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MEC rallies with Michiganders at People’s Climate March

Great Lakes sign

One thing you wouldn’t want during a Washington march for climate action is unseasonable cold. It wouldn’t do to sound the alarm on global warming on a spring day in coats and scarves. Bad optics.

Well, no need to worry about that. As it happened, the day of the People’s Climate March topped out at 91 degrees in the capital, tying a record for the hottest April 29 on the books.

It was decidedly shorts-and-T-shirt weather when we stepped off our charter bus from Ann Arbor—others came from Detroit, Flint and Traverse City—at RFK Stadium, around 9 a.m. It was just plain hot by the time we’d walked the couple of miles to the National Gallery of Art, on whose steps Michigan activists and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell gathered for a pre-march rally. And by 1 p.m., as we stood dazed on the fry-an-egg-hot blacktop of 3rd Street waiting for the procession to the White House to begin, the heat had lost its novelty and become downright oppressive.

“What a day for the climate march, eh?” said Shelly Cote of Novi. “If this doesn’t tell you something,” she trailed off, referring and yielding to the rising mercury.

Cote is concerned about climate change but was also marching against the Trump administration’s anti-environment agenda more broadly.

“I’m old enough to remember some really horrific things that happened, like the Cuyahoga River catching on fire. Trust me, you young folks don’t want to go back that way,” she said, flattering your correspondent or underestimating his age.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell

Meredith Cote of Traverse City, Shelly’s daughter, said she’s especially worried about Trump’s proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. She and her father are both environmental engineers, and she doesn’t think the administration understands the economic and job-creating benefits of environmental protection.

“I think it’s important we keep that program, because I see all the great work that comes out of that funding,” she said.

Huddled with other soon-to-be-marchers in a patch of coveted elm-shade on the National Mall, Lansing resident Randy Dykhuis said Trump’s victory in November was “a wake-up call” that prodded him into action.

“The thing that scares me the most is the uncertainty,” said Dykhuis, who works as executive director of a nonprofit called the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services. He clarified that human-caused climate change is unequivocal and that the uncertainty lies in just how severe the impacts will be. “As we keep pumping more carbon into the atmosphere, nobody really knows what’s going to happen.”

This was the second People’s Climate March. The first one, in 2014, urged world leaders to reach a global agreement on climate action. The latest march, set to coincide with President Trump’s 100th day in office, called on the administration to preserve that pact, reached at the end of 2015 in Paris, and to work at home to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. So far Trump has appointed a climate denier to run the Environmental Protection Agency and put forward policies that could have disastrous consequences for climate stability, including green-lighting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, working to roll back the Clean Power Plan and proposing to dismantle vehicle fuel-efficiency standards.

Randy Dykhuis of Lansing

Complementing the Washington demonstration were hundreds of sister marches around the country and worldwide, including several in Michigan.

“We are marching here to the White House to say to the Trump administration: We will not stand for inaction or rolling back our climate protections,” said Kate Madigan, MEC climate and energy policy specialist and director of the Michigan Climate Action Network (MICAN), in a speech at the pre-march rally for Michiganders. “We demand action to protect this planet for future generations.”

(You can watch the speech here, but only after enduring a nearly ten-second, close-up shot of your correspondent as he struggles, on the verge of panic, to switch from his phone’s front-facing to rear-facing camera. Dear Mr. Zuckerberg: Please enable Facebook users to edit live videos before posting them.)

Madigan urged marchers to carry their passion home to Michigan, and offered MICAN’s 100% Cities campaign as one useful way to help create positive change. The campaign is working to grow the list of Michigan communities committed to powering themselves entirely with renewable energy. So far, Grand Rapids, Northport and Traverse City have made such pledges.

Mara Herman, health outreach coordinator for the MEC member group Ecology Center, said her climate activism at home will include urging the Ann Arbor City Council to adequately fund and implement the city’s climate action plan, which includes using more renewable energy and expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure, among other goals.

Herman, who holds a master’s degree in public health, said she was motivated to attend the march—and to organize the bus from Ann Arbor—in part by concerns about the health impacts of climate change.

Marching past the First Amendment at the Newseum

“That’s something people need to realize, is that climate change is not something down the road,” she said, citing toxic mold and other impacts from increased flooding as examples. “It’s something that’s impacting people and affecting their health right now.”

MEC’s Kate Madigan also sees the signs of climate change already underway in Michigan, but she told Michigan marchers she’s primarily motivated by thinking of what the future will look like for her two sons.

“The personal reason I march is that I have two children at home, a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old,” she said. “And part of my job description now is to leave a livable planet for those children, and all children. It’s our responsibility and our moral obligation to do everything we can to make sure that we’re turning this around.”

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