On December 3, West Michigan Environmental Action Council released the Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report, presenting its findings to the Grand Rapids City Commission. The WMEAC December 5 newsletter reports, “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 actually cover 22 different areas in which climate resiliency touches Grand Rapids as a municipality,” said WMEAC Policy Director Nick Occhipinti. “Many climate reports around the city do not cover such a broad range.”
WMEAC had asked for Our Kitchen Table’s response to the report prior to its release. We responded with the following.
Our Kitchen Table Responds to Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report, Nov. 7, 2013
Problem #1 – The report operates from the Triple Bottom Line framework (pg VI), which believes that
one can have sustainable ecosystems and operate within the for‐profit/constant growth world of
capitalism. We reject such a notion, not on ideological grounds, but based on the climate data and the
historical record of industrial capitalism and now Neoliberal Capitalism that is at the root of the current
climate disaster. More and more climate scientists are arguing that we cannot avert ongoing climate
disaster and keep the current Neoliberal model intact, a theme recently addressed by author and
activist Naomi Klein http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2013/10/science‐says‐revolt.
What Climate scientists have been saying for over a decade now is that humanity must reduce its
current levels of carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 or we will get to a point of no return. This should be
the framework in which we operate, which might be compared to the Indigenous notion of the 7th
generation principle……how will what we do impact 7 generations from now. The early sections in the
report on Climate impact in the Midwest and Grand Rapids seem to concur on the growing danger.
Problem #2 – The report seems to be a cheerleader for what Grand Rapids has done so far to address
climate change. While it may be true that there are lots of LEED certified buildings, such impacts are
miniscule in the grand scheme of things. We believe that highlighting such actions ignores the more
structural problems, such as the continued burning of fossil fuels, a food system that is unsustainable, a
transportation system that is unsustainable and the insane amount of the federal budget spent on
militarism, which is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Focusing on Grand Rapids as a silo
is also problematic. If Grand Rapids actually embraced a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by
2050, but the rest of the state did not, it would be an inadequate response. Such an assessment
acknowledges that the problem is systemic and global and cannot be solely addressed at the local level.
Problem #3 If the Agribusiness system remains intact, so does climate disaster. As an organization that
looks at the current food system through a lens of food justice, we known that the current food system
is unsustainable and marginalizes the most vulnerable populations in our community. Even with the
push for more local food in the past decade, those that are the beneficiaries are primarily communities
with both economic and racial privilege. So, despite the sometime euphoric praise of local food, it does
really benefit those most marginalized by the global food system. We see the current food system as a
system of oppression that must be dismantled, not reformed. Such an analysis is not part of the current
local food push and will only result in privileged communities feeling good about what they eat while
leaving the system intact and ignoring those most deeply affected.
Problem #4 – The report does not include the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis. Our
organization does consist of some of those voices, but we reach only a fraction of the poor communities
of color that are most negatively impacted communities of color, those living in poverty, those without
health insurance, Indigenous populations and immigrants. We believe for such a report to be honest it
must be inclusive and not solely rely on “experts.”
The section which mentions food deserts and food justice is a case in point of the reliance on experts.
Food Justice is mentioned as provide food assistance at farmers markets, when this practice is food
charity. We do not object in principle to people being provided food in a charitable context, but as long
as food assistance doesn’t address the root causes of food injustice it will only perpetuate the problem.
We believe that food justice is rooted in the right of everyone to actually consume healthy food on a
daily basis, the dismantling of the current food system, work most closely with the most marginalized
communities and providing skills and resource for more food autonomy. We agree with the
international movement Via Campesina that Food Justice must move to Food Sovereignty if true justice is to be obtained.