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

Kate Madigan

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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