With a population of approximately 10 million, Michigan is the 10th most populous of the American states, the 11th most extensive by area, and the largest by area east of the Mississippi River. Surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, it also has more freshwater coastline than any other state in the union.
Like many centralized states, it has seen an increase in some of the more tangible effects of climate change such as increased heavy rainfall, an uptick in annual heat waves and a 63% decrease in winter ice coverage on the Great Lakes since 1970.
With a large portion of Michigan residents concentrated in and around the Great Lakes region, communities are largely dependent on them for their basic needs. Rising temperatures and increased rainfall precipitation have created blooms in Lake Erie, for example, contaminating water supplies in multiple townships surrounding Monroe County and disturbing fish populations.
Jennifer Granholm (now the Energy Secretary in the Biden administration) was Michigan’s governor from 2003-2011. She became an advocate for renewable energy development and one of her signature policies as governor was a mandate for the state to increase the share of its energy derived from renewable sources like solar and wind. She also worked with the Obama administration on a 2009 bailout of the automobile industry that included clean energy investments and incentives for carmakers to invest in technologies like battery storage.
In 2016, Michigan lawmakers debated whether to rollback or make minimal increases to their existing 10% Renewable Energy Standard. With this policy stagnation, Michigan is far behind the curve in the race to clean energy, featuring inaction from legislators and an undeterred reliance on fossil fuels. Currently there are a few bills aimed at combating climate change awaiting a vote from state legislature such as the Clean and Renewable Energy Waste Reduction Act among others. However, given the recent voting history of Michigan lawmakers, the likelihood of meaningful climate change action does not seem close at hand.
What is most troublesome about Michigan’s inaction is that shifting resources to the environment could potentially yield such a huge boost to Michigan’s economy. Stanford University found that fully powering Michigan with renewable energy would create 150,000 jobs, save more than 1,700 lives a year and generate an average $11,000 reduction in each citizen’s energy/health cost. Fortunately, there is a strong call for cleaner energy from Michigan’s citizens and various organizations across the state such as the Michigan Climate Action Network, which has worked to spread information regarding climate change, its effects on Michigan and what can be done to fight it. They have four major goals underlining their fight: move 100% of the state’s energy to renewable sources, electrify public transportation, put an end to the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline running through the Great Lakes, and fight for cleaner energy policies.
Good news came in September 2020, when Governor Gretchen Whitmer, citing a rising threat to public health and the environment, signed an executive order battling climate change, aiming to make Michigan’s economy carbon-neutral by 2050. Whitmer’s decarbonization-by-2050 goal includes an interim target of a 28% reduction from 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2025. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, with the help of a newly formed Council on Climate Solutions, are now tasked with delivering a climate plan in draft for by September 1,2021 with a final plan by the end of the year.
More good news came in March, 2021 when the University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to divest from companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, which are defined as the top 100 coal and top 100 oil and gas publicly traded companies in the world, as compiled by the Carbon Underground 200 list.
Michigan is one of twenty four states, plus Puerto Rico, committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.