Code Red for Humanity: Our Response

  • August 17, 2021
  • |
  • A joint response from the Staff and Board of Directors

A boy with a ball of the world or planet Earth in his hands. Ecology conceptThe headlines on Monday, Aug. 9 were terrifying: “Code red for humanity,” “Global climate crisis: inevitable, unprecedented and unavoidable,” and “Wake up to red alert on climate crisis.” We have been battered since early 2020 with a seemingly relentless stream of experiences which shake many of us to the core. The ceaseless pandemic, George Floyd’s brutal murder, the attack on our nation’s capital, and now? The reality check many have feared is upon us—climate change is potentially irreversible.

The recently released United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has the potential to, once again, cause polarization and freeze action. Fortunately, we are people of hope. The heart of Environmental Initiative’s work lies in disrupting polarization. In fall 2020, the Environmental Initiative board of directors adopted a new strategic plan which calls for staff to act by advancing justice and equity, valuing and leveraging difference across world views and perspectives, and building bridges. At Environmental Initiative we believe catalyzing collaboration across perspectives, power, and systems for social equity and environmental health is essential to making progress against climate change.

Specific examples of our cross-sector, polarization-disrupting actions to improve our world and protect our climate are plentiful. A few highlights demonstrate the diversity of our partnerships, programs, and projects.

Clean Air Repairs for all

Estimates are that 25 percent of passenger vehicles cause 90 percent of vehicle air pollution as older cars have outdated or broken emission controls and exhaust equipment. Environmental Initiative’s Project CAR partner garages provide low- or no-cost repairs to four priority components of emission control systems: catalytic converters, evaporative emission control systems, oxygen sensors, and exhaust gas recirculation valves. The impact for income-eligible participants is not limited to lower emissions: the impact is also a car that offers transportation for everyday needs such as work, medical appointments, or school. Our committed business, government, and nonprofit partnership is making a difference for individuals in Minnesota’s Minneapolis-St. Paul region and on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota and the project is well-positioned to expand.

Growing climate solutions in the Midwest

On a regional level, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative is exploring new approaches to agricultural challenges within the Mississippi River basin. These new approaches increase productivity while ensuring soil health, protecting water, addressing the factors contributing to climate change, and supporting farm families. With more than 900 farmers on 300,000 acres across the region engaged in making change including reducing tillage, restoring wetlands, and planting cover crops or pollinator strips, the impact of this work is significant. The business, NGO, and farmer relationships within the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative are a powerful example of working across differences for positive change.

Our Minnesota-based agricultural and watershed partners are scaling solutions across perspectives and within the industry to protect soil health and improve water quality. The varied solutions are tailored to individual and regional needs. Through education, financial incentives, and practice adoption, farmers and supply chain partners are acting to create resilient farms, maintain rural vitality, and improve returns-on-investment for growers.

Improving air quality one stove at a time

Residential wood smoke contains fine particulate pollution, as well as climate gases like methane and black carbon. Project Stove Swap is an example of a business-sponsored and business-supported partnership to reduce emissions and improve environmental health. Over time, too much wood smoke can lead to a variety of health issues including asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and heart disease. In some cases, an inefficient wood stove is also a fire and safety hazard. This project offers individuals the opportunity to replace an older wood stove with a cleaner burning one on a sliding financial scale.

Demonstrated corporate leadership

While we all have a role to play in addressing the climate crisis, industry and energy sectors are the primary drivers of greenhouse gas emissions. From case studies within the Circularity Toolkit to the Executive Network and Best Practice & Learning Lab series, Sustainable Growth Coalition business, government and higher education member organizations explore and implement new approaches to advance a circular economy – one in which nothing is wasted.

Sustainable Growth Coalition member organizations have committed to advance beyond the current greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 80% by 2050, as research from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates is necessary. Members used their collective power to comment on Xcel Energy’s proposed Integrated Resource Plan because long-term utility resource planning is an important vehicle for protecting the public interest. As large commercial and industrial customers, Sustainable Growth Coalition members voiced their support for more clean, just, and equitable energy system.

A thriving world for all beings

Our vision is explicit: Relationships foster an inclusive, just, and thriving world for all beings. These relationships extend across perspectives, power, and position as we intentionally seek to invite everyone, including those who have been marginalized and most impacted by decisions made without their input, into our work. While powerful political and natural storms sweep our landscape this year, we remain mindful that creating a just and inclusive world is a product of deep listening, respectful convening, and meaningful change. We recognize that the -isms in our world represent an imperative in these times. We must no longer ignore that the environmental decisions made are often at the expense of those communities who have experienced the most harm. The daunting reality that our work will never be done is also a welcoming call to others. The work is plentiful.

We are committed to and humbled by the breadth and depth of our work. Taking stock, we know we have a unique and powerful approach.

  • Our work is transformative.
  • Our work is a reminder that solutions are scalable.
  • Our work is not siloed: we work through an extensive network of genuine relationships to affect lasting change.

In these unprecedented modern times, we use our organizational values as a touchstone when developing collaborations, events, partnerships, programs, and projects. Acknowledging our interdependence, trusting multiple insights, committing to justice by sharing power, facilitating shared action for impact, bridging across difference to cultivate leadership, and building collaborative relationships with intention allows us to show up in this work recognizing our common humanity.

The positive language is to inspire, not to fool. We have full recognition that our vision requires emotional and intellectual openness and integrity. We accept these global challenges and our organization’s role in crafting solutions.

We are the change we want to see in the world. We invite you to join us.

With hope,
Environmental Initiative Staff and Board of Directors