From Resistance to Persistence

22 year-old National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman emerged as the breakout star of the recent Presidential Inauguration with her powerful delivery of “The Hill We Climb.” In “Earthrise,” her 2018 poem about the climate crisis, Gorman celebrates the vulnerable world we inherit and the potential we must fulfill to care for it, together. She reminds us “There is no rehearsal. The time is / Now / Now / Now.”  Both poems call us to action, recognizing the urgency and portent of this moment for our country, and our planet.

Already, the Biden-Harris  administration is meeting this critical moment with a sense of urgency and boldness that fills us with hope. Years of organizing have paid off: the new administration has largely adopted the priorities of the racial justice and climate justice movements. The scale of the crisis is now so clear, the demand for change so loud, and the benefits so overwhelmingly apparent in jobs and health that we are finally seeing serious, cohesive policy proposals that have the scale and vision to deliver the dramatic transformation we need. 

With your support, and along with our allies in the environmental and environmental justice movements,  the Ecology Center has spent the last four years mounting resistance to the rollbacks of hard-fought, vitally important safeguards because they represented a fundamental threat to health and to the planet. That work to reverse the damage will continue, and we will remain vigilant against new attacks. But the opportunity to transform systems that serve only the privileged few and threaten everyone else has never been more pregnant. We enter this new era with a renewed sense of hope and opportunity for our work: 

On climate justice 

We are heartened by President Biden’s executive action to rejoin the Paris Agreement; the commitment to put environmental justice at the center of the administration’s climate plans; the civilian climate corps; elimination of fossil fuel subsidies; auto fuel efficiency and electrification goals; pipeline restrictions; and the commitment to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and net zero emissions by 2050. The climate crisis affects everyone, but BIPOC and low-income communities suffer the worst effects of dirty energy consumption. At the same time, these communities are often afforded the least input and consent in policy decisions that affect their homes, health, and livelihoods most.

The Ecology Center is committed to a rapid and just clean energy transition. We will continue working with frontline community partners to ensure that President Biden lives up to his commitment to address the nation’s persistent racial and economic disparities as a central part of his climate plan. This includes upholding his direction to all agencies to spend 40 percent of sustainability investments in disadvantaged communities. 

On safer chemicals and clean drinking water 

For years, the Ecology Center worked to reform the nation’s laws governing hazardous chemicals, only to see them dismantled by the previous Administration.  We are hopeful that the era of dangerous deregulation and the shredding of public health protections is over. We need to redirect the trajectory of the country’s entire chemicals management framework toward health to protect people, the planet, and the economy. The new Administration has promised to hold PFAS manufacturers and other polluters accountable, and to invest in water infrastructure to ensure safe drinking water for all communities. 

The Ecology Center will continue our work to protect drinking water for all. This means equitable infrastructure investments, ensuring rigorous and equitable enforcement of the new stricter water protections we helped win in Michigan, fighting for PFAS pollution cleanup, and ending childhood lead poisoning.  We will continue our transparency and accountability work, holding companies directly accountable by testing consumer products for toxic chemicals, making our findings public, supporting grassroots advocacy for safer alternatives, and driving innovation in materials and products. 

On infrastructure and a green auto sector 

In the midst of our profound public health and economic crisis, the administration’s Build Back Better plan promises to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and to deliver an equitable clean energy future. Michigan and the Great Lakes region are likely to benefit from the push for reinvigorated regional economies and a promise to create 1 million new union jobs in the American auto industry and domestic auto supply chains - from vehicle parts to electric vehicle charging stations. 

The Ecology Center has been working on expanding good green jobs for more than two decades, urging both workplace safety and investments in new technologies. We will continue our focus on advancing environmental justice, protecting health, and supporting job creation by promoting clean energy and zero emission cars, trucks and buses in every community. We are also committed to equitable and just infrastructure investments that improve quality of life as well as livelihoods, such as green affordable housing: energy efficiency and renewable energy improves the affordability, healthiness, and climate resilience of homes. 

On mass transit 

The most sustainable economy and the most livable cities won’t just have cleaner cars, they’ll have fewer of them. The Biden administration has promised to provide every large and mid-sized American city with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. They have promised to transform the way we fund local transportation to provide more flexibility for safer, cleaner, and more accessible transportation.  

The Ecology Center has worked hard to expand mass transit options in Ann Arbor and Southeast Michigan, achieving successes that include three new transit millages passed in Washtenaw County. We are hopeful that significant federal investments in public transit will create new opportunities for equitable and accessible transit to finally become a reality across our region.

On zero waste and the end of plastic pollution 

In the past few years, the world has learned the extent of the plastic pollution problem. From manufacture to disposal, plastic is poisoning the planet, polluting coastal communities from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast to the South Pacific; endangering  entire ocean ecosystems; and worsening the climate crisis across the planet. The Biden administration has expressed strong support for the principles and strategies outlined in the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. Widely supported by fenceline communities and environmental justice advocates, that proposal would create a national container deposit system, a requirement that producers take responsibility for collecting and recycling materials, minimum recycled content requirements, and more.

Since our founding 50 years ago, the Ecology Center has been a leader in the movement to eliminate waste. While we, and our nonprofit affiliate Recycle Ann Arbor, are best known for our efforts to provide and promote recycling services and education in Washtenaw County and Michigan, we have recently helped develop a national alliance of mission-based recyclers to provide a voice for progressive zero waste measures at the national level.

On democracy 

The Ecology Center believes a strong democracy is the foundation of a safe and healthy environment and the backbone of a just and equitable society. Recent events have dramatized the urgency of this work. We are encouraged by the commitment of the Biden administration and some in Congress to strengthen the guardrails that protect our democratic system and expand voting rights. The For the People Act would get money out of politics, expand voting rights, combat corruption and secure our elections.

In 2018 our organization endorsed and campaigned to pass the independent redistricting proposal to end gerrymandering in Michigan. We look forward to engaging with democracy initiatives to strengthen our democratic institutions. 

We are invigorated to shift from resistance to persistence in building a better future. It will take a broad-based movement, larger and more effective than any in history, to support the bold systemic change our planet desperately needs, and to make change that is swift, equitable, and enduring enough to meet this moment. It will take all of us. And, as Gorman reminds us, its potential is inspiringly beautiful: “ an environmental movement of this size / Is simply another form of an earthrise….” 

Published on February 4, 2021