Protecting Oakland County’s environment requires dedicated leadership. We must strive to protect our county’s treasures: our forests, lakes, rivers, streams, and our people. We have the most inland lakes of any county in Michigan. We’re surrounded by one-fifth of all the world’s freshwater, here in the Great Lakes. That is our heritage, our moral duty to protect for future generations. That’s why we’re glad to see recent developments at the Oakland County Commission.
Much is at stake in Oakland County as the climate crisis heats up. Over the past 30 years we’ve seen temperatures rise, intense storms increase, insect populations plummet and natural spaces become less biodiverse and balanced. This is, of course, not exclusive to Oakland County. It is happening across the globe. But, we can all do our part in our own communities. And indeed, as federal leadership has retreated, that is what we must do. If we don’t, it is likely Oakland County will be a far less hospitable place in 2100.
There was a time in the not-too-distant-past that leadership in Oakland County wouldn’t consider climate change in most of its policies. Thankfully, we have moved past that era. Last November, the Oakland County Commission declared a ‘climate emergency.’
The county has since overseen the planting of 20,000 oak tree seedlings. There is a proposal for the creation of a native plant initiative. These will help us protect and restore habitats, particularly since important species are coming under increasing threat here.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we had twelve years to make significant reductions to our carbon emissions. While some progress has been made, we’re still not on target.
County Executive David Coulter’s proposed budget supports new funding to “focus on developing a plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 utilizing renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency.”
This is an exciting first step and a break from decades of county-level policies. Oakland County will become a climate leader, setting goals to be net-zero and renewable by 2050. Also, they must build up a robust sustainability initiative that develops policies to update our infrastructure while investing in underserved communities, improving health, developing skilled labor, and respecting workers. Investments today will have huge paybacks in future years.
The green economy can be one that works for everybody. In the same way Metro Detroit led the industrial revolution, and we built the Arsenal for Democracy, we should make our region a trailblazer in sustainability investments that uplifts all our communities and people.
Oakland County is the second most populous and the wealthiest county in Michigan. We have great universities and plenty of green businesses. So, let’s be a leader in developing those solutions. If anybody can do it, we can. It will require hard work. However, future generations will be thankful that we did it.
We can and must be a model for climate action.
Jim Nash is the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner. Andrew Sarpolis is a co-founder of Turn Oakland County Green and a senior organizing representative with the Sierra Club