April 27, 2016

Environmentalist Champion the Great Lakes, Solar Energy

BY CAROL THOMPSON cthompson@record-eagle.com
Originally printed in the Record-Eagle Apr 22, 2016

TRAVERSE CITY — An annual gathering of northern Michigan environmentalists started with the memory of a teacher, scientist and Great Lakes advocate who passed away in January.

“Tom once said he was more interested in making a difference than in making a buck,” said Bill Hansen.

Hansen, a member of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council Board of Directors, gave a tribute to Tom Kelly, founder of the Inland Seas Education Association, to a crowd of more than 200 environmentalists gathered at the Park Place Hotel dome Friday night. The crowd gathered on Earth Day for NMEAC’s annual Environmentalist of the Year celebration.

The nonprofit recognized 19 northwest Michigan residents for their work in agriculture, environmental education, public service and more.

John Nelson was awarded the prestigious Clarence Kroupa Award. Nelson will retire this year from his post at the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay. He advocates for policy that benefits Grand Traverse Bay, promotes environmental education and conducts research as the organization's baykeeper.

Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water, presented an update on the campaign to shut down Enbridge Energy's Line 5, the pair of pipelines pumping oil and natural gas below the Straits of Mackinac. She described what environmentalists consider structural issues with the pipelines, the State of Michigan's duty to protect the Great Lakes and the importance of protecting Michigan's fresh water.

She encouraged the crowd to get involved and petition lawmakers to act to prevent environmental disaster instead of reacting to it after calamities come.

"We're living in a culture of inaction and delay," Kirkwood said, referencing the water crisis in Flint. "We hope that will change the culture in Michigan, because this issue is the next great infrastructure disaster waiting to happen."

Solar energy shone as a leading cause championed by Traverse City environmentalists this year, Linda Dunigan said as she stood a few feet from signs reading “climate change hurts farmers,” and “solar is our real security.”

Mary Van Valin attended the NMEAC celebration to honor the people advocating for the Earth in northwest Michigan. She described with enthusiasm the solar panels on her Webster Street home that power her appliances, her heating system and her car.

Solar power is the best deal in town, considering the social, health and environmental cost of burning fossil fuels, Van Valin said. Cheap fossil fuels aren’t worth the price, she said. “That would be like feeding your kids Pop-Tarts and Mountain Dew for breakfast because it’s cheap,” she said.

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