Environmental Justice and Climate Justice Movements a Powerful Force for Good

The Groundwork Center’s Michigan Clean Energy Conference and the Michigan Climate Action Network’s (MiCAN) Climate Action Summit are joining forces this year to present the virtual Michigan Climate & Clean Energy Summit, May 24-27. The upcoming summit will bring together Biden Administration and Whitmer Administrative officials, community leaders, activists, policymakers, advocates, and businesses from across Michigan to move forward equitable and ambitious climate and clean energy solutions.

FLOW spoke with MiCAN director Kate Madigan about the summit, climate change in the Great Lakes, the racial equity and environmental justice movement, and what gives her hope.

We also interviewed Madigan on Thursday, May 13, at the Straits of Mackinac, about the 8-year effort to #EvictEnbridge and #ShutDownLine5. Watch that video below.

FLOW: What are you most excited about for the upcoming Michigan Climate & Clean Energy Summit?

Kate Madigan: I’m excited to bring together so many people leading the work to address the climate crisis. We are bringing together leaders from the Whitmer administration, the Biden administration, and national speakers on environmental and climate justice plus so many advocates and leaders in Michigan doing this work. This is a really important moment for climate and justice. We now have a President who is prioritizing climate, our Governor has put our state on a path to be carbon neutral, and racial and social justice is a priority in our country. This is a dream situation compared to where we were just a couple of years ago. However, we know that we have to make major cuts in climate emissions within this decade, so there is a lot of work that needs to get done on a pretty intense timeline. We have shaped this summit to help move our state forward to the equitable climate solutions that we need with the urgency science demands and it is our hope to help move the needle.

FLOW: How can we better message the importance of climate change strategies and educate the public on how they can protect the Great Lakes?

Kate Madigan: If there is one thing that all Michiganders can agree on, it is our love for the Great Lakes. The impacts climate change is having on the Great Lakes are huge — from algae blooms, to changes to lake levels, to beach closures, and invasive species. It is not talked about enough. In fact, the Great Lakes region is warming 33% faster than any other region in the country. MiCAN and FLOW should partner on a project to better connect climate change and solutions to the Great Lakes!

FLOW: How is the environmental justice movement shaping climate activism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement for racial equity?

Kate Madigan: The environmental justice and climate justice movements have been shaping climate activism for a long time. Many national leaders like Jacqueline Patterson with the NAACP (who will be speaking at the summit) and many Michigan environmental justice leaders have been working to center justice into climate solutions and coalitions for years. There is a coalition of climate, social and environmental justice, and labor groups that came together five years ago in New York State and were able to pass the most ambitious climate law in the country that includes very strong equity and jobs components. Stephan Edel, the coordinator of the NY Renews coalition will be speaking at the summit too, and I think this is a powerful model of what can happen if we all come together.

And also this year the injustices in our country were laid bare. BIPOC communities have experienced more deaths and health impacts from the pandemic, and this was connected to environmental justice and health inequities. Then there were the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black people that brought national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. The tragedy and injustice of it all was staggering, and changed our country, and the climate movement, to center equity in significant and, I hope, permanent ways.

FLOW: What gives you hope right now; what are positive signs for the environmental movement?

Kate Madigan: What gives me hope is the fact that many of the “extreme” things we climate advocates were calling for five years ago are now things that the President of the United States and the Governor of Michigan are saying and doing. Things like keeping fossil fuels in the ground, moving rapidly to 100% renewable energy for all sources, and transitioning to clean energy in ways that are equitable and benefit everyone.

It also gives me hope that President Biden and Governor Whitmer have surrounded themselves with really smart, competent, and hard-working people who are committed to climate and justice and know what an urgent moment we are in. And that we have a pro-climate majority in Congress and a window to make some major progress.

It fills me with hope to see just how big this movement has grown. And how there are so many young people, like MiCAN’s Engagement Director Jamie Simmons, who are bringing new energy and ideas to this work and shaping this movement to be a powerful force for good.

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