Main Street Project


Paul Douglas on Climate Change: Is this really a conspiracy?

While attending the Northfield Area Climate Summit at St. Olaf last January, I had the pleasure of listening to the keynote speech by meteorologist Paul Douglas of Star Tribune fame. Paul was educational, witty, and inspiring all at the same time, and his words reminded me that our work here at Main Street Project and how we shape our food systems in sustainable ways is directly tied to the world we leave for our children and grandchildren.

Here are some of the memorable highlights of his speech:

Paul Douglas

Paul Douglas

“Snow storms and cold fronts, do not invalidate the fact that our climate is changing, anymore than birds invalidate the theory of gravity.” –Paul Douglas, Meteorologist

‘Two Predictions of Rare 100% Accuracy’

1. All of us have the opportunity to reach people, to get people to open not only their eyes but also their minds to what’s going on.

2. At some point your kids, your grandkids will come to you and say, ‘What did you know, when and what did you do?’ Our grandkids are going to be p*****!

Were you part of the problem or part of the solution?

As a society we are fixated on those one or two well-paid shills in the back of the room because we don’t want to believe that our actions might have consequences. So many lobbyists, and just the amount of money that’s in play! This is the whole “Smoking Debate” of the 1970s times one thousand.

Terms, Terms, Terms

I think ‘Global Warming’ is something of a misnomer. It’s really ‘Global Volatility’. The climate has become more volatile and we’re seeing the effects now showing up in the weather.


The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, AR5, says that:

  • There is a 95% certainty that humans are the cause of climate change.
  • The last 30 years are thought to be the warmest in 1800 years.
  • Much of the warming is irreversible.
  • Sea level rise has accelerated
  • Threshold for total loss of Greenland ice is now somewhere between 1 and 4 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

We will have ice-free summers in the Arctic by 2050. This might happen even sooner than that, and extreme precipitation events are becoming more frequent and intense.

We have pumped about half a trillion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Think about CO2: it’s clear, it’s odorless. If it were orange, if everything was covered in orange, we probably would have figured this out about 30 years ago. But the fact that we could very conveniently use the atmosphere as a sewer, is now coming back to bite us and it’s biting us in the weather.

Who do YOU trust?

If you don’t trust the experts then whom do you trust?

His Journey

For me it was a function of tracking and trying to make sense of the weather. I noticed changes in the 1990s and I started talking about it in the Star Tribune. That’s what got me to dig into the peer-reviewed science, and then I started wondering ‘Is this really a conspiracy?’

I began noticing the changes in Minnesota’s weather patterns, especially in the late 1990s. It was as if mother nature picked up her remote control, put our seasons on fast forward, and turned the volume of extreme weather up to a 10. Something had changed, and the most likely explanation was CO2. Today we are at 400 ppm (parts per million). We’ve also seen a corresponding 4% increase in water vapor (another greenhouse gas). Basic physics! You warm up the air, it has the capacity to hold more water. More potential energy.

By the way, this 400ppm is thought to be the highest in 3 million years. It’s not just the absolute value of 400ppm, it’s the rate of change. We’ve never seen a spike like what we’re seeing right now. It’s clear that we are changing the chemical composition of our atmosphere. We’re conducting an experiment on our home.

 Our Addiction

We have an illness, we have an addiction. We’re addicted to carbon-based fuels. Step 1 is admitting to the addiction. Step 2 is ‘okay, what are some solutions?’

What this means for YOU

If you’re a businessperson, you have to reinvent and risk failure. This is a health challenge. This is a civil rights challenge because the poor will be disproportionately impacted. It’s already happening.

We are leaving debt to our kids. We are stewards of this Earth. I would encourage all of you to reach out to 50 people in your network this year, reach out to another 50 people or 50 companies, reach out to your legislators, local, state and national, and remind them that this is a big deal. That this is something our kids and our grandkids are going to be dealing with increasingly. We will figure out solutions but we have a lot of catching up to do.

Paul ended his speech with this quote, which I hold near and dear to my heart:

 “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
– Native American Proverb