Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report views environment through “triple bottom line” lens that obscures honest analysis

On December 3,  West Michigan Environmental Action Council released the Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Reportpresenting 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‐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.

One thought on “Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report views environment through “triple bottom line” lens that obscures honest analysis

  1. Mom and Bro. This is chastening news, even for me. It was tough news to hear that the Triple Bottom Line analysis is so limited in its approach. I have been following Our Kitchen Table’s analysis for some time and found the disjuncture as presented here quite striking.

    Peace, Randy Gabrielse

    *Randy Gabrielse* 616-206-0898

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