Op-Ed: Changing the Ann Arbor climate debate

Monday, January 21, 2019 - 6:29pm

As a born and raised Ann Arborite, I’ve always known climate change to be real. It’s not up for debate in our school system. It’s acknowledged by our political leaders. And it's even acted upon by citizen and government alike. However, the sense of urgency I’ve felt in my 20 years on this planet is nowhere near an acceptable level of effort when it comes to taking action on climate. It’s as though we’ve patted ourselves on the back for choosing to care.

My theory is that many of us feel safe and that our own lives aren’t at risk. Against my better judgement, I feel this way. When I left Michigan for school, I didn’t consider whether my home would be there when I returned, or if it’d weather any storms. Ann Arbor isn’t facing hurricanes or wildfires. And our flooding increases don’t compare to other catastrophes.

We are privileged and lucky.

But not that lucky. Anyone who follows the Flint water crisis or the Enbridge Line 5 debate knows that our water infrastructure is badly damaged, which climate change can only make worse. Yet, I have spent the last few years priming my statements about climate impacts with qualifications such as “my state will be okay, but hurricane season is going to get worse.”

I am not the only one who does this. I also didn’t think it was a problem — we’re being socially conscious, aren’t we? But this past semester, I realized it was. I joined the Sunrise Movement in Washington, D.C., with a 1000 others to demand a Green New Deal, a package of policies including 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, and investment in communities on the frontlines of poverty and pollution. Much like President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, it would take the emergency at hand for what it is and use every tool available to address it. Led by unapologetic youth leaders working to solve the climate crisis, I was arrested with 142 others and hoped it would sway Democratic leadership.

It didn’t.

Despite widespread news coverage and support from a majority of Americans, Democrats brushed aside an opportunity for substantial action and instead revived a toothless committee on climate. The Democratic Party is the party that knows climate change is real, after all, not the party that prioritizes it. However, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi can brush aside our demands, she cannot sweep our spirit under the rug.

When we stood in the halls of Congress, telling our stories and singing, I thought this could actually work. That the Green New Deal could actually solve climate change. I’ve never felt emotional about the Band-Aid policies proposed before. The Green New Deal is different. It doesn’t start from an assumption of what’s politically possible, it springs from identifying what’s needed.

While I sat in zip ties, the ways in which Michigan will face the climate crisis washed over me. It might not be as dramatic as a hurricane, but our access to clean water (already threatened by oil spills, lead, dioxane and PFAS), our crumbling infrastructure, agriculture and tourism industry are all facing uncertain futures. I began to see the changes in my home for what they are. I’ve always known this, but I’ve never felt it before. The Sunrise Movement gave me real hope and opened the doors for grief to pour in.

I’ve always operated pessimistically because that made it easier to keep up a steady amount of work and to keep chugging along. I didn’t think I had time for emotions. But the climate crisis isn’t asking me to keep chugging along. It’s requiring me to give everything I’ve got.

The Green New Deal is a powerful policy proposal, not only because of its scope, but also because of all the people it folds into the movement. We will have to transform our economy to stop the climate crisis—there’s no way around it. We need decarbonized, diversified, regional economies and living wages. That potential brought me to D.C, but I’m bringing the fight back to Ann Arbor because I can see how a Green New Deal could impact my home. By taking concrete issues that Americans face (crumbling roads, heat waves, high electricity bills) and directly connecting them to policy changes such as guaranteed jobs building green infrastructure, we are able to see the true risks of climate change and the tangible benefits of acting. The Green New Deal engages more voters than other proposals because there’s room for everyone.

I’m starting a Sunrise Hub in Ann Arbor. It’s time to fill our politics with daring hope, even if we’re called young and naïve, even if it doesn’t seem quite possible. The Green New Deal is the bold and attainable policy that can solve the climate crisis and invest in the futures of the communities that need it the most. A Green New Deal brings jobs, renewables, and justice. It brings hope and honesty about how far we have to go.

As we stood in the hallways of Congress, we sang:

“There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

It’s time to expose the climate crisis for what it is, so we can rebuild a world that works for all of us. We must tell our stories, even if they seem small, to begin to take transformative action.

Allie Lindstrom is an Ann Arbor resident and a student at the University of Washington in St. Louis. She can be reached at a.lindstrom@wustl.edu.