Monday, June 22, 2015

Storm clouds on the Iron Range

The worst of this morning's storms missed us. We still had a three hour power outage. No lights, no hot coffee, no water, no internet router power. Clouds look like they're shaping up for this afternoon's round. That all got me thinking about what the climatologists(?) say is going to result from climate change: more storms with greater intensity. That seems to argue for greater reliance on a decentralized, interconnected system of power generation with less reliance on transmission of electricity over long distances, with corresponding power loss.

storm clouds brewing
storm clouds brewing
Photo by J. Harrington

I wonder if we're already seeing the beginnings of a major reshaping of northern Minnesota's electric utility system. I also wonder how much of our utility infrastructure, both physical and institutional, will need to be restructured due to the continuation of a reduced role for mining on the Iron Range. Even though Minnesota is a major iron ore producer in the U.S., this country is a small player in the world's scheme of things iron and steel. Rick Nolan, congressman of Minnesota's eighth district, keeps emailing messages about how much he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and what a bad deal it is for this country and our environmental and labor protections. I agree with his perspective. At the same time, the Minnesota legislature, lead by Iron Range (Democratic-Farmer-Labor) legislators, is cutting taxes and providing subsidies to the taconite industry as labor union members (voters) may be soon asked(?) to accept wage reductions so the industry can remain "competitive" as their executives collect multi-million dollar bonuses.

northern Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains
northern Minnesota's Sawtooth Mountains
Photo by J. Harrington

I've no more seen a detailed analysis of what it would take for Minnesota's taconite industry to be competitive than I've seen a draft of the full TPP agreement. I am reasonably certain that, for too long, Northeast Minnesota, and their utilities, have been overly reliant on a few extractive industries, sectors like mining and timber, that haven't been noted for their good neighbor behavior, precisely because they needed to be "competitive." As major retailers and manufacturers become more fully engaged in corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives, those who cling too long and too hard to dying strategies are likely to find it very difficult to impossible to adopt the attitudes and mindsets needed to be successful in this "new normal" world we're creating. I believe (and, honestly, hope) time is running out for Minnesota's Iron Range "old boys club." I just hope there isn't too much collateral damage on the rest of the state and its people as we go through needed corrections and adjustments.

You've Got to Start Somewhere

By Deborah Landau 
I had the idea of sitting still
while others rushed by.
I had the thought of a shop
that still sells records.
A letter in the mailbox.
The way that book felt in my hands.
I was always elsewhere.
How is it is to have a body today,
to walk in this city, to run?
I wanted to eat an apple so precisely
the tree would make another
exactly like it, then lie
down uninterrupted
in the gadgetless grass.
I kept texting the precipice,
which kept not answering,
my phone auto-making
everything incorrect.
I had the idea. Put down the phone.
Earth, leaves, storm, water, vine.
The gorgeous art of breathing.
I had the idea — the hope
of friending you without electricity.
Of what could be made among the lampposts
with only our voices and hands.

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