Low Kling signals a turn while commuting to work on a snowy Friday in January. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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Foraging through the forest to reconnect with Indigenous food practices. Protesting power plants that spew pollution into low-income neighborhoods. Advocating for the removal of highways that tore through Black neighborhoods. Minnesotans plunged into climate and environmental activism in 2022. And stories on the climate and environmental justice beat took Sahan Journal all over the state. 

Climate change is the greatest issue facing humankind. Processing its risks, and the real pain and devastation so many already feel due to extreme weather and high pollution, is daunting. But there is hope for a better future, and clear opportunities for solutions that prioritize the people who are feeling its worst impacts. 

Better yet, there are people fighting for a healthier climate future across Minnesota.  

Sahan Journal is committed to finding and telling those stories, and to being clear about the environmental issues facing Minnesota and identifying the communities on the front lines. We appreciate everyone who took the time to read our second year of climate coverage. 

Here are five of our favorite climate and environment stories of the year. 

1. Many Native people have lost the foods that once nourished their communities. Hope Flanagan is helping find them again, plant by plant—starting in a park near the airport.

On a cold early April afternoon, Sahan Journal reporter Sheila Mulrooney Eldred and photographer Jaida Grey Eagle joined a group of Indigenous foragers looking to connect to their food roots. 

Native communities have experienced some of the worst health effects of the industrial American food system. Hope Flanagan and the nonprofit Dream of Wild Health are working to buck that trend by teaching traditional foraging practices to Indigenous Minnesotans. 

This story includes wonderful photos from the foraging trek and a helpful guide on Minnesota plants for amateurs.  

Hope Flanagan, a Seneca tribal member, leads a group of mostly Indigenous participants through an early spring foraging walk at Crosby Farm Park in St. Paul. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

2. Activists say Native and lower-income communities are disproportionately harmed by coal and gas power plants. They’re calling on Minnesota Power to adopt more renewable energy and to close some plants.

In northeastern Minnesota, environmental justice advocates are pushing the state’s second-largest utility, Minnesota Power, to cancel plans for a new natural gas plant and accelerate the timetable for closing coal facilities. 

A collective known as Clean Energy Organizations commissioned a study that found low-income and Native communities in that part of the state experience disproportionate air pollution and negative health outcomes due to living near plants that burn fossil fuels. 

The story hones in on a familiar theme as environmentalists fight for clean energy in Minnesota. Utility companies say they need new natural gas investments to maintain reliable service as they transition from coal to renewable energy. Green-energy experts and activists disagree, arguing that utility companies are underestimating the potential for renewable energy sources to take over in the near future. 

This biomass plant is located near low-income neighborhoods in West Duluth. Credit: Minnesota Power

3. Even on a fiercely frigid morning, there they were, flying down snowy Twin Cities streets with condensation puffing from their wrapped-up faces–winter bicyclists. Among those hardy riders are an increasing number of riders of color.

Biking for transportation yields benefits for personal health and the health of the planet. In Minnesota, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Bike commuting is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint—and to experience more happiness. But biking during Minnesota winters is understandably intimidating for the average rider. 

In January, former Sahan Journal multimedia producer and cyclist extraordinaire Ben Hovland and I captured the stories of Minnesotans of color committed to biking through the brutal winter. They offered advice on how to get started and anecdotes about their own biking journeys. It’s one of a number of stories Sahan Journal produced this year about people of color finding meaning and joy through outdoor activities. 

A squirrel darts in front of a winter biker in Minneapolis. Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

4. Zero to hero: Sabathani Community Center transitions to clean-energy example and resilience hub.

In south Minneapolis, the city’s original Black community center is undergoing a green-energy transformation. 

In 2019, Sabathani Community Center had a zero EnergyStar rating. Today, it is in the midst of becoming a clean-energy resilience hub for the neighborhood. The center is partnering with Xcel Energy to add a rooftop solar garden and a large on-site battery that can be used to power the building if a storm takes down the local grid. 

Sabathani teamed up with the Center for Energy and Environment in Minneapolis to install smart thermostats and LED lighting that is already saving the organization thousands of dollars on energy bills. It’s also planning to install a clean geothermal heating system to replace the ancient boilers in the basement. 

Investing in energy efficiency is a demonstrated way to cut emissions and save people money. For Sabathani, it’s a way to invest more in the community, while furthering its commitment to being a resource for people in Minneapolis, no matter what the weather brings. 

Building manager Jesus Dominguez posing with the boiler system at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis, MN on October 12, 2022. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

5. White Earth Tribal College becomes a bright spot for solar-energy job training.

If Minnesota wants to meet its goals to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, a massive workforce will be needed to install and maintain clean energy infrastructure. 

Who will work those jobs? And how will they get trained? A program at White Earth Tribal and Community College is working on it. Photographer Drew Arrieta and I took the three-hour drive northwest to Mahnomen to check out a class training tribal members of all ages how to install solar panels. 

Some students were looking to start their professional lives, others to switch careers, but all were drawn to learn how to harness the sun’s power. Solar jobs are on the rise in Minnesota, but 84 percent of clean-energy sector employers in the state reported challenges finding qualified workers in 2022. 

There are organizations working to train workers of color in clean-energy jobs across the state. Today, the industry is more diverse than Minnesota’s overall workforce.

Andrew Goodwin works on connecting a solar array at White Earth Tribal and Community College. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal
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Andrew Hazzard is a staff reporter with Sahan Journal who focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues. After starting his career in daily newspapers in Mississippi and North Dakota, Andrew...