Outside Consultant: How Can Businesses Make an Impact With Climate Change?

This "Outside Consultant" column by John Abraham, professor of thermal sciences, ran in the Star Tribune on March 14, 2022.

Climate change is happening, humans are the cause, and we have not done much to stop it. That’s the bad news. But there is good news too. It turns out we can do something about the climate, and by helping the planet, we can also build business opportunities and jobs, right here in Minnesota.

I am a climate scientist – I measure how fast the Earth is warming because of the greenhouse gases that we emit into the atmosphere. I am also an entrepreneur. These two roles have shown me that the technologies that we need to save the planet are the same technologies that will save us money, power our lives, create jobs and ensure the U.S. is a leader in the clean energy economy.

Basically, we need two tools to deal with climate change. First, we need to mitigate the problem by developing clean technologies that will reduce our emissions. Solar and wind power are the most cost-effective clean energy sources in Minnesota. Nationwide, costs have dropped dramatically so that wind and solar power are less expensive than coal or nuclear power and are about as expensive as natural gas. Fortunately, wind and solar energy complement each other. While Minnesota can’t completely rely upon wind and solar for all of our energy needs, these two energy sources can still deliver a large majority of our energy requirements. 

The second tool we need is adaptation. That means we need to adapt to climate change that is inevitable. For Minnesota, it means our rainfall patterns are changing; we are seeing more very heavy rainstorms followed by longer and hotter dry periods. This affects farming strategies and properties that can be impacted by flooding. Our growing seasons are changing as well, with winters warming up rapidly.

Those businesses that help us successfully adapt to the new climate and new energy supply will be positioned to experience clean energy solutions as an opportunity. On the other hand, companies that ignore climate change and the opportunities that it presents will only experience the challenges of climate change. 

John Abraham, PhD, is a professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas.