“When will these big storms stop?”
That’s what my 11-year-old wanted to know, as we dumped from the fridge food spoiled after three days without electricity.
Then we called her cousin to make sure their home survived the fires raging through their west coast community.
We also helped a neighbor toss out moldy memories lost when her basement flooded for a third time this summer.
This year the climate crisis hit home, worse than ever before. But it’s far from new. I wrote my senior thesis about climate change back in 1998.
I had to explain to my daughter that unfortunately it’s not likely to stop; in fact the world’s top scientists say it’s only going to get worse. But how much worse depends on the actions of our government’s leaders.
Individuals can and should do what they can. My family is always careful to turn off lights and get the most energy-efficient appliances we can afford. We are a one-car family and we bought a house where we can walk to restaurants, bike to the park and bus to work.
But individual actions are limited by the options available to us. We depend on our government to provide us safe, affordable, reliable options. That’s especially true for things like transportation.
I wish I could take my girls to school on the bus. But the 10-minute drive would take over an hour on three different buses. So we drive.
We’d love to take transit to visit Grandma in Ann Arbor. But the 50-minute drive would require a 6 a.m. train or three hours and four buses. So we drive.
Unfortunately most metro Detroit neighborhoods aren’t very walkable and don’t have truly convenient transit, so most people feel driving is their only option — due to decades of 90% of transportation funding going to roads and car travel, while less than 10% to public transit, senior shuttles, trains, biking or walking.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. This climate crisis spotlights the urgent need to shift our infrastructure and invest in giving everyone more options to get where they need to go.
Many of our leaders recognize the climate crisis and have promised to fight it. I applaud President Joe Biden, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for their bold climate commitments.
Now we need their actions to be just as bold.
More:Floods in metro Detroit bear hallmarks of human-caused climate change, scientists say
More:Climate change is here. Michigan needs infrastructure to cope with it | Opinion
The bi-partisan infrastructure bill that Biden negotiated and the U.S. Senate passed largely shovels more money into the same old auto-centric infrastructure that made us so dependent on driving everywhere. The U.S. House needs to strip the $25 billion taxpayer giveaway to the fossil fuel industry from that package and restore the $10 billion for expanded public transit that was originally negotiated.
Here in Michigan, Governor Whitmer directed state agencies back in February of 2019 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% by 2025 and appointed a Council on Climate Solutions to plan how Michigan will become carbon neutral by 2050. Yet the Michigan Department of Transportation is proposing a transportation plan through 2045 that largely ignores the climate crisis and the role of transportation as the single biggest source of climate pollution! Since we cannot slow down climate change without addressing how we move, Whitmer, MDOT, and the climate council need to stop with business-as-usual and instead make bold investments in making it easier for more Michiganders to walk, bike, and ride high-quality public transit.
And locally, Duggan is part of the steering committee for the Climate Mayors coalition and committed to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s operations 35% by 2024 and 100% by 2050. It also pledged to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
While DDOT service had been improving pre-COVID-19, DDOT now has a serious driver shortage that is leaving transit riders stranded by unreliable service. Some riders will give up on DDOT and scramble for other ways to get to work — likely with older polluting clunker cars. Bad DDOT service costs Detroiters time, job security, and money wasted on cars, insurance, and repairs, and it costs all of us with increased pollution. Mayor Duggan and DDOT Director Mikel Oglesby must do whatever it takes to restore pre-COVID bus service, like the Connect Ten routes that are supposed to provide convenient transit every 15 minutes.
Done right, climate solutions can be real wins for our communities — especially solutions like frequent buses, regional rail connections, protected bike lanes, and streets safe for walking or rolling. Provide Michiganders the infrastructure we need and we’ll not only slow the climate crisis, but have healthier families, more access to opportunities and more attractive communities too.
As I explained to my 11-year old, the best time to stop climate change would have been decades ago.
The second-best time is right now.
Megan Owens is a mother of two, a Detroit homeowner, a lifelong Michigander and executive director of Transportation Riders United (TRU), which is dedicated to sustainable mobility options. More information and opportunities to take action at www.DetroitTransit.org.