Traverse City has pledged to fight climate change through renewable energy; can your city?

Kate Madigan

Kate Madigan is director of the Michigan Climate Action Network and a Traverse City-based climate and energy specialist for the Michigan Environmental Council.

Those of us concerned about what the future holds for our children and our planet feel an urgent need for climate action. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, experts say we need to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Instead, the Trump administration is holding back our transition away from fossil fuels when we have no time to waste. Scott Pruitt, who leads the agency charged with protecting our environment, denies the basic science of climate change. President Trump has proposed rolling back clean car standards and pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. The denier in chief also has reversed decisions to halt construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and called for killing the Clean Power Plan. 

This is the opposite of what scientists and the global community tell us is necessary to preserve a livable future on our planet. It’s also contrary to public opinion. Most Americans want stronger action on climate change, and a majority of Trump voters support clean energy.

We’re already seeing climate change play out across our state: more ticks spreading disease, thousands of Detroit homes flooded by extreme rains, entire northern Michigan cherry crops destroyed by early thaws, worsening algae blooms in the Great Lakes. The worst impacts of expected climate change and the air pollution that goes along with carbon emissions will fall unfairly on the shoulders of vulnerable residents, often in a few urban areas. We have a responsibility to act, and the longer we wait, the worse the impacts will be.

But action, they say, is the antidote to despair. And today there are opportunities for action and reasons for optimism.

First, more people than ever are getting civically engaged and resisting Trump’s attacks on public health and a stable climate. On April 29, I plan to be on one of the buses carrying Michiganders to Washington for the People’s Climate March. At least five sister marches are happening in towns across our state. Throughout history and in the past few months, we have seen that these acts of resistance can galvanize public support and create greater political will for action.  

Second, while the Trump administration clings to the dirty fuels of the past, cities are leading the way to a clean-energy future. At least 25 American cities have committed to going fully renewable, including Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Northport in Michigan. I was part of a team in Traverse City that helped advance the goal of 100 percent renewable electricity for city operations by 2020, which can be reached by building about 40 acres of solar panels. Once we meet that goal, we expect to set a community-wide 100 percent renewables goal, which -- like many other cities’ 100 percent goals -- includes all electricity for homes and businesses.

I know firsthand that if my town and major cities like Chicago and San Diego can do it, then so can others. All it takes is a group of committed people, some planning and perseverance and a lot of coffee with city leaders and staff to help them see that 100 percent renewable energy is a great thing for the community. 

There’s ample evidence that 100 percent renewable energy is achievable, cost-effective and beneficial. Burlington, Vermont, already achieved its community-wide 100-percent-renewable goal and will save $20 million over the next decade as a result. Stanford University researchers found that renewable energy could power all of Michigan—including an electrified transportation sector—in a few decades, and that doing so would save 1,700 lives a year, reduce annual health and energy costs by $11,000 per person and create nearly 150,000 jobs. Renewables and efficiency are already the lowest-cost ways to meet energy demand in Michigan, and they’re getting cheaper all the time.

The only barrier to a full and just transition to renewables is political, and is powered by the fossil fuel industry whose allies are embedded in the Trump administration. Never before have these big polluters held more influence, and never before have we seen more aggressive attacks on the health of our planet and the public.

To speed the transition to renewables and overcome this powerful opposition, we need more brave people working together, resisting these attacks, demanding climate action and driving the shift to renewable energy in their own communities.

These actions are more important than ever, and they’re moving our nation toward the clean-energy future we owe to our children and grandchildren – one march and one city at a time.

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Candice Zuckerman
Sat, 04/29/2017 - 8:22am

I feel this is very important for our children's future! I'm excited to see Michigan get to 100% renewable energy. I commend you Kate for being the voice for Michigan in this fight! I will continue to do my part in seeing this through.

Sun, 04/30/2017 - 10:04am

What if CO2 is a trailing indicator, not a leading indicator?

What if the problem isn't technology, what if is a lack of scientific knowledge?

What if 'consensus' has so restricted thinking that people have stopped investigating and are letting mathematical models create what we believe?

What if the way 'science' has been politicized is discouraging people/students from learning how to question, how to think for themselves, how discover and share what they learn?

We all recall being told how the 'scientific' world and the whole of the world believed the world was 'flat'. What if CO2 is our the modern day version of the 'world is flat' mindset?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 04/30/2017 - 11:35am

If people knew that H2O (which also causes a greenhouse effect), was significantly more plentiful in the atmosphere than CO2, would the environmentalists like Ms. Madigan propose banning water?

Just curious?

Stephen C Brown
Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:17pm

Duane-I'm a PhD Chemist, and I would like to answer some of your concerns:
1) CO2 was recognized as a greenhouse gas in the mid-19th century, and a lot of data has accumulated that it is the principle driving force for climate change here in the "Anthropocene" era. Scientific knowledge is correctable, unlike other kinds of received knowledge, so anyone can just propose a different interpretation of the existing data, or collect new data that doesn't fit into the current model. When models fail, the originators will scramble to correct them, because their reputations are on the line. This means they are constantly being refined, and controversy is the best motivation for this. Groupthink is a problem for any group, on any topic, but the competition to find better interpretations of data puts a strict discipline on discussion that can be a relief to the usual merry-go-round of opinion. The world was "flat" because of insistent persistant ignorance, not scientific discourse. Here's from a Wikipedia entry: " The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to around the 6th century BC,[Pythagoras] but remained a matter of philosophical speculation until the 3rd century BC. The first scientific estimation of the radius of the earth was given by Eratosthenes about 240 BC, with estimates of the accuracy of Eratosthenes’s measurement ranging from 2% to 15%." This is because religious and political authorities thought they knew better.

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 6:47pm


I appreciate your comments, albeit they seem a bit detached from the current day reality.
" anyone can just propose a different interpretation of the existing data..." as best I can tell when someone [especially with academic credentials such as yours] offers a differing view on the cause of 'global warming' they are personally attack, with innuendos about their person intelligence, their loyalties, who is paying them, etc. So to suggest anyone can propose a different interpretation implies that it is only an intellectual exercise and not one that risks academic bullying, personal safety, and political ostracization. Is the current political environment that much different form the dark ages?

"When models fail, the originators will scramble to correct them..." as best I can tell that the model for 'global warming' is dynamic, but the basic premise is not touched. And that when events or known regularly occurring environmental conditions cannot be address in the model or the model cannot be modified to accommodate them they are either ignore or claimed they must be due to 'global warming', such as el nino or the end of the drought in California. And as best I can tell there use to be an academic function in many institutions of higher learn that were trained and employed to investigate/challenge scientific theories/principles. I don't see any indication that such a function exists in schools today.

"Groupthink is a problem for any group..." you are correct and there have been many case studies involving cockpits that have been used by many organizations in training their people to break such events. There is no hint of such training happening in the halls of high learning, if anything the efforts are to stamp out scientific skepticism.

" was "flat" because of insistent persistant ignorance, not scientific discourse." I am not suggesting there weren't scientists at that time that recognized the world being round. I would offer that the 'scientific' community of today is much like that of back then, they saw where the politics and money lay and they followed that lead. I suspect if you ask any fisherman of the time that fish out of sight of land or any Shepard that tend their flocks at a coast line they would have describe how looking at the sea they saw a curve to the horizon suggesting even to the uneducated eye that flat wasn't true, but now like then if they spoke out they would belittled for lack of credentials.

My comments have been directed at the political environment, and would like you reaction on what I have said.

Someday I would like to have someone take the time to make such an effort on 'greenhouse' gases, particularly how a single molecule can control the atmospheric temperatures [I have been trying learn this for years].
As a side note, person observation is that winters aren't as cold [only a couple of generation ago we were having -20 degree winters in Michigan so there has been a change] as they are today.

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 4:13pm


I must apologize, I had responded yesterday but it appears my comments were no approved by the editor, I had gotten the little pink message about waiting for review. I have no clue how it offended, but to show my respect and appreciation for you comments I will try again with an abbreviated comment.

I am very curious about CO2 as 'greenhouse' gas but I will leave that for a later time.

With regard to the dynamics of modeling proving science and the scrammble holders of the model will make to accomodate different views breaks down when events or reoccurring conditions cannot/are not accomodate by the holders of the model. As best I can tell the recent end of the California drought was not predictated by the model but claimed to be due to 'global warming' and I have yet to hear how El Niño is/has been a regular exception to the current atmospheric model. In both cases it appears your expectation for modifying to accommodate such inconsistencies does not apply.

I am well aware of group think and how examples cockpit events are used by many private organizations to train their people to recognize this and how to break with that to the ppoint of making it an individual responsibility [I have seen such a culture work, even in a science based environment]. I have yet to hear of such training to occur in institutions of higher learning. As I recall there was even a time when universities of some renown train and recruited people with train such as yours with the express purpose to investigate and challenge not only new concepts but long accepted scientific concepts, as best I can tell the academic function no longer exists and in the current 'scientific' community is strongly assailed in favor of consensus.

Your description of how the social/political environment was clinging to the idea that the 'world is flat' seems to be very similar to today. I suspect that in that time of 'world is flat' that there were scientists who quickly saw where the financial and social support was and followed their lead and quickly became the holders and defender of the belief.

On a personal note; in my youth south east Michigan winters regularly include extended periods of -20 degrees F. It seems for the last couple of generations that hasn't happened. When trying to talk about that in settings such as this any questions are seen as hierarchy and shouted down. If one try to ask about the cause the viciousness of the attacks were initially shocking and have become so much the norm that neither see or hear cause being part of any conversation. One can't even ask about how CO2 is a 'green house' gas.

Thank you for your time and thoughtfulness, and if possible I would appreciate any reaction to what I have mentioned.

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 1:53pm

I apologize for the delay in my reply, had some JAVA problems and the comments would seem to load.

I would like to better understand how CO2 is a ‘greenhouse’ gas, let’s leave that for a later conversation.

I am not clear how you are using ‘modeling.’ Some may consider formulas that describe scientific ‘laws’ could be consider a model, while others see algorithms that try to replicate/predict events as modeling [such as that used to predict the impact of ‘global warming’/CO2]. Your expectation is that the model is modified to accommodate new information or conditions/events that the model fails to predict. It appears that the ‘global warming’ modelers instead of changing simply ignores or claims events are due to ‘global warming’ in spite of not predicting the event. As best I can tell the end of the California drought was not predicted but it claimed to be due to CO2. Similarly El Nino isn’t predicted by the modeling and yet they seems to be no efforts to explain how such a reoccurring condition that overrides the predictions, if anything they ignore them.

I am aware of how groupthink and how many organizations have invest in training their people how to break the groupthink. I have not heard of academic institutions doing similar investments, if anything they seem to be supporting the groupthink. As an example, I recall hearing that universities would have programs and even dedicated researcher questioning proposed ideas and even long established concepts. I haven’t heard any such functions or training going on in today’s universities.

I suspect that in the day of the ‘world is flat’ belief there was a ‘scientific community’, much as today, that identified where support was available and what it would take to get that support, and to be aggressive to protect that support.

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 2:35pm

Testing, the past couple of days have not been able to post comments.

Kevin Grand
Sun, 04/30/2017 - 11:25am

And just like clockwork around every Earth Day, we see someone trotting out the time-worn  boogeyman of "global warming". Whoops, we can't legitimately argue that when the temps are in the 40's like they were yesterday...better use "climate change" instead. 

BTW, when hasn't the climate changed long before humans were a factor on this planet?

I've actually lost track on how often these "experts" had gotten their predictions so wrong.

Remember the predictions of a new ice age back in the late 70's?

Or, how often that we would run out of oil by now?

That the ice caps would've melted by now?

Look, if someone can find a more cost-effective alternative to how our modern society is able to power itself, I have absolutely no problem with that.

Find some investors, take some risks and make some money in the end if you're successful.

But, if you need to resort to deception and subterfuge, maybe your position wasn't so accurate to begin with?

Stephen C Brown
Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:45pm

Kevin-I've looked over your many references and have these comments:
1) Most of these news sources are sensationalizing by catastrophizing about a bullshit "coming ice age". This sells papers, and the only balanced article is this one:
which concludes that not enough is known about the various factors to predict what might happen. This is directly from an authoritative source, the National Academy of Science. The other sources are all playing a game of telephone and trying to drum up sales.
2) "Global warming" changed to "climate change" because the warming is uneven-the Canadian Arctic will bear the brunt, and climate change is simply a better descriptor. Climate is always changing. The earth was once a "Snowball", frozen everywhere for millions of years, and also much warmer. The Earth will take care of itself, but will civilization? Rising seas and imperiled food supplies could kill billions of people, and induce large-scale migrations. The Syrian collapse started as a drought that emptied the countryside-look it up!
3) Renewable energy is now cheaper than anything except natural gas. Wall Street investment firms, not partisan organizations, have figured that out in 2015. That's why most of the Fortune 500 companies are driving renewable energy investment now. Here's an example:
4) Look no further than the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum:

Sun, 04/30/2017 - 3:42pm

There is no such thing a man-made climate change. CO2 is not a pollutant, it is a natural part of life and is required to sustain life. CO2 that is emitted is contained and never acts as a climate control valve that the alarmists want you to believe. Weather and nature solve naturally occurring space problems. Unfortunately, we have a generation of people today that have never been challenged to seek the truth rather than following this mis-guided platform. The alarmist models have all be inaccurate and even if the Paris Agreement was fully implemented, they even say it would negligibly decrease CO2 by 1/10 of 1%.

Stephen C Brown
Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:52pm

Mark-Skepticism in all matters is the first step toward truth. Why are you less skeptical about these assertions than those you are denying? These statements are all refutable, when you examine the data, so where did they come from?

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 3:34pm

Stephen- I am not a skeptic, I am a realist. I suggest you challenge your thought by the likes of Dr. Roy Spencer or William Happer or Joe Bastardi.

Mon, 05/01/2017 - 3:54pm

"The only barrier to a full and just transition to renewables is political, and is powered by the fossil fuel industry whose allies are embedded in the Trump administration. Never before have these big polluters held more influence, and never before have we seen more aggressive attacks on the health of our planet and the public."

I really wish Ms. Madigan all the best with her quest in this. To really have TC et. al. put their money where their mouths are on this, it would be only right that they sever their system from the rest of the grid. This way the outstate rate payers don't have to maintain (and get stuck with the costs) for the massive amount of back up power needed to make sure Munson Hospital (for example) doesn't go black when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. But good luck with this! But unfortunately I don't think this is what she has in mind! (Unless she's thinking or going nuclear or setting a hydroelectric dam on the Boardman? ... Just kidding.)

Stephen C Brown
Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:56pm

Matt-Wind and Solar alone are capable of providing 100% of our energy, if the grid is large enough. The wind is always blowing somewhere and the sun is always shining on schedule. Energy storage methods and natural gas will always serve as a backup.

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 7:57pm

One problem is that is that it's night time across the entire country and wind tends to blow the least at night also! Battery technology isn't even remotely close to being able to make up any shortfall, nor is the grid designed to do what you dream it is. 100% is an absolute fantasy unless you're talking nuclear. Nor will Americans appreciate paying 3 times the electrical rates here like they do in Germany. Bye bye manufacturing!

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:03pm

Further you don't flip on and off generators when the wind stops blowing, it takes many hours for them to hit peak efficiency! And by the way you're already admitting 100% is a crock.

Rufus McGee
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 5:49am

The calculations are way off. It takes about 32 acres of land to power 1000 average homes. Even if you had 320 acres of panels who is going out to brush the snow off every day or clean them as the heavy green polen settles on them over and over during spring and summer.

There is no doubt that the sun is the answer but there is another thing that comes into play first. It's often easier to save a dollar rather than earn another dollar. No one wants to hear it but it a total joke to go on and on about GW when we are burning fuel for boats, snowmobiles and ATV to ride around in circles and then return to houses which are huge compared to what is actually needed to sustain life. How many of these Greenies are living in 2800 sq ft houses yet the person who actually wants a small 400 ft house isn't allowed to build because of code. Of course all the people in big houses don't want trash like that around bringing down their property values.

If people actually wanted to be eco friendly we would be doing things far far differently. Oh heay, let's start building electric cars that can go zero to sixty in 3.5 seconds and do 150 mph. Now that's green oh yeah.