Going green: Compass looks at enviroment key measures
Susan Brower, Minnesota Compass
The health of our environment is so closely associated with other trends in well-being in the region. For example, our physical health, economic growth, and our transportation system are all closely related to the environment trends that Twin Cities Compass is tracking.
It is important for us all to be watching these trends, because trends in environment don't change as quickly as some others we track.
Very slow changes over time can lead to serious consequences. We need to be very watchful of the incremental changes in environmental indicators, because in many cases their harmful effects may be difficult, if not impossible to reverse.
The trends in greenhouse gas emissions are a cause for concern. Minnesota has higher per capita emissions than the U.S., and per capita emissions have been increasing in the state for the last 15 years, while they have been decreasing in the U.S. overall. I think this will surprise many people.
For some of the environment indicators, what is important to pay attention to is current levels of pollution, protection, etc., rather than changes to the measures over time. For example, over the last five years, about half of the larger lakes in our region did not meet basic water quality standards. In 2006, 86 percent of the lakes either did not meet basic water quality standards, or they had additional impairments or both.
The environment data were different from data in the other areas we track. In many cases, there are very sophisticated techniques for gathering or estimating the data, but much less focus has been put on getting good coverage across the region and across time. This was particularly true of the lake water quality data. To deal with the issue of coverage, we selected a sample of the larger lakes in the region for which we had good data, but we would still like to see more of the lakes in our region being tested on a regular basis.
A measure that we will be continuing to develop in the near future relates to the amount of high-quality, natural land in the region.
Our current estimate of protected natural land includes DNR-administered lands, U.S. Fish and Wildlife preserves, regional parks, and nature preserves. But in the future we will be working to expand this inventory to include land managed by counties and cities, privately-owned land, land trusts, state and federally-protected land, and land owned by corporations and academic institutions.