THE BLOG

Climate Change Is Definitely in the Michigan Air This Season

10/09/2012 11:51 am ET | Updated Dec 09, 2012

There's a distinct air of ongoing change this fall, which only the most oblivious can deny. A remarkably mild Detroit winter gave way to another spring of unusually lethal tornadoes down through tornado alley, and a summer of unprecedented temperatures, droughts and wild fires across the country.

Mirroring those natural signs, Midwestern states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin find their political climates becoming more turbulent, toxic and hostile. Factor in dwindling resources, and it all adds up to increasingly oppressive conditions manifested in the outrageous bid to subvert democracy in people of color communities throughout the state via the Emergency Manager Law, rampant privatization schemes such as the takeover of the Detroit Public Water System and the state-wide attack on collective bargaining rights.

Part of the winds of change for me personally is a transition into a new role as a community organizer around climate change and alternative energy with the Sierra Club Detroit's Beyond Coal Campaign. There are crucial decisions being made every day that will shape things no less monumental than the future of Democracy in Detroit, the society at large and the environmental health of the planet. So, there's plenty of work to do.

A primary reason for my transition to the Sierra Club has been their demonstrated commitment to true grassroots organizing that people like Rhonda Anderson, Melissa Damaschke, Brad Van Guilder, Ahmina Maxey, Michelle Martinez, Dr. Delores Leonard, Vincent Martin and other allies have forged here in Detroit. I've seen them all not only engaging policy makers, environmental organizations and community leaders but most importantly community residents.

I'm honored to follow in the footsteps of people who are so dedicated to grassroots environmental activism. I'm also humbled to be affiliated with the organization that recognizes their commitments and makes their work possible.

As the new kid on the block, I don't come in with all the answers. I'm here to learn and help where I can. I do bring a tool kit of media experience and skills to my organizing work, and as such I would like to extend them to the residents of the Detroit, Tri-Cities, Metro and Down River communities. I intend to help their voices and stories be heard while supporting the causes community members care most about.

I'll be following their leads, because everyone familiar with the struggle for environmental justice in the United States knows that Detroit-area communities are among the most impacted in the country. So, I can't think of a better place or time to be rolling up my sleeves and going to work along with each of you.

Another reason I came aboard is the simple fact that as the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club has the independence and resources to confront instances of environmental injustice in ways that local, primarily foundation-funded groups simply do not.

This is a critical moment in the struggle to protect people and the planet from the unbridled excesses of industry today. Combating them will require a healthy measure of freedom from those same forces as we work to address the unfortunate directions our society and environment have taken.

Many of the same powerful interests turning up the heat for unregulated corporate control of society and dismantling the progressive gains that made Detroit both the birthplace of the American middle class and progressive movement happen to be the same ones responsible for global warming. Their stranglehold on the world economy gives them considerable sway over the minds and actions of a great many people. However, those of us who value people and our own common sense above all else can still know the difference when presented with rain or sewage water.

Despite what some might say, our motivation is not to hurt any one's economic prospects. We simply want to preserve a hospitable environment fit for ecosystems and economies to flourish, but that's not the direction we're headed under their sway. Why not try a direction where earning a good living and having a clean healthy environment in which to enjoy it are not mutually exclusive, but necessary?

Indeed, new businesses like Power Panel in Detroit are producing good jobs today in Michigan, while helping to provide clean energy. With the right policies in place, we can grow stronger local economies and healthier communities. Meanwhile, 30 states across the country have adopted clean energy initiatives -- surpassing our current 10 percent requirement.

This has bolstered the local economies of those states, while addressing climate change. In the process, they're creating safer environments for both workers and residents. Since when did Michigan become among the nation's followers rather than leaders?

Unfortunately, it seems guaranteed profit margins are not enough for certain corporate interests. So, it's incumbent on citizens to lead and create the necessary balance.

History -- recent and remote -- has shown industry's single-minded profiteering only leads to the kinds of catastrophes we find ourselves facing today, where the residents of Dexter were hit by an F-3 tornado -- the earliest ever recorded in Washtenaw County, with winds up to 140 miles per hour that damaged more than 100 homes over a path of seven miles. Meanwhile, here in Detroit, residents were busy scrambling for signatures to combat the political firestorm generated by the Emergency Manager Law and Consent Decree, which along with the Detroit Works Plan seeks to disinvest in many of the city's neighborhoods and public facilities while diverting resources into historically discredited privatization schemes.

Some local companies would like us all to believe that our tax dollars are better served by contributing to their bottom lines than protecting the citizens, workers and the natural resources none of us can do without. They've been rather successful over the last 30 years in turning back the intellectual clock in America to pre-enlightenment, flat-earth-society standards, but I'm betting that the tide is about to turn against their regressive agenda once again.

As I've said before, even when people fail to impose the necessary limits and balances on the excesses of some, Nature has a way of imposing her own limitations. It didn't take rocket scientists to predict the consequences of unrestrained carbon emissions and deforestation across the globe, but now that the evidence is being manifested in natural and man-made disasters before our very eyes, only the most dogmatic minority seems content to bury their heads in the tar sands and smoke stacks lining the banks of the Detroit River.