Earth Day is Sunday, so GR|MAG talked with West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) Executive Director Bill Wood about how his organization is making positive changes in West Michigan. He also had some suggestions for how everyone can pitch in through taking small actions.
GR|MAG: WMEAC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What is the organization focused on?
Bill Wood: We are focused on water protection, waste reduction, and general environmental education and advocacy. We are also working on diversifying the environmental movement here in West Michigan.
GR|MAG: Are there things individuals and families can do to help with water pollution and stormwater management or do these things need to be done on a citywide or statewide level exclusively?
BW: Stormwater management isn’t as sexy as recycling, but there are lots of things families and individuals can do right in their own homes and neighborhoods. The city of Grand Rapids has a program where you can adopt a catch basin in your neighborhood and then keep it clean, keeping trash out of the Grand River and helping reduce flooding.
GR|MAG: If community groups want to band together to work on any projects to help their neighborhood, especially with Earth Day coming up, what do you recommend?
BW: As I mentioned in the last question, getting a group of people together to walk a few blocks or entire neighborhood to clean trash out of storm sewers would be a huge asset to our river, as well as Lake Michigan. Planting trees is always a good move, and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has info on what trees to plant, where to plant them, and even mini-grants to help cover some of the costs!
GR|MAG: While individual and community projects have smaller-scale impacts, why are they important?
BW: I see this answer in two ways. Collective action is powerful and can be the springboard, or gateway, into medium- and large-scale projects for individuals who might not have felt empowered before working on a small-scale event.
Secondly, smaller scale impacts add up, and it’s amazing what the effects of hundreds or even thousands of small-scale impacts can do to improve the health of a watershed.
GR|MAG: WMEAC’s Blue Tie Ball fundraiser is coming up later this month. What can people expect from the event?
BW:This year, being our 50th Anniversary, we are bringing back some faces from the history of WMEAC, interviewing our youngest and one of our most active volunteers regarding his thoughts for the future of environmentalism, presenting a posthumous award to Vern Ehlers that his daughter Marla will receive in his honor, and generally reminding people that protecting the environment can be fun.
We’ll have good food, beer, wine, and cocktails, a live auction, and music. Plus we’ll be debuting our newest addition to WMEAC, our Teach for the Watershed van. No more lugging muddy waders around in our personal vehicles! This van also helps us with our expansion of that program into Muskegon County, which is recently possible because of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant.
GR|MAG: Looking forward, what inspires you and helps keep you hopeful that some of the biggest challenges to environmental sustainability can be met?
BW: In addition to young people starting environmental clubs while they are in kindergarten, I see movement toward renewable energy as a huge hurdle that we are starting to traverse. Energy independence makes so much sense, whether you talk about reducing pollution, not ensnaring our soldiers in deadly and expensive wars for resources globally, creating more jobs in Michigan…we are building so many components for wind turbines and solar installations in this state, and I don’t think a lot of folks know that.
Unfortunately, we ship a lot of them out of state to places like Iowa and Illinois, but soon we’ll be on board with Michigan-sourced renewable energy, and we’ll see more jobs, reduced asthma rates, and lower, more steady electric bills as a result. A lot of that is due to hard-fought gains from groups like ours, but some of it, to me, is the market calibrating to the intersection between demand from the public and risk aversion from investors.
GR|MAG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BW: Never underestimate that you alone can make a difference when it comes to protecting our environment.
The Blue Tie Ball is being held on Thursday, April 26 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Goei Center, 818 Butterworth St. SW. For tickets visit WMEAC.