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Climate Urgency and Action

A Conversation with Sven Sundgaard

In this episode of Conversations with Chanda, Minneapolis Foundation President & CEO R.T. Rybak steps in as guest host and speaks with meteorologist Sven Sundgaard about the urgency of climate change and what needs to be done. Sven and R.T. explore how to better explain this increasingly pressing issue to children and others with examples from here in Minnesota and around the world.

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Listen to Our Episode

Souphak Kienitz  00:12 

You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda, a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest, most vexing problems. So we’re mixing things up a bit, we’ve invited a guest host, our very own Minneapolis Foundation President and CEO, RT Rybak, to speak with meteorologist Sven Sundguaard, about the urgency of climate change. This conversation was taking place near the Mississippi River in Boom Island Park, overlooking the beautiful skyline of downtown Minneapolis. And as a bonus, there’s a video version of this interview, you can find the video in the description of this podcast, or just head over to Enjoy the show. 

RT Rybak  01:04 

We are here with my friend, Sven Sundguaard, who is somebody, who people all around the community know you, pretty well, Sven, many, many years on television, but also as somebody who’s been a meteorologist, and a scientist and I would say also somebody who has been a real guiding light for those of us who want to bring that, the message about climate change and urgency forward. So it’s really a pleasure to be with you today.  

Sven Sundgaard  01:31 

Pleasure to be here.  

RT Rybak  01:32 

I should have mentioned your most important credential, which is you’re a science advisor to the Minneapolis Foundation’s Climate Reaction Series, which is our series on the intersection of climate and equity. And thank you for really putting together some great videos for us that really help people walk into this issue that’s complicated, and also as simple as saving the planet, 

Sven Sundgaard  01:53 

Happy to do it and very happy that you and other organizations are really taking an initiative to do something about this, and on a local level too, because I think people think big picture all the time with climate change, which it is, but we got to think about these local issues too. And there’s an adaptation, and then there’s also prevention, you know, it’s multifaceted, as you know, 

RT Rybak  02:15 

One of the things I want to start with is, what is it going to take to raise a generation that understands science in the depth that this next generation is going to have to. I told my dad that this current generation hasn’t done a good enough job at, and I say that to you, not only because of just your general interest in climate, but you’ve really done some really interesting work. I’ve followed you as a, as a person giving the weather but I remember a series you did call Strictly Science, which was you explaining science to kids never talking down to them, but helping to distill this. Can you start with how you got interested in this as a kid? And then as you tried to bring that on to television? How do we talk to our kids about science without scaring the heck out of them about what’s going on, but have them understand urgency? 

Sven Sundgaard  03:08 

Yeah, that’s a good question that I don’t think anybody has a full answer to, but we got to start somewhere and try and the thing I like about talking to kids as they’re genuinely curious. They don’t know a lot, you’re kind of starting with a blank slate, and they’re just fascinated by whatever you’re telling them. You know, like, when you tell an eight year old for the first time, the speed of light, and talk about how light moves way faster than sound, and you can use the example of lightning and thunder there mesmerize, you know, it’s move over Santa Claus, who cares? I mean, that’s cool, and the thing about, you know, igniting interest in youth, is that can lead to a career, or maybe them being more involved in something in science, anyway. And, you know, besides climate change, you know, one of the big issues has been getting more women and people of color into the science fields, and this is a way to do that, you know, instill that interest. You know, at a young age, you don’t know yet you haven’t been told or taught yet that you can’t do the things that society, you know, historically has said, No, you can’t do that, you know, that’s not in your that’s not in your realm because of the color of your skin, or your sex or the income that you your family has. So, you know, all the possibilities are open. And you know, to get to the climate change thing, I think this generation growing up now really gets it. Every weather I’ve taught, you know, I taught at a private school, but I, you know, part of the job of being a TV meteorologist was going to schools routinely and talking about weather and I would talk about weather, but increasingly over the years, I made my talk specifically about climate change, because I knew that they’re getting general weather information in school, but climate change is the thing that a lot of schools are trying to struggle really with. How do we teach that and keep up to date on it? You know, it’s not, it’s not like the algebra book you can have was, you know, I don’t know about you, but when I went to school, every book we had was like 30 years old. And I like looking through the names and the front, say, oh, Shannon had this book in 1979, and here I am, 20 years later, using the same book. You can’t have a textbook on climate change, unless you’re revising it every year, of course, schools would have a hard time paying for that. So yeah, I just think they’re receptive, they know that this is an issue that they’re going to have to deal with. And, you know, I routinely say, you know, as these things come out, that when they grow up, they’re gonna be not very pleased with their, you know, parents, grandparents, great grandparents generation, because this is not something that’s popped up. You know, we the alarm bells have been there for decades, and we’ve just wasted so much critical time that the mess is going to be bigger. And unfortunately, they’re going to have to do a lot more work in a shorter period of time, because of our inaction in the last few decades. 

RT Rybak  05:55 

Let’s flip that generational piece, because you know, I think, I would imagine you’re in some of the conversations I’m in where people say, Well, we’ve really messed this thing up, but oh, isn’t it wonderful, this generation is coming up, that’s going to do so much as if you take your house that’s falling down and needs a new boiler and throw the keys to the kids? Yeah, fix this for me. Adults, often, I think, right now clueless about this. What is some of the insight you have about how to walk people into this conversation? Who maybe you know, care about it, but need to understand the incredible urgency of this? How do you get them clarity on what actually is going on? 

Sven Sundgaard  06:36 

Yeah, I mean, because you’re right, we don’t just have to hand this off to the next generation say, Oh, we you know, we messed it up? And oh, well, no, because there’s stuff that we can do now, and actually, there is stuff that we have to do right now, in these next five to 10 years. I think everybody has understood, you know, the point has been made increasingly clear that we have to take really bold action, and quickly to really prevent some of the most catastrophic scenarios that the IPCC has outlined and others. And I think it’s, we have to keep pounding home, the idea that this is really is a priority, because you’ll see things ranked, you know, whenever the polls are done. And, you know, finally, we’re at a point now, where I think it’s 60% of Americans realize climate change is an issue, you know, it’s taken a long time to get there. Yeah, and I think us and Australia, of the industrialized countries have always been dragged kicking and screaming, but we’re finally there, but you always see economy. Whatever else, you know, unfortunately, you know, the state of democracy, it’s a big deal right now. But we need to prioritize climate change more and realize that all those other issues that you think are more important, maybe this election cycle are tied into climate change, because this is going to get worse. You know, California, it was nice to see climate change, routinely ranking high on their list for the governor’s recall election, because they’re on fire right now. And their fire season is way worse than it ever used to be, and it’s not going to get better. And I think people are seeing enough local disasters in their own communities. They’re kind of everywhere in the country this year, really, for the first summer ever, everybody experienced some form of a climate change disaster undeniably made worse because of what we’ve done to the planet. And so I mean, it sounds bad, but I’m hoping Mother Nature sent a message to a lot of people this year, so that in the next year or two, when we have more elections, you know, because that’s the number one thing I tell people who feel powerless, vote, vote for the people, it doesn’t matter what party they’re in. Unfortunately, it’s become that most people who care about this issue now are in one party, but didn’t used to be that way. As you know, George H, W Bush, Nixon, I mean, Nixon looks like a hippie now for all the stuff he did in the 70s you know, clean air and water, acting Endangered Species Act, all these things. We just need to get back to that everybody coming together and realizing this is a big deal that we have to we have to fix. And we don’t want to pass this off to our, it kind of becomes, you know, any politician in their last term, you start to think about legacy, right? Well, this has to be, we have to think about this as legacy that we will be judged in the future just like we look back at some of the founding fathers and like well, how did you have slaves that, how did you get how did you easily your way around thinking that was okay and right, you know, because you had to struggle with that somehow in your head at some point. We don’t want the future to look back and say what were they thinking? I mean, it was the world was on fire all around and what, how did they justify not doing anything?  

RT Rybak  09:33 

Stop on that one for a second. That’s such a good analogy, and you know, how could the founding fathers have possibly written a document that was so visionary with the idea that it didn’t extend to everybody I mean, now it’s so clear. What is it right now and I mean, obviously, you’re not going to, everybody can but that what is that blind spot that you’ve been in so many places where you’re trying to explain this to folks and they sat down and all that. How do you think people get to that point and how do we get them beyond that? 

Sven Sundgaard  10:07 

I think whenever we’re in denial of something, it’s because we don’t want to have to do the hard work to fix it. The people who realize climate change maybe as an issue, but continue to deny it, you’re either an oil executive, which is obviously a slim minority people, or you just like I don’t want to have, if we realize this is the thing we’re in, we’re the cause, we have to fix it, and I don’t want to do the work. You know, it’s the same thing with coming to terms with systemic racism in our country. If we acknowledge it’s a problem in the history, then we have to do the work to untangle it. And you know, there’s a lot of people don’t want to have to think of that, you know, it n, no, I’m not involved, that wasn’t me, it was somebody else, and let’s just move on. 

RT Rybak  10:51 

I’ve sort of had this thought that there’s also an element of this, that it’s difficult for a lot of people to understand a global catastrophe, in which it wouldn’t be just my city, or my state, or my country, but the whole world going through it at once. And then all of a sudden, along comes COVID. Okay, so we’ve gotten a pretty damn pretty, we’ve gotten a pretty darn good understanding over the past year and a half about what a global crisis gets to be. And I hold out a certain amount of hope that in a strange and bizarre way, we now can envision catastrophe, and the only difference is there is no inoculation for this one. 

Sven Sundgaard  11:30 

Yeah. I agree, and you know, that’s part of the thing that, to that point, you know, whenever we talk about, oh, we need to get every American vaccinated, like, well, we could get every American vaccinated, but if the rest of the world, you know, talk about some of the countries in South Africa, Namibia, I think, in South Africa, and those are, those are some of the better off countries in Africa are at five to 10% vaccination, well, as long as that exists, that just is gonna allow you we’ve seen how quick this virus mutates, and how increasingly other variants are going to be resistant to the vaccine. So it doesn’t matter, until we’re all in it together, and it is a similar thing to climate change. You know, in, to that point in Minnesota, it’s easier to say, well, we don’t have to worry about sea level rise, or maybe being on fire as much as California, although we saw that Minnesota can be on fire, too. But we actually do fare a little bit better in a warmer world than coastal regions, or areas that are in desert areas of Southern Africa, Australia, that are just going to get even drier. But it is going to be our problem at some point when we have climate refugees and other things. And you know, in an unstable world, you know, this, people don’t think about the picture of how famine will lead to war, and all sorts of other things that we can’t just isolate ourselves from, at some point, and we don’t want to have to get to that point where we have to figure out how to inoculate ourselves, or try to fix that. It’s easier to prevent it than to fix it. 

RT Rybak  13:01 

You, you’re talking about the world, a lot of us can talk about the world, you’ve actually traveled the world looking at what’s happening in animal populations and others. In this series we’re doing at the Minneapolis Foundation about climate reaction, we’re looking at this intersection of climate and equity. One of the things that we’ll say that seems pretty abstract to people, is there going to be a lot of climate refugees, you just mentioned that take us to one of these places around the world you’ve been and help us put a face on on that. Who’s going to be a climate refugee and what that’s what is that going to mean? 

Sven Sundgaard  13:35 

Some of its obvious, you know, if you live in Bangladesh, for example, and you’re at sea level, and you know, they get monsoon seasons, a normal part of their weather, that they get flooding, but that’s going to get worse along with sea level rise and stronger, more intense storms that are producing even more rainfall and flooding. Those people are gonna have to go somewhere, we know that that’s already an unsettled part of the world. You’ve got India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, all kind of fighting over the same resources. So that’s a little more obvious. Some of it though, is, you know, think of a lot of central and southern Africa depends on agriculture. And we know that Botswana, Namibia, parts of South Africa, places that I’ve been to multiple times, is really at some of the highest risk of climate change, because these are dry areas that have rainy and dry seasons. You know, we think of four seasons in Minnesota there, they really only have too hot and dry, or really hot and wet. And those rainy seasons are less and less dependable. They can go whole seasons with almost no rainfall now, parts of Namibia recently had a five year drought where there are parts of that country that didn’t have a drop of rain for five years. Well, what are those people gonna do? These are societies that depend on agriculture. And so part of what we have to do, the richer countries of the world is find ways to help these people economically so that they aren’t refugees, because then it becomes everybody’s problem at some point anyway. And that goes to, you know, you hear a lot about, well, why should we do this if China’s not going to do this, and India’s not going to do this, and Africa is not going to do this? Well, the developing countries in the world have every right to say, well, you guys got to develop on all this dirty energy. Well, why can’t we or you need to help us develop in a clean way that and that’s where we have to invest in other parts of the world. And then you can look at that on a smaller scale, like I know, that the Minneapolis Foundation is doing and say, how do we do that in our own cities, you know? How do we sit, go to poor parts of Minneapolis and say, well, these people want solar panels, that’s expensive, how do we do that? You know, somebody has somebody, some of us who have the means have to step in and invest in that infrastructure. 

RT Rybak  15:49 

This issue of developing countries and what they’re doing is a really interesting and perplexing mind, it’s because you know, every school kid in the country has done some sort of project on don’t tear down the rain forest, I get it. But let’s step back and look at our own country. We are sitting here on the downtown riverfront, looking at the Mississippi, that at one point was filled with logs coming down to the mills. That’s how Minneapolis got here, and it was from deforesting the northern part of the state, 

Sven Sundgaard  16:21 

Which is supposed to last for decades, by the way. They said the lumber Baron said there’d be enough white pine up there to last for decades, I think it took all of nine or 10 years to wipe it all out. 

RT Rybak  16:30 

Right, when you’ve when you’ve seen some of these parts of the world, give us an example of one of those. You’re talking about Namibia, and I remember seeing something you did about giraffes there. What’s a particularly troubling spot you’ve seen on climate around the world? 

Sven Sundgaard  16:47 

I would say Borneo in Indonesia. The orangutans are you know are one of our cousins, one of the great apes is really one of the great apes that’s at the most risk for going extinct within either our lifetime or the next generations because their slash and burn agriculture in Borneo. It’s all rain forest or was supposed to be, and palm oil, illegal palm oil plantations, and some that aren’t legal, or some that are legal, are just wiping out the rain forests there, and they use these slash and burn techniques that I think people are familiar with at the Amazon too, for example, and rain forests are really vital carbon sinks for naturally taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in particular there because these are trees that, you know are photosynthesizing year round. Whereas the boreal forests of North America and Asia and Europe are huge. We actually you can actually see animations of carbon dioxide completely decrease during our summer because the trees absorb so much in the northern forests. But that’s for what if you’re lucky, a tree in Minnesota has three months of good, you know, photosynthesizing and then they sit dormant. So these year round rain forests are really important. These are old trees too that do more than a younger tree. And it’s Borneo, I’d say, but also Brazil, right now and again, getting into politics, they have a president too. Yeah, he makes, you know, Trump look like a moderate. You know, it has been opening up the forests to all these illegal loggers and slash and burn techniques. And I was just reading an article in one of our meteorological journals that was saying that the Amazon is already getting to that point where they’re calling it a net zero as far as unable to really sequester carbon any longer because the climate is changing, too. So you know, we think of you cut down the forest, that’s one thing, but eventually you hit a tipping point where now it becomes too arid, because there’s not enough rain forests to produce the moisture that produces the clouds that produces the storms. And, you know, a lot of southern and eastern parts of the Amazon are, have been cleared for agriculture. And that’s, you know, some of these topics of, you know, telling people, you know, we got to eat less meat, and people, making some of these connections a little bit better, I think are some of the things I mean, people know that carbon dioxide is bad. It makes the earth warmer, the ice caps are melting, but I think getting to some of these things why why is native prairie let’s look at Minnesota, to get to get back to our own, you know, instead of finger pointing, we have less than 1% of Minnesota’s native prairie left. And that’s, you know, you can look at our pioneer ancestor farmers as being just as bad if you want to, but it’s not a good or bad thing. It’s just this is what people did. And this is what people are doing in Brazil or Indonesia or Africa now, clearing the land for agriculture. We cleared the land here for agriculture and those tall grass lands are actually huge carbon sinks as well and we’ve mutilated most of that in the United States, not to mention the biggest cultivator of them which was you know, the bison. So we need to part of the solutions is we have to to sort of restore as much of this as we can, whether it’s forests, or some of these grasslands and make the connection to people. I’m not a vegetarian, I was for seven years, but you know, you got to make meat a special occasion thing, because it’s not people think, Oh, it’s the cow farts is really gonna warm the planet? Well, yeah, methane is an issue, but the biggest thing is the amount of land and water use that goes into producing a pound of meat versus the plants, you know, the the full source and our health will probably benefit too. 

RT Rybak  20:33 

I asked you to give us something that was not working. So after depressing the heck out of us with what we need to know, give us something that’s actually that you see is actually working out there, what’s some progress that you see that’s taking place? 

Sven Sundgaard  20:48 

You know, the educational element, I think, is something that has been really promising just even in the last five to ten years is seeing how people are really starting to finally get it in our own country. And we need to keep pushing on that we need to keep pushing it on adults. But there are programs, you know, one of the many people I’ve gotten to meet that’s been fascinating the world is Jane Goodall. And the yeah… 

RT Rybak  21:11 

That must have been very cool. 

Sven Sundgaard  21:13 

That was cool. And one of the things you and they talk about hopeful inspiration, because it is easy to get depressed about this and be like, God, what can I do here, you know, boom Island in Minneapolis, that’s going to save the world. And she, you know, before COVID, obviously, it was traveling the world still 200 something days a year. So most days, she’s traveling, to get out the word on what’s happening to the planet, because she talks about her experience of going to Africa in the 60s and says, all those amazing things I saw don’t exist anymore. Those animals are still there, but the great migrations and all these just things that we took for granted that are gone, you know, look like the black rhino population in Africa 90% of it was wiped out not over a long period of time of, you know, European colonialization. But over really a 30 year period from the 60s to the 90s is when 90% of the black rhino population was wiped out. So she’s hopeful though, because she’s you know, she says we don’t have a lot of time, there is a narrow window, but we can still change things. And so she raises awareness and money for her institute, which does global stuff, and one of the things that they concentrate on, and this is key for conservation climate changes, we got to not just think big picture, but helping people economically around the world, in poor areas. Go back to like the black rhino population or for her chimps are near and dear to her. It’s easy for us in the west to say you need to save those, shame on you for you know, wiping out their habitat or killing them off. But if you’re just trying to feed your family, you know, you’re thinking very short term, you know, and if somebody is offering you $1,000 for a rhino horn, and you’ve got four starving kids at home, you’re gonna make some very difficult decisions. And we need to, we need to make sure that nobody has to make those kinds of decisions. And that is where, and this is where you get into the finger pointing and what’s fair or not, is, you know, a lot of people in the West say, Well, why should we? Well, we’re we benefited from, you know, a couple 100 years of colonialization, and, you know, America was not isolated from that, you know. So those, there’s a lot of programs like that, that are that are boots on the ground around the world. Educating but investing in communities, and Norway, the Norwegian government is, I think there’s a little guilt there because Norway is one of the largest oil producers in the world with North Sea oil, but they are investing heavily in environmental projects around the world and go back to Brazil they’ve bought up I don’t know the exact number but thousands if not millions of acres of Amazon rain forests and protected it. So simple things like that around the world, you know, and there’s an example of a rich country taking the initiative saying yes, we have the means so we need to do something we can’t just Norway could very easily say we’re a country of four and a half million people up here where it’s cold, you know, a warmer world whatever, what does that mean to us? But you know, actually really saying no, we need to do something we have the means, so we, it’s up to us to take an initiative. 

RT Rybak  24:23 

So you’ve been around the world but you’re a lifelong Minnesotan worked in Duluth before coming here born St. Cloud. 

Sven Sundgaard  24:28 

St. Cloud state, Duluth my first job and then back to Minneapolis, a triangle. Yep. 

RT Rybak  24:32 

You did it all. You’ve even got the perfect name for him. It’s great 

Sven Sundgaard  24:36 

And people actually thought that that name was made up initially when I went to TV I’m like no. And now I have a whole another, speaking of the younger generation gets a kick out of my full name is Sven Olaf Sundgaard, okay, so they think I’m named after Frozen characters. I’m like, no, this is way before that. All of Sundgaard was my great grandpa who came over from Norway so… 

RT Rybak  24:54 

That is great. Okay, so you mentioned that about Norway. Let’s talk about Minnesota because I hear people say, oh global warming, not a bad thing I could use, you know, 10 degrees warmer in the winter. I’m a cross country skier I know a little bit about what isn’t happening, but what do you see happening here? And I think, especially, help us figure out what are some of the actions we can be taking?  

Sven Sundgaard  25:18 

Yeah so Minnesota, yeah, a warmer world. Some people might have a hard time complaining about warmer winters in Minnesota, but it does have impacts on other things, things that we, you know, the polar bear is sort of the international mascot for climate change we think of but I always tell people Minnesota said we can think of the moose that’s our iconic big are the largest animal in our state, and they’re really at risk of disappearing. Will they go extinct from the planet? No, they’ll be fine in Alaska and Canada, at least for a while, but Minnesota, Northern Minnesota is really the southernmost part of their range. And we’re, species like that, that are on the edge of where they can exist, are the ones that are most vulnerable. And I don’t, I sure don’t want to go to the Boundary Waters or isle royal and not see a moose anymore. But they’re really at risk, and the biggest risk one, they overheat when it’s above 55 degrees in the summer, like a Norwegian night, or above it’s but I think it’s 23 degrees in the winter, they have a thicker coat. So they’re really susceptible to the if you have these big swings in temperatures and just warming up things a little bit. But it also makes them more vulnerable to parasites, winter ticks, you know, it’s supposed to get down to 30, 40 below in northeastern Minnesota routinely, and that wipes out ticks on the moose. So instead they’re itching themselves on trees, spending time doing that and being irritated instead of foraging for what little food there is in the winter and they’re becoming anemic and other things. So, not to mention, deer are moving north. A lot of people don’t realize whitetail deer are not native to the North Shore of Minnesota. They weren’t there until the 1940s. A warmer world, plus, us moving in and creating optimal deer habitat and gardens fields farm fields, because they there’s nothing for them to eat in a native forest of northeastern Minnesota and white tailed deer carry diseases that moose are susceptible to the white that moose are, yeah, that white tailed deer don’t catch like the Chronic Wasting Disease and other things. So those are, talking about solutions, those are some things where I know the DNR and some other groups are really working to see okay, where is there a big overlap and white tailed deer and moose, for example, how can we prevent that? Can we, you know, have increased deer harvest in those areas or relocate those moose to where there are fewer deer. So a lot of what we have to do is adapt to the new norm. What we’ve seen this year is going to be with us more and more frequently. There’s nothing we can do about what you know, we’ve experienced this last summer, for example, that is going to happen more, but just imagine a worse summer like this. Imagine 30 years from now that our drought is worse, or it’s even hotter in the summer, or that instead of air quality alerts, you know, two weeks of our summer now it becomes an all summer thing kind of like what California experienced. 

RT Rybak  28:10 

Let me ask a rookie meteorology, meteorology question about this. You know, there’s always the saying if you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, stick around, it’ll change in a couple of minutes. But it actually doesn’t seem like it’s doing that anymore. It does seem that when we get a cold snap, it stays longer, heat spell, it stays longer, dry one that stays longer. That’s just me observing that. Is there any truth to that? And is that part of what’s going on? 

Sven Sundgaard  28:35 

You’re not really a rookie, then that isn’t that’s a that’s a that’s a measured thing. So and we’re trying there’s some exciting debate about this actually in the meteorology community about what exactly is causing that? Is it a climate change link? We think it is. There’s one theory that’s somewhat controversial that we’re warming the Arctic so fast that what’s happening is the Jetstream is becoming weaker, because the Jetstream like any wind is created by temperature difference. And so our mid latitude Jetstream is dependent on the difference in temperature between us and the Arctic. And if you warm the Arctic twice as fast as Minnesota is warming, which is already twice as fast as what equatorial areas are warming. Now you decrease that temperature difference and so the jet streams are becoming more wobbly. And we are getting stuck in these patterns. And it’s one extreme to the next. And I, three years ago, I think was 2018, I used this as a clear example I didn’t like the fact that it happened but it was like this is this is what’s happening, and you need to see how these extremes so it’s not as clear cut as Oh, Minnesota is just gonna have milder winters. We’re gonna have more, we’re an extreme place, our extremes are becoming more extreme. We went from April 2018 people remember we had to blizzards. Snowiest April ever, coldest April ever. To then the fourth hottest may on record. We, literally, we joke about jumping from winter to summer. We, literally, that year, we went from March to June in a 30 day period statistically. And that’s, you know that, again that for us, it’s uncomfortable, but for our plants and animals that have evolved to Minnesota’s normal climate, that could be too much, you know, the deal breaker. 

RT Rybak  30:18 

When you look at a temperature map of the country, there’s always this depressing trough that goes over Minnesota. Yeah. I, you know, when you look at a map, you think, is this maybe that Hudson Bay is up there and the Arctic winds are coming up Hudson Bay and coming down and making us colder? First up, why is this colder and how is that changes? 

Sven Sundgaard  30:44 

So there is actually, there is a climate… 

RT Rybak  30:48 

Why is it cold in Minnesota? 

Sven Sundgaard  30:49 

There is a connect well, partly, the basic thing I tell, I’ll tell my students says pull up like a Google Map satellite view, and what do you see between us and the North Pole? What do you see? What do you see between us and the Gulf of Mexico? There’s no mountains in between. There’s no there’s no modifying force. Hudson Bay freezes over, even though it’s saltwater because it gets so cold. So it’s basically one big flat plane. So we have a free range for the coldest air on the planet to get here, but also the hottest air. And so that’s why our extremes are becoming more extreme. And to get to the point that overall, though, with winters are warming, our winters are warming faster than anywhere else in the lower 48. The only place it’s warming faster is Alaska, because it has Arctic real estate, and the Arctic is, is the fastest. But a great example this February, everybody was, you know, complaining and moaning about the 10 cold days we had in February, which were legitimately cold, but they broke no records here, which should tell people something, but everybody pointed to the climate deniers like Oh, look at all the records broken in Texas that tells you that there’s no global warming. I’m like, No, actually think about it. How did that air when it was here, break no records, but it’s breaking records there that tells you that that air doesn’t belong there. So to get back to these bizarre Jetstream patterns, you know, there are impacts that we’re having on the atmosphere that we’re still trying to understand, you know, something like that it’s going to be infrequent, but it doesn’t matter if that happens once every five years. And Texas doesn’t get its act together, which they don’t they tend to Yeah, you know, retrograde rather than progress. That’s going to be a problem for them, and their whole power grid, we saw what that did. And then not to mention, they get hurricanes and flooding and everything else. There’s parts of the southern US, which are two feet above normal for rainfall for the year, you know, whereas we had our worst drought in 33 years that finally broke and get back to the weather does change here. And that’s why we are a little bit in a better spot than California, for example. They don’t, the weather doesn’t change that much. So you can get into a 10 year drought like there, and whereas at least here, we know summer ends no matter what sometimes summer will end, October, November, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to it’s going to catch up to us. But we just ended our hottest summer ever in the Twin Cities. And people were perplexed by what wait, there were more 90s in 100 degree days in 1933, and in 1988. And there were but again, another sign of a climate change caused warm summer, we are consistently warm, you know, 1988 had your normal variations still where you’d get a cool break for five days in the 70s. We didn’t get anything like that we’d get one or two days this year, maybe, or it were, you know, some of those coolish days you get at the beginning of June or end of August that are only in the 60s. We didn’t get any of that this year, and our nights are a lot warmer, all things that show that a greenhouse effect is really amplified and just looking at maps of the Northern Hemisphere, comparing temperatures this year to 1988 to 1933 is really crazy, because the whole northern hemisphere is hot. There are a couple little blue blobs, but that tells you there’s just a lot of heat in the system. So people have been asking me, for some reason people have in their minds that when we have a hot summer, we get a really cold winter. I’m like, that’s hard to imagine with the amount of heat in the Northern Hemisphere. All you got to throw out all the old rules, the old rules go out the window. So when somebody says, well, I heard La Nina’s are cold winters, we don’t get cold winters anymore. You know, I did an analysis of the last two decades, only one in four winters have been cooler than normal, and only by a degree or two. Three fourths of our winters in the last 20 years are all warmer than normal, and by bigger margins than any of the cool winters are below normal. 

RT Rybak  34:34 

Let me talk about your voice. How you use your voice. You know, I used to be a journalist and my job was to report not to talk about it. And then I obviously now talk a lot about issues. You had a job on television, and now you don’t and I follow your Twitter feed. Everybody, by the way should be on your Twitter feed. It’s awesome. But it’s clear. I mean you are not pulling any punches right now. What does that meant for you? And did you feel when you were in media that you were not able to use your voice as much, and I’m especially interested in this, and how so many people who are listening are trying to figure out their own voice. You see a catastrophe, you want to get up and move, there are limits to what you think you can say, or what’s acceptable at a dinner party or whatever. What’s it feel like to be able to just say, I can say it clearly, and what does that insight give to the rest of us as we think about that? 

Sven Sundgaard  35:34 

That, I mean, the first word that comes to mind is probably pretty obvious, liberating. But we, you know, and I have for a long time, even when I was still in TV talked a lot about the climate change issue, even though we were always told, you know, maybe tone it down a bit, because not that any, you know, a boss disagreed with it, but, you know, it’s whether you were working for a newspaper, or a television station, these are for profit companies, and they make their money based on keeping the most amount of their viewers happy or watching, or reading. And so you don’t want to anger even if even if it’s the truth, you don’t want to anger certain people. So that gets into, you know, normally that’s a fine balance, but we’re in these crazy times where, you know, there are these points where everybody kind of needs to speak up a little bit, you know. January 6, the day after, from a political standpoint. You know, people don’t want to get political, but that’s a time where people should probably be like, okay, that’s wrong, there should be some accountability. And the climate change issue is, is one that we’re, you know, you people can’t be silent anymore on it. It’s just too important, and we have to do big things really quickly, in order to fix it. And so I guess I look at it, you know, do I want to get involved? Like, I wouldn’t tweet anything about the mayoral race or policing in Minneapolis? I’m also not an expert on that. But I do feel like in a field that is knowledgeable on climate and meteorology, it’s, you know, not just should I talk about it, it’s imperative that I talk about it. You know, I’m, I’m being irresponsible, if I’m not talking about, you know, one of the biggest crises of our time. Similarly, as I would think a doctor who’s an expert in immunology should be talking about COVID and vaccines and debunking, you know, the misinformation that’s out there. So should anybody be using their voice? No, but, you know, it depends on what your area of expertise is, or, or how you want to get involved, but it doesn’t have to be, you can speak up on climate change without being a climate scientist. If you’re, you know, a parent says, this is an important issue, and we need to do something about this is what the science says, you know, not just somebody taking a pile of misinformation, say, we should do this, because I saw this on someone’s Facebook page. 

RT Rybak  38:05 

Well, I’m really glad you’re using your voice. It’s great. Let me ask you just a final question. If somebody handed you $1,000, to give to any group that was really making an impact in Minneapolis, in Minnesota, around the world, where would you send it? 

Sven Sundgaard  38:20 

Boy, that’s a good question. I’m supposed to say the Minneapolis Foundation, right? 

RT Rybak  38:24 

No, no, no, we wouldn’t we get the money out to other people. 

Sven Sundgaard  38:29 

Well, yeah, I get a lot of foundations go to you guys. Right? 

RT Rybak  38:31 

Yeah, well, what would we often do is that somebody will say I want to be, be generous, they’ll open up the donor advised fund with us, and we work with them on organization. So I’m asking the question, so that our team when our donors say where should they procure. 

Sven Sundgaard  38:48 

From an international perspective, I you know, we talked about this. The Jane Goodall Institute is really incredible, and specifically, she has this roots and shoots program, which is specifically working with youth around the world. It’s not just in developing countries, it’s getting, you know, kids in Minneapolis, to be appreciative of the natural world and wanting to do something about climate change and investing in, in their, in their education and helping them see their potential to have an impact on the world. But also, you know, helping kids in a village somewhere in in Tanzania, specifically where she was working, and it really seems like you get a lot for your money there. And, and I’m not just saying this, but I learned a lot by doing stories with the Minneapolis Foundation about some of the projects you guys are working on, that are not you know, they don’t work for you, but you’re funding them. So the Solar Panel Project, for example, I learned a lot about, I knew a lot about solar power and how that works, but just all the issues facing people of color, specifically, when it comes to, you know, for example, this company wants to use whenever possible people of color who will install the solar panels on roofs and the problems that they run into simple things that you know we’re a mayor or somebody can get involved perhaps or the city council you know we used to have an electrical, an electrician school that was based in Minneapolis now it’s out in Andover something well, if you don’t have a car, or reliable transport, how are you going to get from North Minneapolis there every single day to take the proper training to be able to get these high paying jobs? So all these you know, it was supposed to be a 45 minute shoot and I sat there for two hours listening and talking with, you know, really these leaders in all this in a backyard in February, and I just thought it was it was inspiring to me too. And so yeah, little in a little bit of money can help these different projects a lot. You know, $1,000 isn’t really a lot of money, but it actually can go a long way with some of these, especially community projects. 

RT Rybak  40:57 

Great. So you gave us a great international, a great local project. So what we’ll do in your name is send 500, Jane Goodall and 500 to that local solar project. And just, and thank you in enormous amounts, Sven. Your voice right now is about as important as anybody around here you got a ton of credibility. You know what you’re talking about, you’re a Minnesotan. And it’s just super critical right now. So thank you so very much for, for getting your voice even stronger than ever. 

Sven Sundgaard  41:27 

Thank you. And thanks for all the work you guys are doing. Thanks. 

Souphak Kienitz  41:31 

And that’s our guest host, RT Rybak and our guest, Sven Sundguaard. If you enjoyed this podcast and looking for ways to become a sponsor, please contact me. You can find my information on our website under the About Section and click on Our People. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco, Darlynn, Benjamin, and our guest host, RT Rybak. This is Souphak Kienitz. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you soon 

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Our Guests

Sven Sundgaard

Sven Sundgaard has been a meteorologist for nearly two decades in Minnesota. He has been studying climate change and ringing the alarm bells for many years while broadcasting on TV and digital media. In recent years he’s been traveling the world to tell stories of conservation and climate change on six of the seven continents. He currently is a meteorologist for a digital news service and science advisor to the Minneapolis Foundation, which focuses on the climate crisis & racial equity. He’s also taught middle school earth science to help the youth navigate their future role in combating climate change.

R.T. Rybak

R.T. has led the Foundation since July 2016, deepening its community impact, significantly growing its donor base and contributions, and launching a strategic framework that more directly focuses on using multiple impact levers to dismantle inequities. A Minneapolis native, R.T. spent 30 years in journalism, publishing, marketing, and the Internet before serving as Mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to 2013. His most significant career focus has been developing equitable career paths for youth of color. That work has included being a founding partner of: Step Up, which has provided summer jobs to 20,000 high school students; Urban Scholars, its companion program for college students; the Power of YOU, which provides free community college tuition; ConnextMSP, an alumni association helping participants of high-performing programs serving youth of color connect to careers; and Generation Next, a coalition of civic, business, and school leaders focused on racial equity, where R.T. served as executive director from 2014 to 2016.v