What would a president do? Plan for climate action, group says



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

On Presidents’ Day, a group of leaders asserted that, in the tradition of U.S. presidents throughout the last century, elected officials must enact strong measures to respond to climate change. 

The choice of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum as the venue was no coincidence.

According to State Representative Winnie Brinks, “President Ford early on said he wouldn’t stand by and do nothing about the energy crisis. He was responsible for major investment in alternative energy research, developing energy conservation programs, and creating the first compulsory mileage standards.”

Speakers emphasized that presidents of both parties have seen the urgency of environmental protection. President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 which, though it gave the role of regulation to the states, set the stage for the Clean Air Act of 1963 signed by Lyndon Johnson. It was Richard Nixon who signed into law the Clean Air Act of 1970, which we clearly recognize as the law of the land today — as well as the National Environmental Protection Act and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It’s important to remember that Gerald Ford was a strong environmentalist. We have a history of bipartisan support,” said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

Very few people feel as strongly about the need for climate resiliency and action to curb climate-changing activities than Mayor Heartwell.

Referring to the present as “a kairos moment” — which has been defined as “an instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved” — Heartwell continued, “We either do something about climate change or be damned by the generations that follow for our selfishness. Our president chooses the former and so do I.”

Heartwell knows whereof he speaks. In November, President Barack Obama appointed him to the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force On Climate Preparedness and Resilience, along with 12 other mayors, eight governors, three county-level officials, three tribal leaders, and administration staff.

“We’re charged with recommending on matters of regulation that might be addressed with Executive Orders, and matters of policy that might be addressed by the legislature,” Heartwell said.

 “It’s been fascinating to see the disparate impacts of climate change across the country,” he added. “Governor Abercrombie of Hawaii is losing islands to rising sea levels; we heard from Mayor Sullivan in Alaska that they’re moving an entire population of people because the sustenance food stock is disappearing; the mayor of Des Moines talks about three 500-year storms in two years. And of course in Grand Rapids it’s record snowfalls and flooding.”

Keying in on that, Grand Rapids City Commissioner Ruth Kelly spoke of climate change’s financial impacts. “Extreme storms have deposited sediments in Great Lakes harbors and channels, which have to be dredged. The continual ice and snow are causing the roads to be in terrible condition. That’s taken its toll on our attitudes, and it will cost millions of dollars to repair our city streets. And how can we forget last spring’s floods?”

Garry Boyd, the Vice President of BarFly Ventures which is the parent company of HopCat, now expanding into other cities, as well as Grand Rapids Brewing Company and others, said that climate change also threatens something near and dear to many: beer.

Roller-coaster weather may inhibit Michigan’s burgeoning hops industry as it is doing worldwide in hops-growing regions. Even more important, breweries need clean water, which may be endangered not only by repercussions of climate change but also, as Boyd notes, by the quest for dirty energy sources.

Boyd said, “As a business owner I know how important it is to be prepared. I see climate change’s impacts every day – it’s why clean and renewable energy seems critical to me.” BarFly Ventures has adopted a strong “greening” program, including replacing 100% o disposables with compostables, and reducing energy use.

Clean Water Actions’ Eric Keller closed by saying, “When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safe and stable world, I’d like to say yes we did.”