WHAT HAS OAKLAND COUNTY DONE ON CLIMATE CHANGE? WHERE ARE WE HEADED?
Updated: Sep 1
Despite Stalled National Leadership, New Budget Proposals Could Create Needed Local Climate Action
Pictured: Representatives with the Oakland County Climate Campaign meet with County Executive Dave Coulter in early March.
After decades of inaction, times are changing in one of Michigan’s most influential counties. On July 1, County Executive David Coulter released his recommended operating budget: “We will focus on developing a plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 utilizing renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency.”
We know that strong, local climate leadership is required to avert additional damage to our environment. So, what’s behind the change and, where could our county be headed? Let’s break it down. In November, commissioners took the first steps, adopting a resolution that recognized we are in a climate emergency and promised a “countywide mobilization” to stop climate change. This was a statement of intention, without any binding obligations or specific plans. Since then, the commissioners have also adopted several ecological restoration efforts: Commissioner Gwen Markham championed distributing 20,000 oak tree seedlings and Commissioner Kristen Nelson was a key advocate for proposing to allocate $32,000 to native plants.
On February 27, the Turn Oakland County Green campaign published a list of policies that Oakland County should strive to adopt, outlined in their 2020 Platform for Climate, Jobs and Justice, including:
1. creating a sustainability office
2. net-zero, renewable energy for county operations by 2030
3. net-zero, renewable energy for all of Oakland County by 2050
In response, County Executive Coulter promised support for the designation of a Sustainability Officer and to lead all county operations toward sustainability. This budget is a first step on an important path. It is a significant break from the obstructionism and denial of the past administration. It should be celebrated with the hope that the hiring of a sustainability officer and more funding will be able to provide support to additional science-backed goals.
It is also a celebration of local, citizen-led action. The Oakland County Climate Campaign is based on the idea that local governments, and counties in particular, can lead, mobilizing people and resources here for the worldwide effort to curb climate change. After months of lobbying, meetings, and a petition drive, these are the very tangible results.
Oakland County is on the edge of a real commitment to do its part for a just transition. However, as Commissioner Markham said recently, the grassroots demand for these policies has accelerated them and made them a priority with leadership. Therefore, if we want to end climate, it’s up to us to help make it happen through involvement.
The draft budget is not a done deal. It will go before the board of commissioners this fall. It is required to be passed by the end of September but, the commission hopes to have its departmental reviews done by August 31. Hopefully, the budget will cement climate action as an important part of its agenda. However, that entirely depends on how much citizens demand its implementation.