On Tuesday, after a year of anticipation, West Michigan Environmental Action Council released the Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report, presenting its findings to the Grand Rapids City Commission. The report, generously funded last year with half of Mayor George Heartwell’s prize money for his Climate Protection Award, forecasts the changing climate in Grand Rapids and outlines a comprehensive strategy for the city to prepare for the unknown future impact of climate change.
“The report is unique in the sense that we cover 22 different areas in which climate resiliency touches Grand Rapids as a city,” said WMEAC Policy Director Nick Occhipinti. “Many climate reports around the country do not cover such a broad range.”
Those 22 different sectors cover not only environmental mainstays such as energy and agriculture but also areas that are not often thought of in environmental terms. An example Occhipinti points to is the insurance industry, specifically global re-insurers such as Munich RE that are in charge of “insuring insurers.”
“These companies are some of the most aggressive advocates for climate change mitigation on the international stage because they can’t pass the buck,” said Occhipinti. “They’re the last line of fiscal responsibility for climate change. They know very well that it’s an issue, and they are strong proponents at the international level. We’re hoping that starts to trickle down to both insurers and the business community around the country.”
Many of the areas covered in the report look for ways to address issues that contribute to the “climate knot,” defined by Occhipinti as aspects “that are impacted by climate change, impact climate change, and then themselves are solutions to climate change problems.” He cited wetlands as an area that loops back and interacts with itself. Under normal circumstances, wetlands can capture and store greenhouse gases, but climate changes damages their ability to do so, in turn releasing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and adding to the problem.
“When you pull on one thread of that knot, you tug on many other threads,” said Occhipinti.
The report points to 38 specific policies that Grand Rapids can enact to increase its climate preparedness, including providing upkeep for city parks and trees. Last month, voters approved a millage to increase funding for city parks by approximately $28 million over seven years, and the Resiliency Report recommends adopting an urban tree canopy of at least 40 percent.
“Parks are classic example of something that will make city more resilient if done right,” said Occhipinti. “There are five or six ways this one issue touches climate resiliency.”
Now that the report has been rolled out, the next step is to find “champions” beyond the benefactors at the Grand Rapids Office of Energy and Sustainability. Possible groups to “own” the report are regional levels of governance, such as the Regional Community Sustainability Partnerships that have received support from Mayor Heartwell, which can highlight the impact of potential solutions for not just the City of Grand Rapids but for West Michigan as a whole. Personnel at WMEAC are excited to have the conversation on who is best suited to move the discussion forward.
“If there isn’t somebody with an organization and resources dedicated to pursuing this perspective,” said Occhipinti, “it’s going to get lost; it won’t have the direction and momentum it needs to take it to the next level and to rationalize it.”