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The Midwest Climate Collaborative: Achieving environmental and energy sustainability reform in the Midwest

Written by Theo Hanson, MD and MPH candidate, University College Dublin and Flinders University, Australia, 2022 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program participant

As part of the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track seminar series, I recently attended an online presentation by Heather Navarro, JD. She presented on the UN’s Sustainability Development Goal (SDG) 7 and how it relates to the Midwest region. Navarro is director of the Midwest Climate Collaborative (MCC) and recently served as an alderperson in St. Louis, where she oversaw the introduction of a number of environmental protection and sustainability policies. Navarro graduated in 2001 from Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences and also in 2008 with a JD from the School of Law. Previously, Navarro served as executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Benton County, Indiana

Navarro began her talk by outlining SDG 7, which is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. This goal aims to not only increase the use of sustainable energy across the world, but to also increase its supply to people previously without access to reliable electricity. For example, a third of the world’s population uses inefficient and high-polluting cooking practices, which has negative environmental and health implications. Additionally, it is estimated that 759 million people across the world still do not have access to reliable power. The UN aims to overcome these deficits through increasing access to equitable, dependable, and environmentally clean energy supply.

The Midwest is a high consumer of unsustainable and unclean sources of energy. Despite accounting for just a quarter of the American population, the region consumes 46% of U.S. coal-generated energy. Furthermore, the Midwest is projected to experience energy affordability and supply issues in the future as climate change generates extreme weather patterns. Currently, the Midwest’s energy capacity is 119 Gigawatts, and it is predicted that 124 Gigawatts will eventually be required to meet peak demand during summer.  

Yet, despite its high consumption of unsustainable energy, the Midwest is actually the country’s highest producer of clean wind energy. Regional weather conditions are conducive to harnessing energy from wind, with Iowa and Oklahoma second only to Texas in quantity of wind-generated energy production.

In her presentation, Navarro introduced the recently launched Midwest Climate Collaborative (MCC). The MCC is a cross-sector, collaborative agency whose vision is to achieve a carbon-neutral, climate-resilient, interconnected Midwest through coordinating communication and action between various energy stakeholders. The MCC aims to fill the gap between energy research and implementation, particularly by assisting local governments act on information provided to them. Some of the projects currently underway include increasing electric vehicle infrastructure and installing solar panels in an equitable and ethical manner.

The Midwest Climate Collaborative is a promising and exciting new climate agency that has the potential to help this region of the U.S. contribute to achieving SDG 7. There is great potential in the Midwest to achieve environmentally responsible energy production, supply, and consumption, and the MCC will be imperative in achieving this.