national emergency.

Infrastructure: “Invest in affordable transit for metro areas and mobility options for Greater Minnesota.”

Extend Northstar, anyone?

This leaves the fourth category in the Blueprint: Environmental Resilience.

Here’s the problem statement: “Rapidly accelerating climate change and pollution of our waters and lands pose huge long-term costs to farmers, urban and rural low-income households, businesses and governments.”

The most memorable moment of the launch came near the end. Questions had been posed from all the connected sites – questions that related, as they should, to specific local concerns in one or more of the first three subject areas.

The session was about to be adjourned.

But – Dane Smith, president emeritus of Growth & Justice and a lead author of the Blueprint, took the microphone and said that “the emphasis on Environmental Resilience is really strong. It’s actually the largest chapter.” Climate action runs through everything.

One of the seven solutions is familiar: “Set new goals and create action plans for a 100 percent carbon-free power grid by 2050.”

The Blueprint’s stress on the significance and urgency of climate change is the point at which it coincides with coronavirus. It’s the Even Bigger Subject.

The parallels are striking.

  • Climate change and coronavirus know no national boundaries. As New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote, “People in Seoul, Milan and New Jersey are connected by a virus that reminds us of the fundamental fact of human interdependence.” Wildfires ravage Australia and California. Rising seas threaten Fiji and Miami.
  • Climate change and coronavirus call for the best that science can offer, but both have been dismissed at the highest level as hoaxes.
  • Health and economics are said to be at loggerheads, but they aren’t.

Coronavirus is a dress rehearsal for climate crisis. Imagine the next two or three decades in a time-lapse video. The plot resembles what we’re going through now.

Will we wake up, mobilize, empathize, now – for our own survival from coronavirus? Will we wake up, mobilize, empathize, now and for the rest of our lives – for survival of the planet on which our descendants will depend for their lives?

Let’s build – both short-term and long-term – from the Minnesota Equity Blueprint.