History has shown us time and time again that big changes can often come to our world when small movements begin to build momentum.
We have seen this process in everything from religion, to politics, and beyond.
One area that is gaining steam (read: resounding popularity) each year is the annual Mayors’ Grand River Clean Up
-- an event championed nine years ago through a partnership between West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) and Grand Rapids Young Professionals (GRYP) and a natural outgrowth of WMEAC’s popular Adopt-A-Stream program.
This event began as a project focused on Grand Rapids' then-newly elected Mayor Heartwell’s belief that a clean riverfront equates to a healthier and visually beautiful city.
Now, the Grand Rapids portion is so clean after years of pulling out massive pieces of refuse -- old tires, appliances -- that they have expanded their leadership in this area to include partnerships with Walker Mayor Rob VerHeulen, Wyoming Mayor Jack Poll and Grandville Mayor James Buck.
The beauty of this event is not only the growth in popularity beyond Grand Rapids, but also that the results are felt beyond the miles and miles of riverbank that will be transformed.
“This year, we will expand from the 16 miles of riverbank we tackled in 2011 to nearly 20 miles,” says WMEAC Executive Director Rachel Hood. “But the real plus of this event is not just the thousands of pounds of trash we will remove in just a few short hours, but that each year we see many new faces from outside the choir loft come out from a variety of sub-sections from our community -- from area churches to local businesses -- who rally around a common goal that protecting our watershed is vital to our area’s health.”
As a special thanks this year, a first-time volunteer appreciation party will commence around noon, complete with food and beverages (including beer from sponsor Founders Brewing Company) and musical guest Potato Moon.
This afterglow event will enable people of diverse backgrounds to converse and learn more from the various groups and sponsors who make this event possible.
One item that will surely be on the minds is the upcoming Prop 3, a new ballot initiative to amend Michigan’s constitution to require energy utility companies in our state to deliver power from cleaner and environmentally sound sources like wind, solar, biomass and hydropower (and those processes yet discovered) at a rate of 25 percent by the year 2025.
And if you thought our current standard of 10 percent by 2015 with a 1 percent Energy Efficiency goal was unreachable, it's time to think again.
“What we have found in our pursuit of the 2015 goals is that we have met each benchmark. So what was once thought difficult and expensive when adopted in 2008 is actually happening. Renewable energy is beginning to deliver affordably and effectively,” says Hood.
“In fact, through those efforts we are discovering where we have leaks and are plugging them, we are making us more energy efficient," she continues. "But also, we have an unexpected bonus as the Michigan Public Service Commission is reporting that new renewables and efficiency are coming in much cheaper than new fossils and nuclear."
Hood says that in 2012, it was reported that our cost of energy from cleaner sources versus that of our older forms of energy (like coal) is actually costing less now. "The report shows energy optimization to cost about $16/MWh, renewables at $91/MWh, versus new coal at $107/MWh," she explains.
Michigan’s commitment to energy efficiency is by far the cleanest, cheapest and most quickly deployed source of new energy available to Michiganders, and the best news is that these renewables are absolutely competitive.
“Consumer’s Energy and DTE are actually signing wind contracts now at about $60/MWh.,” says Hood. “This is something we did not expect to happen so soon and points to the innovation in energy production happening here.”
Experts estimate we will create 94,000 new jobs in Michigan. (Source
While 31 other states have already enacted renewable energy standards very close to Michigan’s new proposal, we should be aware that most of our changes over the past decade are unfortunately coming, according to many climate change scientists, as a reaction to the threats we are currently experiencing and not just because we are being proactive in the area of energy production.
“Proposal 3 is a positive game changer for Michigan. It gives voice to citizens that want a stronger state and understand we must commit to action that innovates an industry, delivers new and good jobs to Michigan families, improves our health and protects our air and water,” says Hood. “This is an opportunity for Michigan voters to leave a legacy for future generations on scale with the development of the auto industry 100 years ago.”
And lest we think we can just continue to fight this battle along party lines, we had better wake up.
Since the last election cycle, the case Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson was filed against the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, but also the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Defense departments. The teenage plaintiffs claim that these organizations are mishandling the atmosphere, a public trust issue for the people who will inherit our actions, or lack of, in the arena of climate change. (Columbia Law School’s Climate Law Blog, June 2, 2012 and The Atlantic, May 9, 2012)
The suit was eventually dismissed at the end of May 2012 by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkin offering that this was a matter best handled at the state level. (It should also be noted that the motion to dismiss was not only conferred by the defendants, but also the National Association of Manufacturers who weighed in on their dismissal in April 2012. This show of corporate muscle is further proof we need to craft a common ground that all parties can intersect on this topic and without the greenwashing.)
What we do not want to see happen, obviously, is our children beginning to run our policy, but rather, that their voice and face is before us in the decisions we make. There is a difference in playing the kid card and actually doing the right thing by our children who inherit our messes.
The teens that filed this lawsuit at the federal level may have lost the battle but not the war, because taking lead from the dismissal, additional suits have now popped up in 12 states.
Each case is being advocated in the same manner as the suit brought at the federal level. Essentially, we as adults bear a responsibility to the future and how we handle the gifts given to us to hand down to the generations to follow is important for that future. And now it is clear, the next generation, who cannot go to the voting booth to protect their interests, are turning to legal channels.
And lest one think this is simply idle chatter or headline-grabbing stuff, please note that while the future of some of these cases is uncertain, two are showing success in the states of Texas and New Mexico.
This November, we get a unique chance to be good stewards of our state’s resources as we consider Prop 3 and what it really means. It is not about limits but about setting goals or things we can aspire. Without a goal, we languish in the dark valley of the shadow of lost opportunity.
It is a goal that I believe we in Michigan can all be proud of, and one we can hopefully make because we know we have the imagination, the wisdom and the will to do so. It is this moment that we can say to our children and their children that we knew what to do and we set in action a course that did not squander their future health or environment for momentary gain. We did the hard thing right.
The environment belongs to no political party.
The Future Needs All of Us.
Tommy Allen, Lifestyle Editor
Email: [email protected]
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