Welcome to the March 25, 2021 edition of Three Things Thursday! With temperatures in the 60’s, flowers blooming, and the sun shining more often, it looks like spring may really be here, although we all know how quickly things can change in Michigan. The longer days and warmer weather seem like a gift every year, infusing us with more energy and hope. That’s certainly been the case at Michigan LCV: the team has been hard at work on a number of different fronts and we have some amazing results to show for it.
This week’s Three Things include Michigan LCV’s celebration of World Water Day and how water, environmental protection and sustainability must be prioritized as we build back our economy; some key results from our 2020 work in Oakland County; and the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, which released its final recommendations for addressing climate change.
1. Celebrating World Water Day, Michigan LCV’s Week of Action, and Building Back Better
World Water Day was on Monday and the Michigan LCV team made sure that was well recognized, using all communications tools at our disposal. For many of us, every day is World Water Day, as we acknowledge and celebrate the fact that Michigan sits at the heart of the Great Lakes –the largest expanse of freshwater on the globe. Our proximity to freshwater defines who we are as Michiganders and it is certainly a central pillar of our work at Michigan LCV. Protecting our waters from toxic chemicals (like PFAS) and heavy metals (like lead and copper), invasive species, agricultural runoff, microplastics, septic failures and sewage overflows, and ensuring that every Michigander has access to clean, safe, affordable water is fundamental to all we do.
Unfortunately, aging water/sewer pipes and contamination are serious problems, as are the resulting costs associated with water. And these issues have been exacerbated by the long-term lack of investments in our infrastructure, the impacts of climate change, and a global pandemic. In the past year, the number of Michiganders unable to pay their water bills has increased exponentially, compounding an already profound public health crisis.
To acknowledge World Water Day, Michigan LCV partnered with organizations, like We The People Detroit, and turned a day into a week of action. We focused on water affordability and water shutoffs, providing Michiganders easy ways to contact their elected officials and make their voices heard. Lawmakers are being asked to:
- Sign the Water Affordability Pledge created by We The People Detroit and other frontline water justice organizations. The pledge emphasizes the right to clean, safe, affordable, accessible drinking water.
- Extend the moratorium on water shut offs in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium expires on March 31st and will leave thousands of Michigan families in a situation where their water service could be shut off by utility companies due to unpaid bills. Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered a moratorium on these shut offs last year, and the Michigan LCV team has worked diligently to ensure that the moratorium has been extended throughout this ongoing COVID-19 crisis, despite multiple expiration dates and attempts to strike down the order.
Some of our legislative allies in Lansing have zeroed in on both the moratorium deadline and the importance of elevating clean, safe, affordable water in the larger public debate. Senator Stephanie Chang (D, SD 1), introduced legislation that extends the moratorium, and Rep. Padma Kuppa (D, HD 41) introduced a resolution that formally recognizes World Water Day as a statewide holiday.
In addition to our advocacy work, we have also been promoting several upcoming events, including webinars and film screenings. One of those events takes place on March 30 at 5:45 PM when Michigan LCV will be hosting a Q & A Facebook livestream with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. This event falls on the eve of the moratorium expiration date, so we will undoubtedly be talking about water justice and Congresswoman Tlaib’s efforts in Washington to prohibit water shut offs nationwide during COVID-19. You can join us by visiting the Michigan LCV Facebook page to watch the livestream.
As Michigan and the rest of the country continue to grapple with COVID-19, families everywhere are struggling to make ends meet. The good news is that the Biden/Harris administration and many members of the Michigan congressional delegation are working towards solutions at the federal level that will help stimulate the economy while also addressing the water and climate crises. Please know that the Michigan LCV team has prioritized this work, working hand-in-glove with both impacted communities and our members of congress to ensure that the Build Back Better plan — aimed at building back our economy and creating jobs while also finding sustainable and equitable solutions to address the climate crisis and environmental justice — is adopted in full.
2. Michigan LCV’s 2020 work in Oakland County–what this means in 2021
Over the past year+, the Michigan LCV team, in partnership with a number of other organizations, has worked intensely within Oakland County communities to promote sustainability and elect lawmakers who will take meaningful steps to address climate change. This collective effort is now known as the Oakland County Climate Campaign and the Michigan LCV team is very proud of the results.
- We “framed the debate” leading up to the 2020 county commission elections, ensuring that every candidate for office understood that voters care deeply about just and equitable solutions to address climate change.
- We got involved in the election process, endorsing 20 candidates across the state house, county commission, and county executive races in Oakland County and mobilizing voters in each district.
- On the backside of the election, the Oakland County Climate Campaign continued the conversation, urging Oakland County’s newly elected officials to take serious and prompt steps to address sustainability and climate issues.
And, now, things are beginning to happen..
- Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter announced the establishment of a first-ever county office devoted to sustainability practices and the creation of a Sustainability Officer role within the county’s government structure. (We issued a statement in partnership with the Oakland County Climate Campaign applauding this announcement which you can read here.)
- Coulter and the Oakland County Commission have also committed to developing a sustainability plan and conducting energy audits for the county. These commitments reflect the proposed policies outlined in the Oakland County Climate Campaign’s platform. Key among them is the carbon neutrality goal of county-wide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, which aligns with Gov. Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan.
The announcement of the creation of the sustainability officer role and a deepened commitment to sustainable climate solutions is a first step in the fight against climate change for Oakland County. There is a real opportunity for Oakland County to become a state and regional leader when it comes to climate change and sustainability.
As I write, the Oakland County Commission is meeting to discuss/vote on the resolution, codifying the sustainability officer position and moving a number of key policies from the Oakland County Climate Campaign’s platform forward.
3. University of Michigan’s Commission on Carbon-Neutrality + big news on financial commitments to achieve carbon neutrality
Last week, the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality submitted final recommendations in a report to President Mark Schlissel and university leaders on meaningful steps and solutions for the University to pursue when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. The mission, provided to the Commission by President Schlissel in 2018, was to recommend “scalable, transferable, and financially responsible pathways” towards carbon neutrality for the University across all three of its major campuses.
The Commission’s final report includes solutions that pertain to U of M’s carbon footprint across three areas of carbon emissions, including direct and indirect emissions, and includes achievable timelines and goals. These include recommendations on infrastructure, transportation, and carbon offset strategies that will help mitigate carbon emissions and set the University on a path towards carbon neutrality across all areas of carbon emissions and across all three campuses no later than 2040.
Full disclosure, I was a member of the Commission, one of the only members who was not University faculty, staff or part of the student body.
The final recommendations from the Commission mark a step in the right direction for the University, which plays a significant role in the greater Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint communities, occupying large portions of land, providing thousands of jobs, and hosting tens of thousands of students every year. The steps the University takes towards enacting sustainable climate policies has profound implications for the cities in which the University is located (i.e. the success of Ann Arbor’s bold climate action plan hinges on what the University decides to do in relation to housing, transportation, renewable energy and much more). There are also important implications for the goals spelled out in Gov. Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan.
Implementation of Commission’s recommendations is now the responsibility of President Schlissel and other university leaders. Faculty, staff and students who have long been advocating for strong climate action on the part of the U, along with organizations like Voices for Carbon Neutrality, are eager to see the President take important first steps, notably hiring an executive leader whose charge will include building a strong intersectional team across the various schools and campuses to ensure a rock solid embrace of the plan.
The Regents meeting today was not expected to include focus on the PCCN Report or carbon neutrality, but in a surprise move President Schlissel introduced a supplemental item regarding University investments. Emphasizing that climate change is the biggest, most urgent crisis we have ever faced, President Schissel announced that while a few top universities (like the University of California, Columbia, and Brown) have already adopted some of the following policies, the UM wants to (and must) do more. He went on to say that UM was proud to be the very first public university in the United States to adopt four key commitments. These commitments were then further emphasized by Regent Bernstein:
- The University will NOT invest in companies that are primarily engaged in oil reserves, oil extraction or thermal coal extraction.
- In addition, the University will NOT directly invest in companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, currently defined as the top 100 coal and top 100 oil & gas publicly traded reserve holders as identified on the Carbon Underground 200 list.
- The University will shift their natural resources investment focus toward renewable energy investments; AND
- The University is making a commitment to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions from their entire $13B investment portfolio to net-zero by 2050 (which aligns UM with the deadline set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement).
Regent Bernstein and Regent Acker emphasized that it was the advocacy on the part of the community, notably the students, that brought these commitments to fruition.
While there will undoubtedly be questions related to the University’s existing investments, this is a truly significant move on the part of the Maize & Blue.
To learn more about the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, you can read the final report here, as well as the executive summary.
As always, thank you for your trust in our work. Until next week…
P.S. The 2021 West Michigan Wege Foundation Lecture
Although COVID has certainly disrupted our previously normal routines and made many in-person events impossible, lectures and seminars are now accessible wherever you may live. That’s why I’m excited about the 24th annual Wege Foundation Lecture, which is scheduled for May 27th at 4PM.
Last year the lecture was cancelled due to the pandemic; this year, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, renowned author, educator and environmental advocate, will be in the online spotlight. Many of you may know Dr. Kimmerer’s top selling book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, which has received critical acclaim. I encourage anyone who is interested to RSVP and catch this amazing lecture.