CFANS Insights survey shows that 76 percent of Minnesotans are concerned about climate change

October 3, 2022

Majority are hopeful society can still reduce its impact

Minnesota’s new Climate Action Framework, aimed at achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, will affect transportation, energy sourcing, and other aspects of everyday life for people living in the state. So how do Minnesotans feel about the effects of climate change, its causes and what society can do to reduce its impact?

A new CFANS Insights survey conducted by the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) takes a closer look at Minnesotans’ perspectives on climate change. According to the survey, 76 percent of residents are concerned about climate change. Of Gen Zers surveyed, 85 percent are concerned about climate change.

“Understanding how Minnesotans feel about climate change is vital to engage in effective conversations and accelerate climate action across the state,” said Heidi Roop, PhD, director of MCAP and an assistant professor of climate science in CFANS. “This survey shows that while overall concern is greatest with Gen Z, a deeply climate-conscious generation, there is warranted concern across age groups, and that hope and a desire for action are at the heart of Minnesotans' attitudes about climate change.”

When asked about what’s causing earth’s changing climate, 69 percent of Minnesotans responded that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas are a primary cause. Land use, including deforestation, was cited as a primary cause by 57 percent of respondents.

Minnesotans are concerned about climate change graphic.

Concerns close to home

As for what concerns people most about climate change in Minnesota, 57 percent of people responded that it is the impacts to the state’s lakes and rivers. This is the focus of work being done by Gretchen Hansen, PhD, an assistant professor of fisheries ecology in CFANS. Her team is studying how oxygen levels in the world’s temperate freshwater lakes are declining at rates faster than in the oceans, threatening freshwater biodiversity and the quality of drinking water.

“Minnesota has been a leader in identifying the importance of coldwater, oxygenated habitat in lakes and working to restore and protect the watersheds of lakes to counteract these concerning trends,” said Hansen. “Our research highlights the importance of that ongoing work for adapting to climate change.”

How should Minnesota prepare for climate change? According to 64 percent of respondents, the state should focus on preserving and conserving Minnesota's grasslands, forests, and wetlands. This view is supported by research from CFANS that shows even relatively modest climate change could dramatically alter Minnesota’s Northwoods and the southern boreal forest that runs from eastern Canada to Alaska. 

"Present-day southern boreal forest may reach a tipping point with even modest climate warming, resulting in a major shift in the kinds of species present, and with potential adverse impacts on the health and diversity of our forests,” said Peter Reich, PhD, a professor in the Department of Forest Resources in CFANS. “Those impacts could reduce the capacity of our forests to produce timber, host other plant, microbial and animal diversity, dampen flooding and perhaps most important of all, scrub carbon out of the air and hold it in wood and soil.”

Reasons to be hopeful

Despite urgent challenges and concerns, it’s not all doom and gloom for Minnesota residents. The survey showed 56 percent of Minnesotans are hopeful that society will do enough to reduce the most severe impacts of climate change. That response went up to 62 percent for Gen Zers surveyed.

To prevent climate change from getting worse, 60 percent of respondents said that they would most like to see increased use of wind, solar, and other renewable energy to power homes and businesses in Minnesota. Increasing the use of renewable energy for production agriculture is a focus of UMN’s West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC).

“Renewable energy holds great potential to boost our economy while minimizing our impact on the environment,” said Mike Reese, director of renewable energy at the WCROC. “The outcomes of our research are primarily for Minnesota farmers but may also apply to farmers in the global community. One example is the use of wind energy to power the production of nitrogen fertilizer. We can increase renewable energy production; localize and secure nitrogen fertilizer supply; and improve our rural economy while addressing climate change by significantly decarbonizing grain, livestock, and biofuel production.”

For a state that depends on farming, cultivating sustainable agriculture solutions will be essential to tackle climate change — from developing continuous living cover crops to advancing precision agriculture. MCAP recently hired a new Extension educator dedicated to agricultural climate resilience in Minnesota. This role focuses on developing dedicated climate-smart agriculture programming — centered around a CFANS-led agricultural weather study — that will help Minnesota’s diverse agricultural sector understand its unique climate risks and prepare to effectively manage them. In September, the United States Department of Agriculture also announced plans to provide $2.8 billion in grants through Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. The grants will fund 70 projects that are expected to reach 50,000 farms engaged in “climate-smart” production practices, many of which include work with Minnesota farmers. 

In addition, MCAP was named a key partner in the state’s Climate Action Framework for helping to build needed capacity to protect Minnesotans against the impact of climate change. MCAP is providing critical research capacity to help the state track its progress in achieving its goals for building resilient communities. “To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to focus on both mitigation and adaptation — addressing the root causes of climate change while also preparing for future impacts,” said Roop, who also serves as an UMN Extension climate specialist. “Together, through research, experimentation, collaboration and leadership, we can help ensure that Minnesota is ready for the impacts of climate change today and tomorrow.”

About the CFANS Insights Survey

The CFANS Insights survey is a consumer poll that explores key perceptions and opinions about important topics in food, agriculture, and natural resources. This survey was done in partnership with the University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) in September 2022. It was conducted by CARAVANomnibus surveys, polling a demographically representative sample of 1,003 adults in Minnesota.

About MCAP

The University of Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership (MCAP) advances critical climate science, champions adaptation leadership and supports climate resilience actions and collaborations across sectors and levels of government to ensure Minnesota is making needed progress to prepare for our changing climate.