A forum on global warming hosted by the City of Grand Rapids was held at Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Grand Rapids campus last night. Mayor George Heartwell and the Director of the Michigan Department of the Environmental Quality (DEQ) Steven Chester, both provided opening comments before presentations by three panelists. Mayor Heartwell boasted that Grand Rapids has made a larger reduction of carbon per capita than any other city in the country between 2000 and 2005, according to a new study by the Brookings Institute.
DEQ Director Steven Chester stated that Michigan has taken some “aggressive steps towards confronting its role in the creation of Greenhouse gases.” The evidence for these aggressive steps were that Governor Granholm signed the Greenhouse gas accord with other Midwest governors and that the state now has a Climate Action Council which was created in November of 2007. It is worth noting that while some environmental organizations are represented on this action council, most of the members are from universities, government, businesses, and business associations. However, he also stated that Michigan is the ninth largest emitter of CO2 in the country.
The first panelist was Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer from the University of Michigan. He presented some background information on what he called “undisputable evidence that humans are causing Global Warming.” Dr. Dadelhoffer has traveled to both of the poles and says that the changes have been dramatic. Biomass is decomposing near the Arctic and releasing large amounts of CO2, Arctic ice is melting, and the amounts of snow and ice at the poles has been steadily decreasing over the past 30 years. He said the Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on earth and has increased by 5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. The most dramatic example the speaker provided was the disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf near the Antarctic Circle. All of this information, according Dr. Nadelhoffer, was based on his own research and that of the conservative estimates that are from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.
Karel Rogers, a retired GVSU professor and current board President of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, followed Dr. Nadelhoffer. Dr. Rogers emphasized the negative impact on climate change that population growth has had over the past 100 years. This population growth has meant huge increases in population, mining, oil production, electricity consumption and the use of motorized vehicles, according to Dr. Rogers. She concluded her comments by offering what she referred to as policy recommendations. First, she said Michigan needs to integrate water use with energy planning, since 40% of fresh was use is for energy production. Second, she said that there needs to be serious energy conservation, which the professor said could be done with the construction of more LEED certified buildings. Lastly, she said that we cannot create new carbon sources, and that the world needs to be 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. Dr. Rogers specifically identified the effort to build new coal plants in Michigan and said these needed to be stopped.
The last speaker was David Ullrich, Executive Director of the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. He briefly discussed issues that cities are faced with that are related to global warming-sewage systems, water run off, snow removal, intense rains and drought. He also said that energy reduction was necessary but offered up no real solutions on how to achieve those reductions. The lack of concrete solutions was the case throughout the night as was a real absence of what sectors of society are the main culprits in causing global warming. The only corporation that was mentioned with any criticism was Exxon-Mobil and that comment was limited to their profits during the recent gas price increases. There was no mention of Exxon-Mobil’s funding of groups that dismiss the seriousness of global warming. In fact, several of the panelists stated that we need less regulation of industry and only needed to have a “real free market” that would allow the business community to figure out ways to make sustainability profitable.
After two hours of commentary from the panelists, the audience was finally allowed to ask questions. The question process was done through written statements that were handed to two volunteers from the Sierra Club who then sifted through questions they decided were relevant to give to the moderator. None of the questions that reached the moderator focused on solutions, but one did confront the DEQ director about his department’s role in granting new coal plant permits. Steven Chester stated that the way that the DEQ operates, they have no power to regulate the energy industry and that they are obligated by law to give the grants to these companies who request them. The only leverage they have, according to Dr. Chester, is to make a recommendation on the status of energy consumption and carbon emission in the state.
Another question that was addressed to the panel had to do with how the issue of global warming is relevant to marginal communities. The response was, “poor people are spending too much money on energy and have less for food. What poor people need to do was to retrofit their homes so that they will be more energy efficient.” The response didn’t take into consideration that many people don’t own their own homes nor does it address the fact that marginal communities are the most negatively impacted by global warming internationally, even though these communities are not responsible for the policy decisions made on this issue.
The only question to address policy had to do with what the panel thought about the Lieberman/Warner bill. Dr. Rogers said it was woefully inadequate and that the Union of Concerned Scientists provided a good analysis of this proposed legislation. David Ullrich said he would be in favor of the legislation since it took a step in the right direction.
Like many other forums that have been held on this topic in the past year, attendees left with little new information or concrete ways that they could be part of any efforts to seriously make a change on the issue of global warming.