By Rich Killmer
Note: a version of this post was published in the Holland Sentinel on July 29, 2021.
Climate change has plunged the Western U.S. into its worst drought in two decades . A record-breaking heat wave only made things worse.
In Arizona and Nevada, it’s been so hot that doctors warned people they could get third-degree burns from the asphalt. Wildfires raged in Montana and Utah. Power grids in Texas strained as officials asked residents to limit appliance use to avoid blackouts.
The levels in Lake Mead, which supplies water for millions of people, are at their lowest since
the 1930s. In one California lake, the water was so shallow that officials spotted plane wreckage from a 1986 crash.
And that’s just in the U.S. Experts say global temperatures will keep rising as countries — and
companies — fail to limit their planet-warming emissions. Smaller countries often pay the price for wealthier nations’ pollution through extreme weather. “Most of these gases have come from the United States, China, the European Union, Russia and other developed countries,” Bernard Ferguson from the Bahamas writes. Yet islands like these “are on the front lines of the climate crisis.”
The problems in the Western U.S. and around the globe are more evidence that climate change is already affecting us. All of these results are causing significant harm to human beings and to all of creation. But there are also reasons for hope.
After decades of studying the climate crisis, scientists tell us that human beings can reduce the damage it causes. The people of the world need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which limit heat from going into the atmosphere. We can do that by ceasing to burn fossil fuels, like coal and oil, and instead rely on renewable energy, like wind, geothermal and solar.
The nations of the world have declared in the Paris Agreement that human beings will need to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is now clear that that carbon neutrality needs to be accomplished before that date.
Most of the nations of the world and many states in the U.S. have taken significant steps toward that goal. Many cities are already playing an important role in combatting the climate crisis as well.
In Grand Rapids, an alliance of local organizations has formed the Grand Rapids Climate
Resolution Coalition. The Coalition is committed to encouraging the City Commission to declare a climate emergency and to create a plan that will enable Grand Rapids achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. That means that by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking measures like planting tress to absorb the existing greenhouse gases, the city will produce a net effect of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The coalition, which has more than 50 member organizations, has prepared a resolution for the City Commission to adopt. Consequently, there is one step that you and all your friends in the Grand Rapids area can take NOW. Go to www.grclimate.org and sign your name to support for this resolution.
The Coalition is inviting other organizations, including neighborhood associations, businesses,
and houses of worship to join it in urging the City Commission to adopt the climate resolution.
Grand Rapids is not the only Michigan city working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The
City of Ann Arbor has approved a plan to mitigate the threats climate change poses. Its city
council has declared a climate emergency and has approved a plan that will produce net zero
carbon emissions by 2030, which includes electrifying transportation, powering the electric grid with 100 percent renewable energy, and improving energy efficiency of all types of buildings. Ann Arbor in 2030 will be very different from Ann Arbor in 2020. You can learn about the Ann Arbor plan at bit.ly/37w3Wmu.
For its part, Holland made the bold move in 2012 of endorsing a Community Energy Plan .
Programs and projects followed: Home Energy Retrofit Program, On-Bill financing, power plant
conversion from coal to state-of-the-art gas technology, LED streetlight conversion, and energy retrofitting of public buildings. Now in an effort to fire off the second stage of the plan, the city has tasked a panel of community leaders with the responsibility of recommending even more aggressive carbon reduction goals.
Cities have an important role to play in combatting the climate crisis. The Biden Administration
has now set a goal of cutting greenhouse gases 50 to 52% of its 2005 emissions by 2030. To
achieve this will require efforts by cities, like we are seeing in Michigan. Their successes can
give hope to subsequent generations that, as the Grand Rapids resolution says, “a better future starts now.”
Rev. Richard Killmer is the Vice Chair of the Grand Rapids Climate Resolution Coalition.